The 25 most innovative CMOs in the world in 2018

Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

Today, chief marketing officers play a far more active role in the C-suite than ever before.

They don business hats in the boardroom, chart out innovation strategies and ways to integrate technology at scale, and drive measurable results.

With marketers emerging as stewards who steer organisations forward at a time of great disruption, Business Insider is celebrating the global marketers rising to the occasion.

Here we present the third instalment of our annual ranking of the world’s most innovative CMOs. The list is a little different from last year’s as we have 25 honorees this time instead of 50.

Scroll on to see the marketers who made the cut.


We relied on our reporting but also solicited nominations from readers. We tapped an advisory council for their suggestions too.

We then put the names up to a vote, with the council giving each nominee a rank between 1 and 25. We based the final rankings on the average scores.

We tried to cast our net wider than most other similar lists, acknowledging leaders from emerging companies as well as countries outside the US, for instance, whose brands have made a global mark.

Our advisory council of independent experts comprises Vivaldi Group CMO Agathe Blanchon-Ehrsam, former 360i executive chairman and comScore CEO Bryan Wiener, Deep Focus founder Ian Shafer, and R3 cofounder and principal Shufen Goh.

CMOs were ranked based on a number of attributes, including:

  • How effectively they have married art, science, and technology in their campaigns.
  • How they’re taking their marketing efforts in a different direction than their peers.
  • Whether they have mastered the art of storytelling across platforms.
  • How they have demonstrated that they can disrupt their industries.

Other factors were the size of the executive’s brand and how much the brand’s footprint has grown over the past year, the extent of their role and responsibilities, their influence in the marketing and advertising industry beyond their own brand, and whether their marketing efforts have driven their company’s performance.

25. Fiona Carter, Chief Brand Officer, AT&T Communications


Marketers have had an awakening when it comes to digital media. They are increasingly more aware that it’s really messy and not always safe for brands.

Giant ad spenders like AT&T are grappling with how best to use technology, spending clout, and powerful voices to effect change. Carter has been a leader on all fronts, such as calling out YouTube for its response to advertisers ending up next to hate videos while pushing Facebook to improve its metrics and ad products.

Besides showcasing tough negotiating tactics aimed at moving the overall industry forward, Carter is also using AT&T’s clout to better society. The executive this year helped steer AT&T’s participation in the Association of National Advertisers’ #SeeHer campaign, which aspires to improve the portrayal of women in the media.

24. Ukonwa Ojo, Senior Vice President, CoverGirl


Former Unilever executive Ojo has played a significant role in architecting CoverGirl’s biggest makeover to date, leading its rebranding effort late last year. She has transformed it from a makeup brand highlighting cosmetics to one that sees itself as a tool for self-expression and transformation.

She has also prompted CoverGirl to revamp its products to be more inclusive of racially diverse skin tones, and even appoint its first male brand ambassador. The legacy mass makeup brand is set to go premium, too, with its own flagship store launching in Times Square in New York City this fall.

23. Blair Rich, President, Worldwide Marketing, Warner Bros. Pictures Group and Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

Warner Bros.

Rich faced several unique challenges over the past year. For one, how do you market a movie that’s essentially about virtual reality – a concept still fuzzy to many – and do it globally? And how do you overcome lousy buzz for the DC hero fest “Justice League,” which suffers from comparisons to Marvel’s “The Avengers” series?

In the case of “Ready Player One,” the Steven Spielberg-directed movie popped in China and crossed the $US500 million, helped along by memorable experiential marketing campaign at South by Southwest. “Justice League” had a tougher go of it, but that was surely offset by huge openings for Stephen King’s “It” (driven by a massively popular web trailer) and “Annabelle Creation.” Overall, 2017 was a $US5 billion box office year for Warner, according to Variety.

22. Antonio Lucio, Global Chief Marketing and Communication Officer, HP Inc.


Lucio has been on the frontlines of calling for change in the ad business, particularly around the issue of diversity. After demanding that its agencies move the needle on diversity in the teams servicing the brand, HP sponsored Free the Bid. The nonprofit initiative asks agencies, brands, and production companies to include a female director on every project.

