In late September 2023, a jury of 10 leading global brand-side marketers selected Ally Young, CMO at mobile company Skinny NZ, as winner of The One Show 2023 CMO Pencil, honouring the marketer behind the world's single most impactful idea on a brand's business from the past year.

Ally is a big supporter of the Marketing Association, and we sat down with her for a chat about her work, her win and what’s next in her newly appointed role as Product Owner – Spark Game Arena.

Ally, a huge congratulations on this international recognition!

What does it feel like to be named as the marketer behind the world’s single most impactful idea on a brand’s business this year?

Thank you and it feels pretty incredible! It was rather overwhelming when it got announced. I received so many lovely congratulatory messages. From CMOs overseas to kind New Zealanders who I’ve never met. I was really touched and incredibly proud of everyone who has worked on Skinny over the years, as the award is culmination of all that work.

Tell us a bit more about the Phone It In campaign and the impact it has had on the Skinny brand and how that has been felt throughout the business?

‘Phone It In’ was an idea that was put to us by Colenso a few years back, but we thought we needed product development to deliver a prize mechanism so people would call. Due to business priorities, we couldn’t build the prize mechanism, so the idea was put to bed. Or so I thought…

Once it showed up again – Si Vicars represented it to me one day (and I had another giggle) - we decided to give it a go, but without the prize mechanic. We were going to rely on people just seeing the ads, thinking they were clever, and calling on their own will. It worked!

Internally, we got all our stakeholders on board within Spark, and the idea sold itself, really. We ran some internal scripts for our ‘marketers’, ‘accountants’ etc so our people could have a go as well.

There was instant impact. On one end we had thousands of phone calls to go through and pick which ones could go on radio, and on the other we were managing our agencies who kept finding opportunities (thanks PHD & Drum) and writing incredible scripts (Colenso). They were writing scripts 2 days before the end of the campaign, so we naturally had to extend it. It was a lot of fun to make.

What approach did you and the Skinny team take in deciding to go with this idea?

For Skinny a good idea is suitable if it speaks to our brand purpose of ‘We’ll do anything to keep prices low and customers happy’, shows inexpensive quality, generates community and provides humour. ‘Phone It In ticked all those boxes.

Were there any hurdles to jump to get this campaign signed off by stakeholders?

It’s easy to identify a great idea. It’s another thing to keep the integrity of the idea as it works its way through the corporate production process.

The original idea changed slightly, but not much - mainly due to privacy requirements. If we were going to use people’s voices on the radio, then we also needed to get talent release. So, we set up a 20 second ‘T&Cs’ section on the 0800 number that the caller had to go through in order to proceed. We made it funny and quick, and we still got thousands of recordings so that was successful.

The original scripts were also over a minute long – much longer than we could afford to put on radio. So, we put some guidelines for the voicemail set up and the scripts into place, and away the teams went.

How can CMOs help create a culture where creativity and creative risk-taking can thrive?

Empowering teams. A lot of the successful work from Skinny has been borne out of the fact that Team Skinny really understands Skinny inside and out and the agile methodology at Spark allows for that freedom to make mistakes and try again if we need to. We wouldn’t do anything that is wrong for the brand. We have data to back up ideas and smart people to make them happen, so why stifle that.

It’s been a big year for you personally, for the Skinny team and for Spark NZ who were the big winners at the recent 2023 TVNZ-NZ Marketing Awards. What's in the water at Spark with all these wins?

Yes it certainly has. I am incredibly lucky to be in the position I am in, surrounded by the most talented people, and supportive leaders and to also work in such a creative place like Spark. Telco is extremely competitive, so when you’re selling texts, minutes and data like your neighbour, then the only way you’re going to get noticed is by doing something bold and creative. Our Marketing Director Matt Bain from day one has always said he wants his team to be world-class. When he first put that comment out there, we were all quite petrified because why would a NZ telco be world-class? But it certainly made us think a bit differently. I think we can say we are rising to that challenge across both Spark and Skinny these days.

You have recently moved into a new role as Product Owner – Spark Game Arena. Can you tell us more about this?

I sure can! In this role I’m responsible for our brand-new Spark Game Arena platform. This encompasses all things gaming for Spark; from partnerships through to esports tournaments. Our team is small but mighty and we’re having a lot of fun. We’ve only just started and have a lot in the pipeline so watch this space. I’m quite new to gaming but I’m really enjoying the challenge of exploring and learning something new. After 8 years on Skinny, I was ready for it. It’s such a different world to what I’m used to, and I’m really interested in pushing the boundaries in this space.

What are you excited about heading into 2024?

Very much the work on Spark Game Arena. And of course, what would a future prediction be without a mention of AI. I’m actually really keen to see how as marketers we can use it to become even more efficient and do some crazy stuff that we never thought was even possible. "

Source: Marketing Association, 28 November 2023