Most Creative Marketers
Most Creative Marketers: Susan O'Brien
Just Eat marketing boss on turning around the brand once known only for kebab-shops; and why she's doubling down on brand investment for 2024 and beyond
06 November 2023
In 2020, a year that most would like to forget, Just Eat and McCann London unveiled the Snoop Dogg campaign to the world. And boy did it pay off. People, tired of watching sentimental ads whilst being locked up in their homes, took to the ‘Did somebody say Just Eat?’ campaign and bought into a brand that offered moments of joy.
Not only did the success of the musical ad spawn an additional Katy Perry collaboration, but the soundtracks have also broken into popular culture, featuring in streaming apps and night clubs across the world. Snoop Dogg has even been caught performing the catchy tune at his own gigs. Perhaps this and its embrace by Generation Z led to the campaign being adopted by its US twin GrubHub in September this year.
Then just when you thought the delivery-service might have exhausted the use of celebrity features, Just Eat launched its third iteration of its platform, with famed singer Christina Aguelira and up-and-coming hip-hop artist Latto coming together to gift the world a surprising rap-opera number. In under a month, the campaign has had 22 million views on owned channels, 46 million views on TikTok and over 2000 content creator videos produced as a result of the launch. For context, the campaign has had a whopping five times the amount of mentions (in the UK, Ireland and Australia), compared with the global launch of the Katy Perry work.
So who is the driving force behind this success? Did somebody say … Susan O’Brien?
The now global vice president of brand began her journey with the company as a consultant, brought in to help with a rebrand. “I obviously hung around like a bad smell." O’Brien, or Suso as she’s better known by her peers, wanted to change people’s early perceptions of Just Eat. “We were not kebab shops only. We had this eclectic mix of cuisines on our platform and even now we continue to expand into additional verticals that make sense for us.” The marketer has seen the brand go from delivering food from UK restaurants, to entering a £6.2 billion merger with Takeaway.com, to expanding to global markets and to now offering everyday convenience and grocery delivery, partnering with Sainsbury’s most recently. [Just Eat merged with Takeaway.com in 2020, and in the same year beat out Uber to buy Grubhub, one of the US’s leading food delivery companies.]
How has the brand’s marketing contributed to its global expansion and further ambitions? And how does Just Eat’s most recent campaign hope to drive wider appeal? Creative Salon sat down with Susan O’Brien to explore the ways in which marketing and brand investment inspires and delivers success.
Sticking with the 'marketing holy grail'
Consistency is almost a rare trait among marketers given their tendency to create different campaigns when the opportunity arises. Just Eat may have been tempted to change directions after witnessing the starry heights its Snoop Dogg and Katy Perry campaigns reached. O’Brien’s children even said to her: “Oh, mum. You've gone too soon. How do you follow that?” But the marketer was insistent on doubling down on the ‘Did somebody say’ platform. “When you've got something special you go again and go even harder because you are building something that is a marketing holy grail. ‘Did somebody say Just Eat’ is in the vernacular, it's in culture. Why would you change it?”
The debut of the iconic Snoop Dogg ad was not without its risks however. Launching the campaign in the midst of a pandemic and a multi-billion-pound merger proved to be a challenge for O’Brien. “It makes my heart race now. The first iteration of the ‘Did somebody say’ line was perceived as an ear worm and irritation for some," but Snoop Dogg took it and undoubtedly adapted it to his style.
“Launching that 60-second film was either fortuitous, or a little bit of madness. There was a period when we didn't know whether it was going to go live because during the merger we were in sales pitch mode. But we knew we had something special that could cross borders. We researched by speaking to our customers and listened to what they were saying about our brand because we didn’t want it to be tone deaf. People were locked in their homes and everything we saw from a commercial point of view on TV was droney so we came out on top in the end. People wanted a bit of joy. Advertising is entertainment, and delivering moments of joy every day to everyone is at the very heart of our brand.
“Being able to sell an emotional piece was quite a challenging time for me but I must have done a good job because it was bought.”
