The Digital Wake-up Call for FMCG Marketers

One of my favorite quotes was from Rory Sutherland, who said, “There was never a recession in consumers’ use of the Internet”. Yet arguably two decades on, when we see digital penetration at effectively 100 percent in mature markets (if you exclude the very young and the very old, the majority of whom will move online or to another place), we are only now starting to see the largest advertisers, the packaged goods companies, begin to follow their consumers into the digital world.

Now there is a simple reason for this, reach is still incredibly important to fast-moving consumer good (FMCG) marketers, something that is immediately apparent when you look at two of the most extreme examples of both traditional advertising and online marketing, namely Super Bowl and Evian Roller Babies. The Evian campaign was credited by the Guinness Book of World Records as being the most watched online advertisement with over 25.6 million views back in August 2009, a figure that jumped to over 45 million a mere three months later and today stands at well over 100 million. Now whilst Evian has been an undoubted viral sensation, compare two years to get to over 100 million with what can be achieved by the placement of one 30-second TVC at Super Bowl. Over 111 million Americans watched the Green Bay Packers defeat the Pittsburg Steelers. For packaged goods marketers and their media agencies, these numbers are gospel, hence the reason the insertion rates are the most expensive of their type, roughly five times that of one of the highest-rated shows in the U.S., the seemingly eternal American Idol.

But what FMCG marketers seem to be finally waking up to are a couple of salient points:

  • Digital doesn’t have to be an “either/or” proposition. Traditional and new media can work to their individual strengths and generate a better result accordingly.
  • Many of their target consumers have completely different media consumption patterns and can’t be reached through traditional media alone. When you consider that the fastest growing segment on Facebook is women aged 55+, it is apparent that digital isn’t only the remit of youth.
  • Whilst digital may not have the reach, it certainly can provide a depth of engagement that a 30 second TVC flying past as you walk out of the room during an ad break can’t hope to achieve.
  • And as the sophistication of mobile devices improves (especially bandwidth and geo-location), there is an opportunity to deliver compelling brand messaging where it matters most, the last three feet, where consumers are making the purchase decisions.

Now the packaged goods marketers certainly aren’t stupid. They have the largest budgets, have access to some of the most bleeding edge research around consumer behaviour and have the opportunity to pick from best in class agencies, technology vendors and infrastructure/media providers to reach their consumers. So why haven’t they embraced digital more aggressively in the past? Simply because they haven’t had to.

Paul Keating, the former Australian Prime Minister famously talked about the “recession Australia had to have” and if there was some good to come out of the global financial crisis (apart from a level of humility from the banking community) it is that it forced marketers to reevaluate and get more creative with their more limited spend. The result is we have seen some exceptional results from marketers following some simple approaches to digital:

  • Experiment: Think for a moment about how a nice cold ice cream makes you feel on a hot summer’s day. Unilever’s Heartbrand tapped into an insight about the simple joy of ice cream with their Share Happy vending machine and then helped you share the joy with your social network at the same time. Right on brand and wonderfully effective.
  • Observe and respond: Perhaps the most over referenced case for brand use of social media is the Old Spice – “Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign. Say what you like about the so-called ‘advantage’ they had with an irrelevant brand and limited budget, the compelling aspect of this case is that they watched a zeitgeist moment being created around the campaign and rather than respond with increased media weight and another ad six weeks down the track, they decided to respond where the consumers already were, on Facebook and Twitter. Hard to argue with a 55 percent increase in sales in a three-month period.
  • Innovate: As the leader in the category that Old Spice was struggling to remain relevant in, Axe hasn’t been following the tried-and-true route to reaching their consumers. Most of us apply deodorant just once per day and yet only watch TV in the evening. How better to reach their target audience than to provide them with a pleasant morning wake-up call from an Axe Angel, just before they shower, (use Axe) and start the day?. Fantastic use of mobile and a campaign that has subsequently been transitioned into a lower tech market like India to great success proving how compelling it is.
  • Integrate: Digital, print, PR, and an impending feature film. What else is there to say about Gatorade Replay but ‘winner’.
  • Remember the power of ideas: Lastly the one thing FMCG marketers tend to have drilled into them at a young age is the integrity of the brand but also that ideas move people. Babies are always going to make people feel good but when your brand promise is to help your consumers “Live Young” you better keep delivering on the idea. Check the latest from Evian with the Let’s Baby Dance campaign, coming to a mobile or your social feed soon.

In closing, it has taken them way too long to arrive. The budgets are still minuscule and innovation is still relatively silo’ed but digital marketing is going to get a lot more interesting now the packaged goods marketers are in the digital space. To quote Keith Weed, CMO, Unilever, “I’m a believer in experimenting, innovating and ensuring that we are a step ahead of the consumer – so when they get there we are already there”.

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