CEO Lazarus stresses branding

Chances are, most Elis have bought a product marketed by Shelly Lazarus. Coca-Cola is pretty hard to miss.

Berkeley College Master Marvin Chun hosted Lazarus, the chief executive officer of marketing agency Ogilvy and Mather (and a Yale mom), on Monday afternoon, drawing over two dozen people to the master’s house for a discussion of brands and the future of advertising. Lazarus, who has occupied a place on Fortune Magazine’s list of the 50 Most Powerful Women in American Business since the list’s inception in 1998, heads the high-profile international advertising and marketing firm based in New York City. Credited with building brands like American Express, Ford and Barbie, Ogilvy is one of the most prolific advertising firms with nearly 500 offices spread across 125 countries.

Shelly Lazarus, CEO of Ogilvy & Mather, speaks on the financial crisis, Barack Obama and the role of brands in advertising.
Charles Francis
Shelly Lazarus, CEO of Ogilvy & Mather, speaks on the financial crisis, Barack Obama and the role of brands in advertising.

“Brands are now everywhere,” Lazarus explained to a crowd of students and adults. “Nothing compresses data better and faster than a brand. When you see one you think, you remember, you smell, you hear … it brings a history of ideas.”

Lazarus pointed to the drug store cold medicine aisle as an example of how brands are more than just marketing tools; they can also help consumers.

“There are so many choices today,” she said. “You need brands to sort and edit.”

Lazarus found the advertising business purely by accident. A political science and psychology double major in college, Lazarus said she had no plans to enter marketing until a friend invited her to accompany her to a daylong seminar on the subject in New York City. Fascinated by the strategies presented, she applied to Columbia’s MBA program, won acceptance and graduated as one of only four women in her class.

“The advertising world is a wonderful place for women,” said Lazarus. “I think one of the reasons why women have been so enormously successful in this world is because ideas are such items of currency that no one can care which gender they came from.”

She spoke at length about the marketing technique of Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama’s campaign. The magazine Advertising Age honored the Obama campaign as its Marketer of the Year in this week’s print issue, taken from a vote among hundreds of marketers, agency heads and marketing-services vendors at the Association of National Advertisers’ annual conference this month. Lazarus said the campaign’s use of Internet ads and viral marketing has been crucial to the success of the Democratic nominee.

When asked how the country’s current financial crisis would affect the world of marketing, specifically at Ogilvy, the CEO was optimistic.

“Smart, strong companies will advertise through bad times,” Lazarus said. “Some of the companies will even increase their spending, because they do tend to come out with a better market share.”

Matt Levinson ’10, a friend of Lazarus’s son, Ben Lazarus ’10, said he found the CEO’s descriptions of different advertising strategies “fascinating.”

“I’ve met her a few times,” he said. “She’s always funny and engaging.”

Olivia Wheeler ’10 shared similar sentiments.

“I thought it was really interesting,” she said. “I don’t know if it’s because she’s in advertising that she knows how to seem candid, but she I thought she was really honest about the business.”

It is a business that has taken Lazarus from New York to London to the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, where Lazarus said the idea of the brand is on the rise. Early in the tea, Lazarus recounted a conversation she once had in that hall with the Chinese minister of commerce.

“He said, ‘We are finished with the dogma; if we want brands, we will have them,’ ” said Lazarus. With a smile, she added, “ ‘And you, dear lady, will teach us how.’ ” Lazarus could not stress enough the importance of branding. “I have not seen a society yet that is not somewhat brand-sensitive,” she said.

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