“Walking on ceilings: forging ahead as the advertising world gets turned upsidedown”


Seth Hillstrom:

Carmen d’Ascendis, SVP, Global Brand Director, Finlandia Vodka & Chambord Liqueur, at Brown-Forman is here with us today to talk about leaning in to change and navigating an advertising world that’s being turned on its head. 

This is one of several major themes at this year’s eBev conference (October 24-26 in Las Vegas, http://ebevseries.com) so we’re very excited to get an early look!   

Carmen, thanks so much for joining us today!

Carmen d’Ascendis:

Good morning Seth!


And good afternoon to you in Amsterdam!

Carmen – you’re a venerable marketing and business leader who has significantly effected change for some of the world’s largest alcohol brands. In doing so, change (or the constant of change) is something you’ve always embraced along the way. Tell us why you believe that mindset has become increasingly critical for today’s brand marketers…


Seth, first let me thank you for inviting me to participate in this forum and let me also say thank you for the generous comments. I’ve been called many things but this is the first time I’ve heard “venerable.”

Yes, change is a constant and the pace of change has increased adding to the pressure to change – it is a vicious cycle. The challenge is to avoid change for change sake and change in a way that is on brand.

The always-on mindset driven by digital/Social media combined with an explosion infotainment have worked to heighten consumers’ expectations. They expect cohesive and contextual end-to-end brand experiences.


Well we are lucky to have you, and I know many folks across the industry would attest to the respect you’ve earned.

I love the last line here, because it’s so true: ” They expect cohesive and contextual end-to-end brand experiences.”  Anything less really falls short for the consumer.

All of this said, I think we often see marketers attracted to the shiny new platforms/tools/tactics. As a marketer – how do you check yourself along the road to change? How do you ensure that each activity has a purpose that is meaningful for your brand(s) – and is rooted in reality?


Yes, it’s easy to get caught up in the race for new. Unless your brand identity or core message is about “new” there’s little need to be first to adopt the latest gimmick. Consumer’s aren’t evaluating their brand choice on the fact that you were the first brand in your category to use snapchat.

Therefore, I like always ask myself and my team if the new widget will help us be more efficient or effective in delivering the message.


Focusing on identifying an increase in efficiency or effectiveness in message delivery is a great way to ensure you’re sticking to platforms, tools, and tactics likely to achieve your goals.

One major shakeup you’ve pointed to – and I agree with – is what’s happening in the agency world. I believe your quote is “The agency world is in turmoil,” and to that I’d add that it’s because so many got bloated, lost agility, and often evaluated change based on the potential net new fees generated rather than its ability to bring us closer to our consumers. What do you think has lead to the current agency climate, and where do you see the brand/agency relationship evolving to from here?


It’s easy to blame this on the agencies but client demands have contributed to this sad state. Our demands have consequences and come with costs. If we demand an agency have international reach, if we demand holistic campaigns, if we demand excessive reports and analyses the agencies respond by adding offices, staffing up on skills and adding layers of bureaucracy.

As for the future I believe more companies, lured by ease of access to consumers, via social media and ad exchanges, will in-house their creative.


Given your vast experience and deep connection to our industry…can you help us envision some of the most impactful changes you see coming for beverage marketers? Is it how we reach and influence our consumers? Is it how they buy our products? Or maybe you’re looking at new platforms and/or tools that have the potential to be transcendent?


It’s probably all of the above and then some.

In-house data science teams are helping to transform commodity data into ownable information. Combine this with media exchanges and you get very efficient buying power.

The explosive growth of cannabis in North America will impact consumer habits. And continued growth of e-commerce will put pressure on a calcified distribution system


Finally, you’ve recently shared a couple of steadfast pillars of effective marketing that I’d love to address: desire and beliefs. Sustained success, you say, is the product of both influencing people’s desire AND changing their beliefs. Why is this the case, and why does this look like practically? How are you implementing this ideology across Finlandia and Chambord?


It’s easier to understand if you look at influencing desire as short-term contribution and changing beliefs as long-term contribution. Or in other words desire is about retention of existing consumers and beliefs is recruiting future consumers.

Influencing desire simply put is sales and marketing execution. Get case displays in prime locations, get your pricing correct, get menu and drink features and get increased facing and improve shelf position. All of these things help driven short-term sales Changing beliefs requires more understanding of consumer motivations and reasons why they aren’t current consumers of your brand. This is about being relevant.


Powerful insights, thank you!  And thank you for joining us today!


Thank you for having me, it was a pleasure.


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