- Learn more about Stockwell’s 18-month plan to drive the success of the One brand in our Q&A, click here
- Consumers don’t want heavy emotion and imagery that comes with traditional charity, says Stockwell, read more here
- One’s products are aimed at fashionable ethically-minded consumer who don’t boast about how much they’ve donated to charity, find out more here
Working alongside Sir Richard Branson on special projects such as Virgin Galactic, Virgin Cruises and Virgin Casinos is all in the past for Ashley Stockwell, once the Virgin Group’s top marketer.
His claims to fame include being on the original Virgin Cola team in 1994 and creating the “Pammy” bottle based on the figure of Baywatch star Pamela Anderson, as well as coming up with Virgin Atlantic’s Heathrow Clubhouse lounge.
But after 19 years occupying top roles with the company, Stockwell has taken his career in a new direction and, following a period of what can best be described as soul searching, is now nurturing the Global Ethics-owned One brand.
Proceeds from One’s diverse range of products – which include bottled water, toilet tissue and condoms – are used to fund health and welfare projects in Africa. For example, proceeds from bottled water are poured into a project to provide water pumps, toilet tissue and handwash sales fund sanitation projects, condom sales go towards the development of HIV and AIDS awareness and treatment campaigns, while proceeds from eggs and vitamin water are ploughed into farming initiatives.
One also runs a partnership with Alquity Investment Management to support microfinance projects in Africa, such as loans, savings and insurance services.
After just five years, Global Ethics has invested £6.5m in such projects, and claims its efforts have had a positive effect on 1.5 million people.
Stockwell himself is perhaps too pragmatic to use the term soul searching, but he does confirm that he was looking for a new challenge that came with more practical, fundamental rewards.
“I wouldn’t say that I have always had a social, ethical side,” he says frankly. “But you do get to a point in your life and career where you ask, what are we doing all this for? Is it for the big shareholders to make what they can?”
With a brief time at rival British Airways separating his graduation from university with an almost two-decade career at Virgin, Stockwell was attracted to the challenge offered by One after lunch with its founder and a former advertising director Duncan Goose. Perhaps it was being regaled with tales of the two years Goose spent travelling the world on his motorbike before coming up with the idea for One in a pub with friends in 2003 that sealed the deal.
“I looked at whether there were other avenues at Virgin, whether there were opportunities at other big brands or if there was anything within the social sector. The predictable thing would have then been to join a charity,” Stockwell recalls.
“But after a weird series of coincidences, including that lunch with Duncan where we found that we had a lot of connections and the fact that One water had just launched onboard Virgin Atlantic flights, it just felt frighteningly obvious as a next step.”
The glamorous world of Virgin may be a far cry from the grassroots approach of One, but Stockwell flourished in his former employer’s culture of innovation and plans to bring this to his new brand.
He recalls a particular project – introducing new salt and pepper shakers on Virgin Atlantic Upper Class to combat the problem of theft. “They used to have China salt and pepper shakers which cost a couple of quid, so we changed them to cute little aeroplanes that cost 20p. Therefore, we could afford it if some passengers did steal a few.”
The new dining accessories were labelled as “a pinch from Virgin Atlantic” and succeeded in saving the brand money. It is an example, says Stockwell, of how a category can be revitalised without being reinvented.
“Bottled water is bottled water. But are there things we can do around that from an innovation point of view that can put a twist on it?” he asks.
Parallels also run across the entrepreneurial nature and lively brand values Virgin and One share. While Goose may not aim to become the business tycoon that is Branson, they share an ambitious spirit and drive, says Stockwell.
“I enjoy working with entrepreneurial individuals that are creative and like throwing ideas around,” says Stockwell. “Part of the enjoyment is trying to work your way through that and managing their creativity and drive to make the most of it.
“Duncan is passionate about changing people’s lives but he is also creative around every part of the business. So building a brand like One in the same way we built Virgin is a massive opportunity and something I can add value to.”
Goose is not just another business figurehead that has combined profitability with philanthropy, according to Stockwell. What sets Goose apart from the likes of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, whose foundation funds global health programmes, and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who has pledged to give half his fortune to charity, is the level of risk he took.
“Duncan started this from nothing – he mortgaged his house to set it up. He didn’t make a million and then decide he was going to do a bit of good,” says Stockwell. “He realised there was an opportunity to set up an ethical business and he has put his life on the line for it. That’s quite ballsy. And deciding to give away all the profits from day one is probably slightly mad.”