And in April, the brand joined hands with Cannes Lions to launch the program #MoreLikeMe, a pilot mentorship program designed to promote diverse creative talent.

21. Shoumyan Biswas, VP of Marketing, Flipkart


You can’t give Biswas all the credit for the massive interest in Flipkart from suitors like Amazon and eventually victor Walmart, but the marketing efforts for this red-hot Indian e-commerce giant surely helped. Consider the recent #penguindad social-media campaign, which urged Indian dads to break traditional parenting roles. Or an innovative partnership with the tech company AdGreetz, which resulted in 100,000 unique commercials distributed via social media.

Flipkart has made it a mission to bring a “progressive” vision of India to the world, all while building a $US20 billion company. The next step, according to Biswas, is to broaden Flipkart’s appeal to Indians who don’t live in huge cities. Walmart’s expertise should surely help.

20. Miguel Patricio, Chief Marketing Officer, AB InBev

AB InBev

With “Dilly Dilly,” AB InBev again managed to turn a nonsensical phrase into a cultural hit for Bud Light (remember “Wassup,” anyone?). But it wasn’t all fun and games: The company used the Super Bowl Stage to air a touching ad highlighting Budweiser’s charitable contributions during major natural disasters in 2017 set to “Stand by Me.”

And now the brewer is plotting to make itself as popular as its brands, Marketing Week reports. The plan is in early days, but it will rely prominently on the ambitious new sustainability goals the company has set for itself.

19. Deborah Yeh, SVP of Marketing, Sephora


Sephora is the kind of retail brand that other retail brands want to be like. The beauty-focused packaged-goods upstart is known for pushing inspirational marketing messages through digital and social channels and using data to sell directly to consumers, including a subscription beauty-box service. Under Yeh, Sephora’s marketing has included apps that help people “try on” makeup digitally to live social events with brand founders like Vicki Tsai from Tatcha, Forbes reports.

The company is typically first to experiment with digital tactics, such as Facebook chat bots and augmented reality. Meanwhile, in the real world, Sephora has even taken to giving customers free facials, has featured its store associates as models and has pushed for more “experiential retail.”

18. Keith Weed, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, Unilever


Brands continue to demand more proof from their agencies and partners that their digital advertising works, and Weed is one of a handful of CMOs pushing for better standards across the industry.

Weed has focused on transparency, measurement, and viewability. Over the past year, Weed has tested new viewability standards with WPP’s GroupM while also cutting back on the number of agencies that the brand works with. Signs of Weed’s work to become a more efficient, savvy marketer are already showing up: Unilever claims that shedding its roster of agencies saved the brand about 30% in agency fees in 2017.

17. Ann Lewnes, EVP and Chief Marketing Officer, Adobe


As a marketer, Lewnes has a challenging story to tell. Adobe’s roots are in software for digital creators, but more recently its focus has been acquisitions designed to build a suite of services for big marketers, such as the marketing cloud. To help extol the complex attributes of this cloud Lewnes and her team have embraced a robust digital-content initiative while helping make Adobe’s annual summit a highly anticipated industry event.

In addition Adobe looks to bring its brand to life with unexpected marketing for an enterprise company, such as hosting events for filmmakers at Sundance and partnering with the band Imagine Dragons on a creativity contest. Her team even helped students from Texas to restore family photos following Hurricane Harvey.

16. Leslie Berland, Chief Marketing Officer and Head of People, Twitter


Berland is on a mission to clean up Twitter and prove it’s more than a platform for trolls and bots to spread misinformation and abuse.

Over the past year, she’s used Twitter’s marketing to champion women in leadership roles and highlighted the platform’s diverse variety of opinions through campaigns like #SeeEverySide, which starred Chance the Rapper and generated 18 million views from a single tweet.

She also pulls double duty as Twitter’s CMO and head of people, and she brought together a group of female leaders for an event called #HereWeAre at CES after realising that the conference lacked female speakers. A livestream of the event collected 6 million views and led Berland to create a TV campaign that aired during the Oscars that featured Issa Rae and Ava DuVernay.