Just Eat continued to embed itself in culture through Katy Perry who put a “fresh spin” on the messaging and promoted the brand’s extended breakfast and lunch offerings, battling against the idea that Just Eat was just a Friday or Saturday night treat. The singer’s soundtrack was embraced by influencers and content creators who pushed the track on TikTok and into nightclubs. “For us to get that younger audience who are very suspicious about advertising was magic because they can see straight through it. We got into that space and were able to build on it as a brand. We utilise music to cut through generations because music is a universal language.”
Now, the new “double-diva episode” of the campaign has switched up the format of the previous campaigns and added two different styles. “The surprise and delight of Christina Aguelera and Latto coming together is intended to appeal to new audiences because we are a brand for everyone. We also wanted to change people’s perceptions about what we have on offer on our platform. We want to build on people's need for everyday convenience and be the answer. If you've forgotten your flour, your sugar or your toilet paper: ‘Did somebody say Just Eat?’ This message was all authentically delivered by an R&B legend and the hip hop artist of 2023.”
O’Brien feels “incredibly proud” to have something that she believes will stand the test of time. She puts the success down to consistency, nerve and distinctiveness and credits her partnership with her agency McCann. [Just Eat appointed McCann London in 2018, and awarded McCann Worldgroup on its expanded global creative business in 2021 to Australia, Canada and Amsterdam.] “We took insights and allowed them to guide us - but not dictate us. Internally, a lot of people had never heard of Latto, which is probably a good sign because the results have been phenomenal.”
Delivering global growth through powerful marketing
Using celebrities can be dicey given the fact that they need to suit the tone, image and perception of a brand. But Susan O’Brien and Just Eat succeeded and also secured additional global reach.
“Research and insight is at the heart of everything we do, even when it comes to talent. Not just delivering a commercial message but authentically using talent to help us do that and punch a bit harder in driving organic media. Everyone has a point of view about marketing and talent but we researched to make sure that it worked in Germany, Australia, and Bulgaria for example. We always put it back to the brief. What is the job that we are trying to do with this campaign?”
The brand is now in 20 markets and has even launched the Snoop Dogg campaign for the first time in America in September. “And it is going great. It's creating talkability. We want to win in all of our markets. Years ago, America was the type of market you’d learn everything from, whereas we took something we had already created and repurposed it for GrubHub. We took that mnemonic line and re-established the idea that we are the answer to people’s food delivery grocery needs globally. Whether it’s Holland, Poland or Australia, we’ve translated ‘Did somebody say’ into 17 different languages.”
While it was a challenge for O’Brien and the brand to translate the three words into languages such as German - the line literally translates as ‘did I hear’ - the sentiment has been captured and in the next couple of months all of Just Eat’s markets will be running the work in their local language.
The marketing of the campaign extends beyond the glossy TV advertisement and is a multimedia campaign that is rolling out across 18 different countries. Just Eat and its delivery competitors exist in a very data and tech-enabled market but O’Brien insists that “good old brand building is everything”. The marketer feels that differentiation in a cluttered world has to be enabled through brand.
“We’re a tech-enabled business and everything we do is cross functional. Our chief product officer and chief marketing officer work hand in glove and we need that support to remain competitive in the market, whether that be surfacing the right tactical rational message, discount or free delivery, or enabling restaurants to be able to turn promotions on and off. But while tech is at the heart of everything - as is legal, finance and procurement - we very much value that in a commoditised market you need to emotionally engage with customers.”
"We dig deep. I don't want to look in the rearview mirror in terms of what the competition is doing. I hope they're looking at us."
O’Brien and her boss Jitse Groen Just Eat Takeaway CEO, she insists, look at marketing as an investment to enable growth. “There is no question mark around it. We have a leader who believes in the importance of brand and that marketing is the growth engine of the business. We absolutely plan on growing and marketing is at the core. We’re trying to expand and grow in markets where we're mature and where we're not mature with meaningful marketing. Whether it be in London or Melbourne, there is absolutely no let-up in our marketing investment.”
Just Eat is attempting to expand, not in a way that is flippant but in a way that touches people and emotionally connects with them. “There's an energy, a passion and a desire to win and I think that comes through with what we're trying to do with the brand. The wonderful thing about Just Eat is that the business is full of smart and talented individuals, not just in the marketing department.
It is no secret that the delivery brand has an array of competition - including people phoning up their restaurants or making the trip to grocery stores - but O’Brien is not complacent. “We dig deep. We want to maintain loyalty because brand loyalty is really important for us in a world where there’s lots of choice out there.
