Making FMCG brands sizzle online


Large fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) organisations such as Unilever, Procter & Gamble or Masterfoods face many challenges when exploiting interactive communications. This case illustrates some of the following challenges:

• The case for interactive spend is less clear than for companies with a transactional online presence since typically no sales can be directly generated online. Instead, these companies have to assess the role of their interactive communications in generating awareness, brand favourability and purchase intent.

• Assessing the optimal amount of investment in digital media on the company web site and third-party web sites relative to offline media is difficult.

• Creative executions which work well in TV and print may work less well online. Creative variants may need to be devised to make best use of the digital media.

• Some online marketing communications tools such as search engine marketing and affiliate marketing that work well for higher-involvement products are less relevant.

• Many of the brands are marketed internationally, so some consistency of messaging across countries is required, but also with a degree of localisation.

We will look at these challenges, and some of the opportunities through looking at different examples of how varied Unilever brands have exploited digital media in different campaigns. Unilever has products in three main areas: foods, personal care and home care. In 1998 there were no digital media, but in line with the dot-com boom many sites were built over the next five years for different products. More recently, digital marketing is managed centrally, but elements are included in many campaigns as part of Unilever communications channel planning for its different brands. Response by e-mail, SMS or interactive TV is used to build the database about consumer preferences.

Birdseye develops brand positioning - 'We don't play with your food'

If you visit the Birdseye UK site (, you will see that the site explains to visitors its core brand proposition through the messaging: 'We don't play with your food: Free from artificial flavours and quick frozen to keep nature's goodness locked in.'

The site also appeals to an audience who are particularly concerned about food and nutrition - the 'Health and Nutrition' section is one of the most popular on the site with content for people dieting, diabetics and vegetarians. ^

Interactive tools such as a 'healthy eating calculator' which calculates body mass index have proved popular. Such content is also effective at drawing visitors to the site through search engine marketing when they are searching for health and nutrition advice.

Permission marketing as Birdseye asks 'Are you a Salad Boy or a Wrap Girl?'

One example of this approach was a campaign to promote chicken fillet strips; offline print creative (100,000 leaflets) encouraged users to text in on 2 shortcode messages for the chance to win a trip to Mount Everest. Similar prizes were also offered via online partner sites and radio stations to extend the reach of the campaign further. The creative encouraged mobile phone owners to 'Text and Win' because of the immediacy and wider access to mobile phones. However, entry was also available via a web site.

Food brand Peperami has also been actively marketed online, with agency AKQA creating a 'too hot for TV' microsite that generated 20,000 orders for a trial within the first ten days and the ad was spread virally to over 100,000 online.

Lynx says: 'Spray more, get more'

Unilever-owned male bodycare brand Lynx has been an enthusiastic adopter of digital. In 2004, it won the New Media Age advertising effectiveness award in the online advertising category. The online Lynx Pulse campaign was created to support a TV ad, which featured a 'geeky guy' dancing in a bar with two attractive girls to the soundtrack 'Make Luv', which was later released and reached number one in the UK charts. The online creative used a series of dots to animate the dancer and featured the same music. The online creative ran as banner advertising and overlays, a 30-second screensaver on the microsite and as a viral e-mail.

The target audience for the campaign was 16-25-year-old men, and web site advertising placements included NME, MTV, The Sun, Kiss, Ministry of Sound, FHM and Student UK. The imagery was so popular that it was inserted into the end frame of the TV ad. It was also used in offline promotion activity across Europe.

The online campaign specifically aimed to raise brand awareness, offer brand interaction, promote trial and drive traffic to the Pulse microsite. It reached over 1.4m unique users online with average clickthrough rates on banners as high as 23%. According to dynamic logic figures, online advertising awareness rose by 326% after the campaign. The judges described it as 'a clever campaign with strong creative'. They also commented on the high production quality, which really stood out compared to other entrants, and said the site backed up well what the brand was doing offline.

In 2005, as part of an £11m 'Spray more, get more' marketing campaign, Lynx again created a microsite '' with digital assets such as videos of the ads and screensavers. It also encouraged them to spray (or vote for) objects within the pad to collect 'spray points' for a chance to win prizes, including five lads' pad weekenders in Ibiza. This approach appears to be an evolution of the campaign-specific microsite which needs to be revised for each campaign. Using a more permanent site such as can be used as a holding site which is updated for each campaign. Associated microsites may still be used, for example in 2005 a viral campaign '', which was a spoof adult video webcam game in which users can interact with two scantily clad females by typing in actions they want to see the girls do, such as dance, pillow fight and strip. The viral was seeded on viral and lads' sites, including, and various chatrooms.

