Brands will fade away if they don't defy barriers and humanise, says Mark Tutssel of Leo Burnett

In an interview with, Tutssel says his focus has always been to create people-brands. In the time of data and technology, connecting with people emotionally has never been more difficult, he says

Akansha Srivastava and Niraj Sharma
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Brands will fade away if they don't defy barriers and humanise, says Mark Tutssel of Leo Burnett

Mark Tutssel

Mark Tutssel, Executive Chairman, Leo Burnett Worldwide, feels that two billion millennials across the world are leading the change and therefore it has become very important for companies to adapt to it. "Millennials identify with brands that share their value and are transparent."

"The way brands look at the bottom line has to change. It doesn’t have to be return on investment anymore. It's return on human interest," he said.

In an interview with, Tutssel said that Leo Burnett isn't just an advertising agency but a creative solutions company.

"We are in the business of ideas and creativity is the most valuable asset in business. So, we are a solutions company, first and foremost, and our goal is to innovate and constantly challenge the status quo," he said.

Tutssel said that his focus has always been to ensure that people in his organisation grow and that's the only way that the client's business will also grow.

Speaking on the upcoming launch of Marcel, an artificial intelligence platform that brings together ideas from all Publicis agencies across the world, Tutssel said, "It creates connectivity and collaboration. But more importantly, it’s a springboard for creativity. 80,000 people around the world would use it. So, you could be a Junior Art Director in Colombo and you could be working on a Super Bowl commercial in America."

Highlighting the work coming from the India office of his agency, Tutssel said he has always been a fan of Indian creativity.


What's the thought process behind Marcel, the artificial intelligence platform of your group, and what purpose does it solve?

I think we need to radically change. We are looking to evolve, to be dynamic and be valuable to our clients. I think the introduction of Marcel is a great way of leveraging the power of AI. It’s a great platform for the company and the brands that reside in the company.

It is designed to be a springboard for creativity, new thinking, connectivity and collaboration, and to be a valuable asset to our clients. More importantly, to be the most incredible and valuable asset to our people and it’s designed for the people.

It gives creative people opportunities to shine. So, you could be a Junior Art Director in Colombo and you could be working on a Super Bowl commercial in America. We provide you with this beautiful opportunity to realise your potential and to learn from the best of the best.

Do you think that the launch of the platform is right on time?

What’s before time or after time? There’s so much talk in this industry, you listen to so much hot air and if I listen to the noise around me, multiple points of view emerge but I have got this very simple distillation- there are narrators and there are creators. I think we are brilliant at narrating the future of our industry and talk about what our industry is and isn’t doing. But the part of the creator is the part I reside in.

You said that the world is changing, so does Publics feel like it’s a little behind than the rest?

No, I think that the Publicis is trying to lead the change. I think Publicis is trying to say, “Hey look! Questions are being asked about our industry and the rapid expansion of platforms, consultancies and the way clients are doing business, the entertainment world, and the way people consume communication. Let’s not forget the two billion millennials around the world; they connect to the brands that share their point of view and values, and they are in control at the end of the day. They are basically leading the charge and leading the change and we have to basically adapt in such a way that we become valuable again.

Do you have any goals set in your mind with the launch?

The goal is to grow as a brand and as a holding company. But we will only grow and expand if we grow our people. So, the goal is to grow our people and grow our client’s business.

What do you have to say about your India office and the kind of work they're producing?

Our Indian office is arguably one of the most dynamic, future-facing parts within our Publicis group. I think Saurabh Varma and Rajdeepak Das are doing a phenomenal job at leading the change and thinking in a new way. They are constantly incubating new ideas and challenging the status quo. They are designing for the future, constantly experimenting, especially with Apollo 11 embedded in the agency where they are constantly looking for new ideas that really create massive human value. They are a company that has a laser sharp focus on people and everything they do is designed to create human value and transform human behaviour.

Varma often says that we are no more an ad agency; we are a solution provider. Do you agree to that?

