KEYWORDS: Branding, Advertisements, Ads, Strategic Leaders, Tactical Managers, Leadership Styles, Problem Solving, Assumption of Risk, Comfort Zone, Decision Making, Business Advisors, Consultants,  Client Service, Service Commitment, Team Work, Collaboration, Measuring Success, Client Value, Innovative Thinking

I am fascinated by the messages on billboards. They are everywhere.  Whether you are stuck in traffic on the Perimeter (I285) in Atlanta or catching the blurred ad on a fast moving Metro bus in D.C, ads surround us.

Like you, I initially see billboards as clever, expensive ways to get you to STOP, LOOK, WISH AND BUY.  Is it just me? When I am the most exhausted, I can smell salt in the air as I look at a “Return to Jamaica” ad. Or, when I am the most starved, a Panera Bread ad for asiago cheese focaccia can stop me dead in my tracks. Well-crafted ads can convey powerful messages.

On a recent business trip from New York, a photograph of brightly colored candy caught my eye as I was walking to my gate at LaGuardia.  When I stopped and looked closer, I read the following:  “Knowing you’re succeeding is one thing. Understanding why is even sweeter.” This was an ad for Accenture, a global consulting, technology and outsourcing services firm. Appearing next to the ad was Accenture’s branding statement – High Performance. Delivered.

As I rushed to catch my flight back to Atlanta, I couldn’t help but think whether there was a more subtle message behind the ad? What’s the distinction between “knowing” and “understanding” your success? Was the selection of the type of candy in the photograph coincidental or purposeful? Yes, I even dared to ask, is there a Leadership De-Constructed™ message in the ad?  Of course there is!

In determining the difference between knowing and understanding success, I reflected on coaching conversations I recently had with my clients regarding strategies for navigating their careers. When we discuss how they can advance within their organizations, a recurring issue surfaces around “being” a strategic leader versus “acting” as a tactical manager. To demonstrate the differences between the two leadership styles, we usually  spend time on drawing comparisons between how the two types of personalities “show-up” when problem solving.

For example, a manager focuses on completing today’s tasks.  He tends to stay in a “compliance-mode” of looking at short-term processes.  A tactical manager, therefore, will generally spend most of his energy in accumulating information to answer “how” and “when” types of questions. His problem solving with his team usually goes like this: When did the problem occur? And, how did the problem happen?

A strategic leader, however, approaches problem solving differently.  Rather than being preoccupied with details about process, which will keep her “in the weeds,” a strategic leader looks for long-term, result-oriented solutions. She focuses on helping her team to think creatively – to anticipate how today’s problem may look tomorrow, next quarter, or next year.  The business strategist asks a different set of questions. In addition to analyzing data to determine what happened, she wants to know why the problem occurred.

Now back to the distinction between “knowing” and “understanding” in the Accenture ad. I think Accenture wants to communicate to its clients that their consultants are strategic thinkers.  They want their clients to know that as business strategists, they will not be satisfied in knowing that they have succeeded in solving the client’s current problem. Instead, they want their clients to know that their service commitment exceeds this measure of success.

I believe the ad is saying that Accenture will not only provide insights about the client’s data and develop strategic actions, but that their consultants will ask “why” type questions.  In short, solutions provided will anticipate and solve future business issues for the client.

So what is behind the image of using candy in the Accenture ad? If you are a visual person, the boxes of red, blue, yellow and green gummy candy, are the first things that catch your attention. Next, your eyes focus on the playful shapes of the candy.  The candy resembles bears, frogs, worms, and fruit. I naturally asked myself whether there was something special about the type of candy photographed.

What struck me about the kind of candy featured in the ad was that it was clearly “candy for kids.” I concluded that the color and fanciful shapes of the candy were purposeful. When looking at the ad, I immediately felt nostalgic. It made me recall my summers in Texarkana, Texas where I worked in my grandfather’s country store. Back then, my sisters and I probably ate as much candy as we sold.

I began to vividly recall the “sugar rush” of sharing candy with the kids in the neighborhood.  I remembered how we spent countless hours creating “crazy candy combinations.” We were fearless. Working together, we created one-of-a-kind candy flavor combinations that could only occur by mixing PopRocks®, Sour Patch Kids, Now and Laters, gummy bears and Pixy Stix. Did Accenture want its clients to think of the “sweetness” of successful problem solving from the perspective of a child?

I think so. Joi Ito, a Japenese venture capitalist, calls this phenomenon “neotony,” the retention of childlike attibutes in adulthood.  You see, I believe that the candy you see in the ad is as significant as what types of candies that have been omitted. I started thinking about the difference between the candy I ate as a kid and the candy I occasionally eat now. When I think of “candy for kids,” I think of fun, sugary, sweet concoctions.  Healthy type questions rarely cross my mind.

As a kid, I don’t recall asking whether the chocolate was more than 70% cocoa.  Were the almonds organic? Or, would eating peppermint enhance my memory? You see, my experience and memories of eating “candy for kids” was very different. I guess that’s the reason that “adult candy” is conspicuously missing from the Accenture ad.

I concluded that a photo of “adult candy,” such as chocolate truffles, would have taken the focus off of Accenture’s goal.  Perhaps using “candy for kids” helps to emphasize to  its clients that Accenture’s consulting team is willing to assume an “innovative, fearless mindset” when engaging in business problem solving.

I also thought that perhaps by using a “candy for kids” photograph, Accenture is not only speaking to its clients, but it is also telling its consultants about a “sweeter” problem solving approach. I concluded that Accenture’s message to its less senior consultants would go something like this.

Leadership Reflection: “As thought leaders in the field of analytics, we expect you to approach business issues of our clients from a strategic rather than a tactical point of view.  We want you to not only solve current problems that our clients are facing – but we want you to get behind the “why” of the client’s business issue and proactively problem solve.

We want you to become more “child-like” in coming up with creative solutions. This strategic thinking approach will require you to become curious.  Assume some risk. Get out of your comfort zone when analyzing. Test your assumptions with your team. Dare to question traditional beliefs about the data. Provide value to our clients by developing innovative solutions.  Because knowing we’re succeeding is one thing, understanding why is even sweeter. Let’s problem solve for our clients for the pure “sweet of it.”

As my flight was landing, I thought this is a compelling message for all of us, who are faced with identifying new ways to develop our brands as innovative problem solvers.

I am interested in your thoughts. What ad have you seen lately that may have a leadership message?

See Accenture Airport Advertisement Link:




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