“I don't want to look in the rearview mirror in terms of what the competition is doing. I hope they're looking at us.”
The world according to Susan O'Brien
What is your favourite piece of creativity?
"My favourite is the Cadbury work. Good old VCCP has done a good job. ‘Mum's birthday’ makes me cry. It connects emotionally, it’s based on insight and it’s shot beautifully. Really simple and stunning. I've got goosebumps now. ‘Garage’ is also so clever. I love it because it’s totally relatable and it brings it back to the product. The brand really went back to its roots despite being bought by a company that wasn’t British [Mondelez]."
What's been feeding your imagination lately?
"ABBA Voyage. I had tears in my eyes because I was so taken aback by the mash up of technology and what it had enabled. It was so powerful. Once I got into the zone, I felt as if ABBA were there. You could almost touch them. The imagination - where did the idea come from? So clever. I walked away breathless. It wasn’t tech cold, it was tech on fire."
What do you think is your boldest creative play?
"It's got to be ‘Did somebody say?’ because of the merger, the expansion into multiple markets and languages and then how we have made it relevant through fame. It’s brave in a sense, because you're at the hands of Snoop and Katy Perry and they're not going to sing commercial lyrics if they don't like them. It is a little bit nerve wracking but with calculated risk comes reward. I’ve had sleepless nights with regards to working with talent but there is a joy at the end of it.
"We shot with Christina and Latto in LA. When we arrived Hurricane Hillary and an earthquake hit so we had to move the shoot by a day with a crew of over 100. It was a lot of pressure but it was my job to handle that."
What do you enjoy most about being a marketer?
"I absolutely love my job and I hope that comes through in some of the work that I'm able to put in the market. There are several layers to being a marketer - there’s science, art and a sprinkling of magic on the top. I'm really lucky that I'm responsible for the insights team which means getting up close and personal with our customers. We run a customer closeness programme where we come out of our London bubble and we talk to real people about what we do with them. What impact do we have on their lives? How do we make them feel? What moments do we serve for them? What problems do we solve for our customers? That doorbell moment is one of delight for the majority.
"For me as a marketer, it's about having that ability to do all the analytical stuff. Making sure we are serving the right content at the right time to the right people. Being able to analyse behaviour and to encourage habitual purchases and repurchases. We are relevant every day - we are not an annual purchase. We're always on. We have the opportunity to do stuff from a marketing point of view every single day, through our CRM, commercials, performance marketing and our media buying. It’s really energising because people are not buying a washing machine.
"We affect change also. We are the growth lever within the organisation which is so exciting. We can change people's behaviour, we can affect that change, we help the business to grow and we can do it creatively."
What is it that frustrates you as a marketer?
"It's an easy one - everyone has a point of view about marketing. I don't think everyone has a point of view about finance or spreadsheets, but everyone has a point of view about marketing. About what talent you should choose for example. You have to remind people of the job that we're trying to do. What is the problem that we're trying to solve? What are we trying to communicate? People might not have even seen the brief or know what target we’re chasing. There’s always a spotlight on marketing.
"When people say, ‘I don’t like’, it’s really not very helpful. What is it that you don't like about it? I might take that feedback, or I might choose to ignore it, not in an arrogant way. Let's bring it back to the brief - is what we're doing answering the brief and is it driving our business forward. It's so subjective. With Latto, we've tapped into a generational relevance piece. We’ve done the research, we know what we’re trying to achieve and who we are trying to engage with."
AI: Friend or foe?
"Definitely friend. It’s really important to us and we fully engage with it. We have an AI powered assistant for our app. It's not using tech for tech sake but it’s about enabling our customers. They can customise their order and do things more efficiently and more quickly. We will utilise AI if it is helpful for our customers. Also, in the photography space it can allow us to go faster and serve our customers better."
What are you looking forward to in the future?
"In the last decade new channels, new tech, new routes to market and new consumer behaviours have all emerged - that excites me. What are we going to be doing in 10 years time? It's the unknown that excites me and keeps me on top of my game in terms of the curiosity, the learning and the search for that next great idea. Trying new things. Asking new questions."