Postcards

How the power players do it - by Fortune senior editor at large Patricia Sellers

Facebook expert: How to connect with the masses

June 19, 2013: 12:00 PM ET

queen-elizabeth-coronation-1953What the Cannes Film Festival is to Hollywood, the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity has long been to Madison Avenue—and now to Silicon Valley too. Executives from Facebook (FB) and Google (GOOG) and Yahoo (YHOO) are here on the French Riviera, soaking up sun and connections with the marketing chiefs of Coca-Cola (KO), IBM (IBM), and lots of other Fortune 500 giants that have millions of dollars to spend.

A question looming seaside: How does a marketer scale big ideas when delivery platforms are shifting constantly—and a mobile screen is a lousy way to view ads? Two executives at Facebook, "creative" boss Mark D'Arcy and director of engineering Andrew "Boz" Bosworth, and an ad-world all-star, David Droga of Droga5, joined me on the main stage Tuesday to talk about "Creativity at Scale." Big ideas,  the panelists said, need to be focused (simplicity  wins), participatory (connections drive scale) and sustainable--the best marketing campaigns build  movements and communities of fans.

But even tech folks derive business lessons from the past. To kick off our session, Facebook's D'Arcy told a story about an a very unlikely marketer who made a wild bet to reach the masses. The story is so odd and wonderfully relevant that I asked him if I could share it. So here's the story that Mark D'Arcy, Facebook's Head of Global Creative Solutions, told the crowd in Cannes:

The Cannes Lions advertising Festival is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. So I asked myself: What was the biggest idea of the last 60 years? Which marketer took the biggest bet to drive scale like never before?"

My answer involves a very traditional global organization that arguably faced its biggest launch in history. It had a brand new CEO, 27 years old, who wanted to choose a new storytelling platform that many experts said was trivial, unproven and best avoided.

Guess who it was…

The brave, young leader was Queen Elizabeth the Second.

The organization was the British Royal Family.

And the "launch" was the sacred, 1000-year-old coronation ceremony to be held in Westminster Abbey.

The radical storytelling technology she employed? Television. Or to be specific, live television.

On June 2, 1953, as the Queen was crowned in Westminster Abbey, the coronation was shown on live television to millions of people huddled around screens across Great Britain, and then around the world. It was a technical and cultural revolution.

1950s-television-setIt's hard to believe that something we all take for granted like live TV was, 60 years ago, a radical, experimental idea. BBC technicians and engineers had to use every single piece of TV cable that existed in the country. And for the first time ever, more people experienced an event through television than on radio.

Oh, and it went way beyond Europe. RAF Bombers were standing by to fly footage of the day to Canada and the USA, where hundreds of millions of people waited to share in the sacred--and up until now, very private--moment.

Surely, such a triumph was an obvious decision. Who could possibly be against reaching so many people in such a meaningful way?

Well, the Queen's 78 year-old Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, for one.

He was firmly and adamantly against the idea and fought it to the end.

He was outraged that such a sacred event would be witnessed by the lower classes--by men in pubs wearing hats.

So what about marketing today? What can we learn? While not all marketers have a royal coronation to work with, many need to sell more cars, more cola, or more lemon-scented floor cleaner. I do believe that for any business, there are significant lessons to be learned from this moment that found enormous scale.

People were at the center of this idea. It was about a powerful organization that decided to break the rules, opened up and connected in a new way. It was about a fearless young leader who simply listened to and gave people what they wanted.

Sixty years later, the idea of scale has changed dramatically. We check our mobile phones about 150 times a day. Around six billion photos are posted on Facebook every month--and another 40 million a day on Instagram. Meanwhile, 88% of people in the U.S engage with a second screen while watching TV. And more than 100 hours of footage are uploaded to YouTube every minute.

In this new world, everyone is a publisher and a conveyor of information. Simply having a good idea isn't enough; you need to scale that good idea in a way that matters. But luckily, the technological and social capabilities we have today mean that once you land that great idea, you don't need a squadron of fighter pilots to make it global.

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About This Author
Pattie Sellers
Pattie Sellers
Senior Editor at Large, Fortune
Executive Director of MPW/Live Content, Time Inc.

Pattie Sellers has written more than 20 Fortune cover stories including "Marissa Mayer: Ready to Rumble at Yahoo," "Muhtar Kent's New Coke," "Oprah's Next Act", "The $100 Billion Woman" (Melinda Gates), and "Gone with the Wind" (Ted Turner). She co-founded Fortune Most Powerful Women and oversees the Fortune MPW Summit, the preeminent gathering of women leaders in business and beyond—and programs such as Fortune MPW Entrepreneurs and the Fortune-U.S. State Department Global Women Leaders Mentoring Partnership. Pattie also develops Live Content across Time Inc. Her blog, Postcards, is about how power players lead and navigate their careers. Pattie won Time Inc.'s prestigious MVP award for her performance in 2012.

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