We are in the business of creativity and we create creative solutions for our client’s problem. So, we are a solutions company, first and foremost, so our appetite to innovate and constantly challenge the status quo is obviously important and ambition is everything. In Raj, over the course of last 2-3 years, you have seen somebody with a massive appetite for change, to learn, to experiment, and to constantly move forward. He is the youngest CCO, I think he has the energy, passion and the creativity to a lead revolution in India. I think he is a new world thinker.

I look back to Taproot’s Santosh Padhi, they have done amazing work and they have always been at the forefront of change in India. But if you look at the work they have done for Vikrant, The ‘Roads That Honk’ campaign for HP lubricants, the work they did for Tata that was shortlisted at Cannes in the Sustainable Development Goals Lions, you will see that they are constantly looking for new ways to create value in society and to really resonate with human beings.

What piece of advice would you like to give to the Indian young creatives?

Be brave, be audacious, and constantly challenge. Don’t conform to the status quo, always ask questions. For me, great creativity lives incubation. When you think of Cannes, it is an incubator of new-well thinking. We are here to find ideas. We are in the business of ideas and creativity is the most valuable asset in business. Creativity can change the world. My advice, to anybody, regardless of the geography, is that never forget you are in the ideas industry.  

Do you think Cannes focuses more on social issues?

I think the focus is on humanity. The humankind philosophy that I wrote many years ago sits at the heart of Leo Burnett. We have always been in the people’s business and our goal is always to create people-brands, brands that people identify with. We want to create brands that people have life-long emotional relationships with, and brands that are stimulating, interesting, relevant and useful in their lives. The contract that people make with brands grows over time when a brand plays a meaningful role in their lives. I am an eternal student of human behaviour; the more we understand people, more we can create value in their lives.

Many brands still choose product-driven approach. What do you think about that?

The two billion millennials that exist in the world today are the ones really leading the change. They identify with brands that share their values. They are constantly looking for transparency, brands that do good in the world and more importantly brands that provide a service in a new way. So, I think brands now are forced to change their behaviour and become completely transparent. The old methodology, old manufacturing process and the old way of working is dead. There is no more return on interest, it’s return on human interest. ROI is return on human interest for me. Unless we get return on interest, we will never get return on investment and the new dynamic brands understand that. We have seen so many great clients who are progressive, looking for new ways for adding values to people’s lives. I am massive fan of Indian creativity. I love the spirit and pure ambition that runs through the veins of everybody there and the work ethic.

So, is it that the brands need to change their approach?

All brands will have to change their approach. If they don’t do it, they will fade away. Brands have to be nimble, agile, they have to be completely transparent and their reason for being has to be appreciated and understood by people. The best example of a brand with a point of view, a clear concise human purpose and a brand that stands for something is Samsung. Samsung used to be in the consumer electronics business, they are now in the people business. The goal over the course of the last 4-5 years has been to humanise the brand. The success that we had a year or so ago, when we were named the Creative Marketer of the Year at Cannes, is a testament to how far they have come and how quickly they have come. But they believe that meaningful human progress comes from daring to defy barriers and by doing so, you move the human race forward. You progress. ‘Do what you can’t’ is the brand’s philosophy. It is also the philosophy of the audience that the brand identifies with.

Is digital and AI supporting creativity?

Digital, AI, data and all of these things are creating conduits. They are informing us. The greater our understanding of people and human behaviour and the more we understand the way people think, feel, and behave, greater are our chances as communicators to connect with them. It is information, stimulation, and relevance and it allows us to target in new ways. But if you go back in time, targeting someone is fine but whether I will open my front door to you and allow you in is another thing. So, I think connecting to people has never been easier thanks to data and technology. But connecting ‘with people’, emotionally, has never been more difficult. That’s why creativity has to be held up as the most important asset that we have in business and in life. Without that, you will never create any emotional relationship with people.

Mark Tutssel Leo Burnett