Making a long distance relationship work

Singapore - With more global brands placing headquarters in Singapore, it is becoming a decision-making centre for many brands. But how does this structure work? Unilever and Lowe relate their experience of marketing Clear shampoo's US breakthrough from these shores.

While the Clear shampoo brand already had a presence in 40 markets globally, one market it had yet to enter was America - one of the biggest markets for hair products. Surprisingly, one thing the Unilever team found was the market seemed immature and underdeveloped, being dominated by a handful of key players. In particular, the positioning for anti-dandruff products was also underdeveloped.

"The existing solutions in the market gave the impression that anti-dandruff shampoo is a solution that you use one time, but you wouldn't want to stay on it for too long because the solution is too harsh, and not something you would want to use every day," says Francois Renard, global brand vice-president of Unilever Hair Care(pictured, right). "Therefore we saw a huge opportunity to grow the market in the US."

The team wanted to launch with this idea: if you want to change the problems in your hair, you have to start where it matters - the scalp. It based the creatives on the idea Clear was not only a dandruff-removing shampoo, but one that could be used every day to nourish the scalp.

While the brand has had much experience in Europe and Asia preceding this launch, the approach for the US was completely different. For example, in several Asian markets, celebrity brand ambassadors such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Korean pop star Rain and Sidhant Kapur for India were used for the advertisements. But as it would turn out, the same formula wouldn't work in America.

"We tested global ideas, for example, using our global performers such as football players, but the US needed more connection and familiarity. They were also not engaged by too much functional and literal sell," Renard says.

He says while trigger points for consumers are largely the same, cultural nuances called for a different approach. For example, what drives a Chinese consumer will be very different from what drives someone in the US.

"In China it is all about success, being flawless and projecting that; but in the US consumers are more likely to feel like they have been through that phase, and want to achieve those goals in a more humorous and charming way," he says.

The American campaign takes a notably different approach, starring a relatively unknown actor in a dilemma. The TV commercial starts on a melodramatic note, with a man stumbling through a desert. As the man falls helplessly to the ground a narrator says: "Oh to suffer with dandruff. Women hate it." The clip cuts to beautiful women draped in sexy desert garb, scowling at the man.

"But now sad man, you're saved by a new anti-dandruff shampoo, Clear," booms the narrator, as one beautiful woman arrives, holding up the shampoo.

As the voice-over describes Clear shampoo's redeeming traits, the man emerges triumphant from the tent, riding off on a horse with another gorgeous woman ruffling his now perfect hair.

TV and digital marketing took prominence in the media planning to introduce the new brand. Online, a Facebook page had also been set up, giving men "manly" pointers on anything ranging from how to open doors for women, style tips and more, in an aim to engage the audience and establish its humorous brand personality.

While the work was done here, Lowe still had to brief its New York office for ideas, working closely with chief creative officer for Unilever North America, Ronald Wohlman.

Did the team experience any difficulties handling the brief halfway across the world? Subarna Prabhakar,(pictured, left) global brand director at Lowe and Partners Worldwide, claimed there were none.

"We work as an ‘ideas community' and we are the global team based in Singapore so we are used to handling briefs where the creative work travels across the world."

The idea was shared mutually, though the New York team's local experience came in handy during the execution of the campaign.

"It's sheer arrogance to think we know everything sitting from here," Prabhakar says.

While she says the distance didn't affect the process, Renard says the team was stuck in trying to get the right idea out, throwing out one after another for a good length of time.

"We were trying many different versions and it was still not working. Time was a problem and we still couldn't break the apathy in the market for this kind of advertising. Of course, this was frustrating," Renard says.

The team tried many different things, working on weekends, changing the place they worked and the way they worked.The fact Unilever and Lowe are long-time partners definitely helped the process, adds Renard and Prabhakar.

In fact, Renard describes it almost like an old marriage. "It definitely helps to have the same agency. We understand each other so well sometimes we don't even have to talk. We don't have to try and convince each other as we know what's happening." For the full story, read Marketing Magazine Singapore's November issue.