Santos gives soap the hard sell

Many brands claim to be global, but while numerous are certainly international few truly span the globe. Unilever’s Persil, marketed in other parts of the world as Omo, is one that can justifiably claim to do so.

Many brands claim to be “global”, but while numerous are certainly international few truly span the globe. Unilever’s Persil, marketed in other parts of the world as Omo, is one that can justifiably claim to do so.

The launch earlier this month of the brand’s Roboboy advertisement, created by Bartle Bogle Hegarty, heralds the arrival in the UK of a campaign that aims to build both brand and corporate responsibility credentials.

It is the first execution for its Every Child Has The Right strategy, which taps into worldwide concerns about child development. The strategy dovetails with the detergent’s existing global positioning and “Dirt is good” strapline by amplifying that theme to touch all of childhood.

The woman leading the strategy is Aline Santos, Unilever global brand vice-president. Speaking exclusively to Marketing Week, Santos outlines the challenges of working at a global level on Unilever’s biggest brand, a job she describes as “a privilege”.

The Every Child Has The Right strategy resonates with what Santos calls a “global tension” among mothers about their hopes and concerns for their children. The idea is backed by a study carried out by child development experts for Unilever across ten countries, which showed that mothers around the world share similar concerns.

Santos, herself a mother of two, says: “When you talk about a global brand you have to go beyond consumer need and think about social need. These are tensions that belong to a time.”

The success Unilever had with Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty inspired the company to think about laundry in this new way. Santos says of Dove, which she headed in Brazil at the inception of the strategy: “We thought about the preoccupations of women around the world.”

Santos was appointed to head the Omo/Persil brand in July 2005 and leads the global team from her base in Sao Paolo. She is supported by four “satellite” vice-presidents, based in different parts of the world. Although Santos leads the global strategy they are all of the same corporate status. She reports to Robert Davidson, a Unilever veteran with decades of experience in laundry and is also accountable to Keith Weed, global vice-president of homecare and hygiene.

The Every Child Has The Right idea was presented by BBH during the agency’s successful 2005 pitch for the global business against Lowe and incumbent JWT. The Roboboy creative was the work of John O’Keefe and Santos admits she is “very concerned” at the news he is leaving BBH for WPP (MW July 17). Lowe works alongside BBH, with the latter providing the strategic thinking and the former implementing it.

It expands the “Dirt is good” marketing theme introduced in 2003 by David Arkwright, then global brand director for Unilever laundry. At launch, the campaign flew in the face of traditional laundry wisdom, featuring clean clothes or demonstrations of how the fabric releases stains. Every Child moves this premise beyond laundry into the social sphere, touching all aspects of childhood.

However, Euromonitor industry analyst in household care Adrian Atterby questions the impact the strategy will have on actual sales.

Atterby goes on to point out that Omo/Persil may see good growth in developing markets but feels this will be more to do with Unilever’s corporate strategy and the lack of serious competition in some countries. According to Euromonitor, between 2002 and 2006, Omo’s market share grew from 11% to 30.5% in Algeria and from 37.2% to 45.7% in Vietnam.

Indeed, this week’s announcement that it is to sell its US laundry business – including Skip, the brand name which Omo is marketed under in the territory – underlines Unilever’s policy to expand in Asia, Africa and Latin America as well as Europe. “They are better placed to exploit those markets, whereas Procter & Gamble dominates the US,” Atterby adds.

There is no doubting the sincerity behind the initiative, and Santos is proud of the reaction it has had. For example, the Ministry of Education in Vietnam has implemented a programme of experiential play as part of the school curriculum in partnership with Unilever.

BBH group strategy director Nick Kendall not unkindly describes Santos as “demanding”, but adds: “She really raises the bar and there is a sense of personal mission for her. She sees brands as emotions.”

But Unilever is not a philanthropic organisation and though Santos says she is “a mother living a brand for other mothers” this strategy is all about selling more detergent. Santos, pleased with preview results in the “sophisticated and sceptical” UK market, says: “They’re very positive but let’s see how that translates into sales.”

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