Oatly thinks you're totally fucked. But why would a brand seemingly so jovial and intent on doing good for the world hold such an aggressive opinion?
It's your clients. Specifically it's your clients' marketing departments. You see, Oatly, which has transformed from an easily forgettable alt-milk brand from the south of Sweden to a bona fide global phenomenon in less than five years, has no marketing department at all.
Martin Ringqvist and John Schoolcraft, both creative directors at the brand's Department of Mind Control (essentially the brand's creative department), took to the stage in the Audi A theatre at Cannes Lions on Monday morning to discuss the logistics of a brand with no marketing department.
"That means no marketing director. No 'super savvy' CMO," joked John. "It's creatives at the centre of every single part of the business. Imagine that. You let creatives wander the weeds and see if something grows. [We're involved in] marketing, sales, innovation, product development, supply... we're even involved in finance."
A crowd filled with agency folk also received the crushing news that Oatly's free-spirited approach to creativity can't be mimicked by other brands.
But, why? Because you don't have a Toni.
A Toni is Toni Petersson, the CEO of Oatly and, according to John, the centre of Oatly's transformative story. "Toni's the one who really understood what would happen if you put creatives at the centre of things. He has the power to overrule us on something, but he hasn't done it yet... And this is really quite neat actually, to have a system created for ourselves. We're in control of every single touchpoint with the brand."
John and Martin then showed the audience how the setup at Oatly is different to almost all other organisations, and how it aids creativity within the business.
"So here's the system that everyone works in. The CEO is protected by this wonderful wall, totally detached from everything else that's going on. And then you'll have your commercial director and marketing director - this is like the greatest briefing system in the history of the world because everyone has to be up to speed."
To get final approval on anything, John says that the CEO has to be caught "in the corridor". Oatly's system, on the other hand, looks like the below.
"We're constantly in discussions with every department in the company. Sustainability, commercial, customer relations, innovation... and when we find something interesting we do the strategy and the creative angle and we just approve it when we think it's done. We have a deadline but we can move it because it's our deadline. And if we come up with an idea that's better we throw the old one out and go with the idea that we like.
"So you're all thinking that this is a system created by two masterminds, but actually it's not. It's a system created by karma."
Which I guess is easier to say if you work for a company that prides itself on saving animals and the planet. But there's more to Oatly's good karma than less people drinking cows' milk. Martin worked on the brand when he previously worked at Forsman & Bodenfors and played a pivotal in the transformation of Oatly from a boring health food brand to the lifestyle brand it is today
. That relationship is also to thank for Oatly's genius hacking of its lack of media budget by utilising its own cartons to showcase all manner of weird and wonderful topics.
The brand's good karma was also rewarded when LRF Mjölk, a Swedish milk conglomerate, attempted to sue Oatly in 2014 for its cheeky marketing tactics. The lawsuit resulted in a sales boost for Oatly and widespread support for its fight against the big baddies of the dairy world.
"We think very little of this [work] would actually make it through a marketing department," said Martin after presenting a bunch of Oatly campaigns. "Because it's sometimes too risky, too complicated, too time-consuming, there's too little focus on sales and it's too inconsistent to track. If there's one rule we have at the Oatly Department of Mind Control, it's to be consistently inconsistent. Our competitors should never know what's coming next."
What's more, John admitted that it might appear that he and his department have little care for selling any products. He also admitted that that's true. With Oatly it's about the "bigger picture" and "driving societal change". Both of those quotes might draw eyerolls from you readers, but as John pointed out in the presentation, the meat and dairy industry is responsible for 14.5% of all greenhouse gas emissions. And regardless of the Department of Mind Control's care for sales or not, Oatly is struggling to keep up with demand and there was a shortage in the US in 2018
"So, why did all this happen? It's because karma built the best system in the world. Should everyone here just stop the way you're working and work like we do?"
"Yeah," someone shouted from the crowd.
"Good answer. But there's one small problem. According to us, in order to be able to do this you need a Toni. And that's kind of impossible because there's only one Toni.
"I'm sorry everyone. You're totally fucked."
NB: John and Martin didn’t end the speech on a wholly negative note. They’re hiring. Drop them a line.