“It’s good to be global; It’s better to be good” was the title of Brent Smart’s presentation last week to an MBA class at the NYU Stern School of Business as part of a series organized by the Advertising Education Foundation. In his fun, funny, and far-ranging presentation, Brent described how he believes the best creative work gets into and shapes culture, why distinctions between global and local no longer really exist in an age where “digital disrespects borders,” and how “people are more connected by what they love than by where they live.”
Putting the MBA students through their paces, Brent deconstructed several brands and advertisements to show how “getting into the culture is the killer app.” Among the international industry case studies he shared were Saatchi & Saatchi NY’s Cheerios’ Super Bowl Spot, Johnnie Walker’s The Man Who Walked Around the World,” Volvo’s Jean-Claude Van Damme spot, British Airways’ “A Ticket to Visit Mum,” Melbourne’s train safety ad (try getting the song “Dumb Ways to Die” out of your head after viewing), and his own Vodafone “Fold” spot from New Zealand.
“Great brands need to be purpose-led, though not purpose literal,” Brent explained. “And profit is not a good enough purpose.” During this master class in how brands become great by emotionally connecting with people, the CEO showed how brands “ladder up” from insight to purpose to storytelling that focuses on the important human truths that unite us.
If he left the class of future business leaders with a singular piece of advice it was that people, not companies, own brands—and that brands need to be more generous. (That means more story, less telling; and more story, less selling.) The students, who had likely never seen nor imagined a CEO who talked or presented in quite this way, were appropriately dazzled. The presentation concluded with a lively Q&A exchange with the students; Brent cursed a lot, and had pizza afterwards with the class.