15. Raja Rajamannar, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, Mastercard


From exploring the future of virtual reality with an app that lets consumers buy Swarovski-designed home d├ęcor to Facebook Messenger chat bots, Rajamannar has tried to keep Mastercard up to speed on technology. He’s also evolved Mastercard’s ongoing Priceless campaign to focus on social change and telling stories about people’s passions and purposes.

That’s not to say that it’s been an easy year for Mastercard. Rajamannar recently pulled a charity-focused effort in Latin America after facing social-media backlash. But, overall, Mastercard’s marketing has been a win for the credit-card giant.

14. Marc Mathieu, Chief Marketing Officer, Samsung Electronics America


After shepherding Samsung through one of the worst branding disasters and recalls in recent history, Mathieu went a step further and revamped its approach to marketing.

Instead of sleek products, human stories became front and center of its marketing with the brand seeking to inspire purpose beyond its bottom line, encapsulated in the tagline “Do What You Can’t.”

He also launched Samsung 837, a New York-based consumer playground-cum-marketing lab, and partnerships with Arianna Huffington’s app Thrive and The New York Times’ Daily 360.

13. Carolyn Tisch Blodgett, SVP of Brand Marketing, Peloton


Cult fitness brand Peloton has seen a meteoric rise under Blodgett’s leadership, focusing on heady marketing mix of TV, digital, radio, and even billboards. Peloton made a splash with its first financing program timed with the holidays, followed by its largest media investment during the Winter Olympics, including broadcasting live spin classes from Korea. Its base has swelled to nearly 1 million members and its brand awareness has risen from 15% to almost 50% in the past 18 months, the brand says.

12. Linda Boff, Chief Marketing Officer and VP of Learning and Culture, GE


This 15-year veteran has overhauled a 126-year-old company’s public image in three years, breathing new life into GE’s brand with a variety of experimental digital initiatives. Her scope at GE has grown in recent months to include integrating learning and culture with communications and marketing in a way that further drives brand and reputation. The data-loving executive has also been the driving force behind a number of creative executions, including the “Unseen Stars” constellation ceiling installation at Grand Central Terminal in New York, which paid tribute to pioneering women in science and technology.

11. Eric Liedtke, Global Chief Marketing Officer, Adidas


Liedtke oversees everything from design and innovation to brand management and digital as well as e-commerce for Adidas and all its sub-brands globally. He’s led the brand’s evolution from just another sports brand to a lifestyle brand on the cutting edge of technology, posting double-digit growth along the way. He’s ramped up the brand’s focus on innovation and sustainability, endeavouring to make all its products from recycled ocean plastic by 2024 with the help of Parley for the Oceans.

10. David Rubin, SVP and Head of Audience and Brand, The New York Times

The New York Times

The New York Times prompted an international reckoning with its reporting on sexual harassment last year. But it’s not just its reporting that’s been hard-hitting: Its marketing has followed suit.

Rubin has led that effort with “The Truth is Hard” campaign, highlighting not just the issues coming to the fore but also how the issues are actually pursued. This approach – to highlight the value of paying for the media organisation’s reporting – has paid off handsomely, with 2017 being a banner subscription year for The Times, with subs hitting record totals.

9. Fernando Machado, Global Chief Marketing Officer, Burger King

Burger King

No one knows how to constantly deliver a flame-grilled burn quite like Burger King, which has only amped up its creative and sassy takedowns of rival McDonald’s under Machado in 2018. Most recently, it rolled out a series of ads that featured what it said were patios of former McDonald’s executives to show that they had grills and how Burger King’s patties were made. It released a string of other ingenious campaigns in recent months, such as Whopper Neutrality, Chocolate Whopper, and Whopper No-Show.

8. Jill Cress, Chief Marketing Officer, National Geographic Partners

National Geographic

Since joining National Geographic Partners in 2016, Cress has overseen brand strategy and is tasked with juicing up the media brand’s marketing and partnerships.

Under her leadership, National Geographic has pledged to cut down on single-use plastics that cause pollution with a multiyear campaign that includes research initiatives, corporate commitments to sustainability, and new packaging that wraps the brand’s magazines in paper instead of plastic. Cress worked with Google and ad agency 360i last year to create a voice-activated meditation app that serves up mental-health information for veterans suffering from PTSD.

