The Creatives have no clothes! (Episode 122)

The Creatives have no clothes! (Episode 122)

Interview with John Schoolcraft, Chief Creative Officer at Oatly.

Sometimes, we need someone to point out the obvious that everyone has missed. In the classic story of Hans Christian Andersen it is the child who screams out “The Emperor is naked!”.

 And for marketing we have John Schoolcraft, Chief Creative Officer at Oatly. 

 Oatly is a Swedish food company that produces alternatives to dairy products from oats. They generated more than $783 million in revenue in 2023 and the company has seen amazing growth the last few years. The company was considered to be one of the top 10 companies in Fast Company’s list of ‘The World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies of 2019’. And John plays an important role in this successful journey.


I recently met with him to hear about their unusual creative approach.


You see, Oatly does not use an advertising agency. They do not even have a marketing department.


And yet they have been nominated to – and won! – numerous advertising awards and even done an – epic – Super Bowl commercial a few years back (


So how can they have such successful “marketing” without a marketing department or an agency?


Because they have a “creative department” instead of a “marketing department,” and the creative department looks at themselves as problem solvers, not marketers.


John Schoolcraft to me: “We go to other departments in the company and tell them ‘We do not want a brief; we want your problems’.”


The creative team gets involved early in the process and focuses on solving problems that the organization has defined. 


Many marketing directors and heads of ad agencies focus on the “client-agency relationship” (the tangible and intangible agreement between an organization (the client) and the company that is providing marketing, video, animation, search, advertising, or public relations services (the agency).)


But since Oatly does not use traditional agencies or have a traditional marketing department, they instead focus on the “Creativity-Business Relationship”.


John explained to me that creativity is at the very center of the whole company, and that the creative department that John is running sees as its primary role to help solve business problems with creativity.


That is how they, just to mention one example, came up with a soft-serve ice-cream product that is now being sold in stadiums in the US and at shops across Europe.


“Marketing people are a filter’, explained John to me. Take them away and let creatives work directly with the organization, and you become faster, more innovative, more customer-centered, more nimble, and braver.

John stresses that he does not run an “in-house agency”, that would just risk becoming the worst of an agency and the worst of an in-house department.


Instead, he told me. “Philosophically we have one foot outside. We represent the consumers. But we work extremely close with the rest of the company. We have removed every single thing that gets in the way of making great creative ideas.”


And it works. At a recent advertising award in Sweden Oatly was nominated for 13 (!) different awards, making Oatly the second most nominated agency- amazing, especially considering that they are not even an agency…


John uses the promise of creative freedom that comes with letting creatives work directly with business leaders – instead of working with business problems via a marketing department through an ad agency- to recruit some of the best creatives in the industry. And he then tells them: “There is no client. You are the client. There is no-one to go to, you have to decide if it’s great, you have to be willing to make that call…”


No brief. No client. No agency. Just creative business solving.


How refreshingly and inspiringly simple.


What would happen if you dismantled your marketing department, fired your agency and hired creatives who focused on solving your business problems?

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