Persil - making detergent fun online?

You may not have visited a detergent site recently, but Persil has shown that through developing the right proposition, this is possible. The typical target user is what Persil refers to as 'progressive mums' - busy working mothers with children aged under 10, who have Internet access both at home and work.

Persil has used interactive communications to get closer to its audience by creating an experience of interacting with the brand. Ounal Bailey, Persil brand activation manager, talking to Revolution (2003), explains the purpose of their on-site communications as follows: 'We wanted to create a real identity online, making a hub of information and an online brand experience. At this time, the site moved from a focus on product information to two main sections: Time-In or Product-related information and Time-Out which is about lifestyle and was divided into time for Mum such as relaxation, looking after skin and diet and time with the kids.'

One campaign which was customer-centric rather than product-centric was 'Get Creative' which encouraged the artisitic tendencies of children. Persil ran a £20 million integrated campaign that included press, direct mail, radio, online and PR. The Persil 'Big Mummy' challenge saw 15,000 children submit drawings of their parents. To drive entries, Persil used expandable banners and Tangozebra's Overlayz - a dhtml format that allows highly animated creative to float across the screen. Six sites were used to place the ads, including, Yahoo! UK & Ireland and AOL UK. Expandable banners appeared on's Learning channel and Women's channel, with the Overlayz ad, featuring a 'little monster' from Persil's above-the-line work, appearing on the Women's channel. The clickthrough rate for the online ads was 8.33 per cent on MSN, though lower on other sites.

Another feature of the site which helps build relationships with consumers, is the monthly e-newsletter, then known as 'Messing About'. In 2003, there were about 75,000 subscribers. The e-mail contains content from publisher partners such as IPC's Family Circle magazine and a 'make and do' feature at the bottom; for example, a pair of glasses to cut out and colour in. Revolution (2003) reported that around 17 per cent of recipients click through to the Persil site, with figures rising as high as 24 per cent for some segments. Users who click through to the site spent 15 to 20 minutes there, although the e-mails are designed so that customers don't have to visit if they don't want to.

A branded 'Messing about' application was set up on partner sites such as Schoolsnet ( and Users could register for the e-mail and use the activity finder application. There are also 'stain solver' applications, which let users get advice on the removal of a range of stains. Bailey explains the importance of partner sites: 'We've created applications that we've distributed to places where we would expect our consumers to go, so we're not expecting them to just visit our site. We're not kidding ourselves - we are a detergent brand. The aim is for people to have the experience of Persil wherever they are. So there is a variety of places such as, iVillage, Schoolsnet and femail, where Persil now has a presence.'

Another approach is sampling - sub-brands, such as Persil Capsules, Persil Silk & Wool, Persil Aloe Vera have been used to gain trial and to explain more about the product. For example, when Persil Aloe Vera launched 46,000 asked for samples online - a third of the total. Bailey explains: 'Persil Aloe Vera was a big launch. People see the ad on TV and wonder what else the product does, and they can't get much information from a 30-second ad. But they can get it online.'

A final approach Persil uses to communicate with its audience is to use it to connect with the online 'directed information seekers' - for example, people look for advice on 'stain removal' via the search engines and detergent brands can gain visitors and 'time with brand' through SEO

and PPC search engine marketing. Bailey says: 'Washing your clothes sounds really simple, but you'd be surprised what people don't know about getting their clothes clean and how many people use the site for that reason.'

The role of the corporate site

Although Unilever owns many brands, the corporate web site is still important. New Media Age (2005c) reported that Unilever is using the Internet to unify its brand worldwide, by re-launching its corporate site and 25 localised country web sites. The sites have been redesigned to reflect the company's mission statement: to meet everyday nutrition, hygiene and personal care needs through its products.

The new online image is also intended to make consumers aware that the sub-brands they buy all fall under the Unilever umbrella. The sites will present a clearer message that brands such as Dove, Knorr and Domestos originate from Unilever and will provide links to them. Unilever online communications manager, Tim Godbehere, who oversees its web strategy, explained to New Media Age: 'Everyone knows Hellmanns and Knorr, but not many are aware that Unilever is behind them. But only 10% of visitors to Unilever's corporate site were made up of the media and investors, even though it was designed to reach this audience. The rest were consumers. The Web sites are about getting consumers to make that connection and bringing Unilever to the forefront.'

Sources: New Media Age (2005c), Revolution (2003)

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