7. Melissa Waters, VP of Marketing, Lyft


In just two years, Waters has put Lyft’s challenger brand squarely on the map. She has driven the ride-hailing company’s marketing strategies at a pivotal time, fuelling growth and grabbing market share when its biggest competitor was reeling from its own spate of challenges.

Her “empathy-driven” approach of putting people first has surely helped, as have innovative campaigns such as Round Up & Donate, which has yielded $US5 million for charities and the #GiveADamn partnership with Budweiser, an effort that has supported over 150,000 trips to combat drunk driving.

6. Marc Pritchard, Chief Brand Officer, P&G


As the world’s largest advertiser, Procter & Gamble holds a lot of clout in the advertising industry and its work to clean up digital advertising.

Despite cutting marketing costs, P&G’s sales continue to grow. The brand has slashed $US750 million in agency and production fees with plans to cut another $US400 million with a goal of trimming the number of agencies it works with by 50%. In April, Pritchard unveiled a new agency model that brings together talent from competing shops to handle P&G’s fabric-care brands like Tide and Mr. Clean. Under his leadership, P&G is experimenting with bringing more agency resources in-house to cut down on fees.

5. Diego Scotti, Chief Marketing Officer, Verizon


Scotti threw down the gauntlet when he sent out a letter to Verizon’s agencies in 2016, asking them to improve their diversity numbers and even tracking their progress. And he hasn’t rested. After unveiling Verizon’s diversity fellowship program last year, he presided over the graduation of the first batch of AdFellows this spring – with 90% of the 20 fellows joining Verizon or one of its partnering agencies in full-time roles beginning this summer.

The company has broadened the program to include more partners, and invested in broader industry and community efforts like The One Club and the Marcus Graham Project. Plus, its own in-house agency walks the talk, with 50%-to-50% white-to-nonwhite and 52%-t0-48% female-to-male ratios.

4. Kelly Bennet, Chief Marketing Officer, Netflix

Over the past few years, Netflix has proved it’s not just the king of content but also the king of marketing that content. And Bennett, who leads global marketing and social media across 150 countries, has had a big role to play.

From “Stranger Things” to “Narcos,” Bennett has managed to extend some of the streaming giant’s most successful franchises into thrilling experiences across the digital, mobile, and out-of-home media.

3. Chris Spadaccini, EVP of Consumer Marketing, HBO


Over his nearly 20-year career at HBO, Spadaccini has led innovative marketing campaigns for some of the network’s most high-profile shows, including “Game of Thrones,” “Entourage,” and “The Sopranos.”

HBO has kept the momentum going, re-creating the town of Sweetwater for the “‘Westworld’ Live Without Limits” experience at SXSW this year, perhaps the most sophisticated stunt it has ever attempted.

2. Kristin Lemkau, Chief Marketing Officer, JPMorgan Chase

JP Morgan Chase

Long part of an influential consortium of CMOs tackling the murkiness of digital advertising head-on, Lemkau has emerged as its true torchbearer over the past year.

She has led the charge on combatting issues of ad fraud and brand safety, first by slashing the number of sites that JP Morgan advertises on from 400,000 to 10,000 and then by getting her team to develop its own algorithm on YouTube to ensure that its ads don’t end up next to dicey videos.

She’s focused on spending the brand’s $US5 billion marketing budget on developing a strong data and programmatic team in-house and creating compelling, noninterruptive content series with partners like Group Nine Media, LeBron James, and the Maverick Carter.

1. Seth Farbman, Chief Marketing Officer, Spotify


With 170 million users in 65 markets, Spotify has transformed the way users engage with music. In 2018, the company not only went public but also rolled out a free, ad-supported version.

Farbman has stewarded the brand through this journey, sometimes by crunching user data and transforming it into witty billboard ads and sometimes by taking over museums to honour modern-day hip-hop stars in 3D-printed Greco-Roman-style sculptures.

So much so that, in a break from tradition, the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity is honouring the brand – and not an individual – as its 2018 Media Brand of the Year.

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