Mad, maybe, but One’s advantage comes from being launched just before consumers started dictating that brands should become more ethical and sustainable, and having those qualities from the onset rather than introducing them later.
Stockwell says that consumers have evolved to consider the origins and impacts of what they buy, and just who is the corporate face that sits behind them. He uses what has been a buzzword – “ethical consumerism” – but agrees that the trend itself has evolved beyond the confines of the catchphrase and its traits are fast becoming a widespread demand from shoppers worldwide. More people are looking to buy “more socially acceptable” alternatives as a stand against big corporate brands, he says.
But how does someone who for so long made a living out of being commercially minded learn how to combine this with One’s charitable focus? “The balance between building a commercially successful, respected consumer brand, while also knowing that we can make a massive difference to some people was what really attracted me to the One brand,” Stockwell says.
“But there is a balancing act in terms of how much you invest and where, and how you build that brand, without giving anything away. We could invest all our profits in marketing but then we wouldn’t make any social change. I haven’t quite come up with the answer yet.”
Certainly launching TV and radio ads, as well as using social media to build the One name, has made a dent on the consumer landscape in terms of brand awareness.
But this is only part of the puzzle, as Stockwell’s team must ensure relationships with retailers remain productive and that new ones are cultivated. The big five supermarkets are all on board (see Q&A, below), and part of Stockwell’s remit is to work on retail marketing and staff engagement within these brands. Managing relationships varies between communicating with and selling to product buyers, marketing directors and even corporate affairs and PR directors.
It can be tricky, but One seems to be ticking a part of these brands’ corporate social responsibility strategies. One can demonstrate to each retail partner a specific project their sales have helped fund, with the likes of The Co-operative, Morrisons and World Duty Free name checked on the website next to individual case studies of achievement.
“We take people from the retailers out to see the projects in action, which is a great staff engagement and reward, as well as building ambassadorship of what we do. Those are key from a marketing point of view,” notes Stockwell. He visited Malawi earlier this year and saw the results of One’s work, such as schools where student numbers rose significantly after a water pump was installed on site.
While Malawi is One’s focus for now, the brand may expand further. One operates in the US and Australia, and Stockwell says consumers in these markets may connect better with projects outside Africa, such as in India or China.
“We are looking at what’s more appropriate for American and Australian consumers, and maybe Africa isn’t.”
Good intentions aside, can One compete with category veterans such as Evian, which has established itself as a champion of water conservation projects in places such as Nepal and Thailand? Stockwell replies: “If all our competitors started doing what we are doing then we would all be creating social change in a bigger way. He adds that Goose quotes a “ridiculous figure” that if every bottled water brand gave away just 1% of their profits, the world’s water problems could be solved within 30 days.
But what Stockwell hopes will give One, and the rest of his career, its lasting power are the foundations and integrity of the brand. “I hope we get the message across that this isn’t a fad or a sales promotion gimmick – this is what we do. Our business model is that we will always do this.”
CV Ashley Stockwell
- April 2011-present Group sales, marketing and brand director, Global Ethics
- 2006-March 2011 Key roles within Virgin Media, including executive director of brand and marketing, managing director of brand and acting HR director
- 2001-2006 Board director, Virgin Enterprises and group brand marketing director, Virgin Management
- 1999-2001 Managing director, Virgin.com
- 1997-1999 Design, brand and product development director, Virgin Rail Group
- 1996-1997 Design, brand and product development director, Eurostar UK
- 1994-1995 Design and product development manager, Virgin Trading Company
- 1991-1994 Design manager, Virgin Atlantic Airways
- 1987-1991 Design executive, British Airways
- Education Brunel University, Industrial Design BSc (Hons)
Marketing Week (MW): How are you settling into your new role?
Ashley Stockwell (AS): It’s a big change. I’m really trying to get my head around the business, understand where it’s at, what the issues are, what we need to plan and do over the next two to three years. It’s a tiny business compared with Virgin, and that’s great in terms of just having a small team to work with.
MW: How does the business work?
AS: There are several sides. There’s the manufacturing side, of which the water is part, and we bottle our own water in the UK. We manage all of that, from sourcing it from the spring in Wales, to designing the packaging, doing all the marketing and managing all the trade sales and retail support.
Aside from that, we have license partners, of which eggs is the most recent one – we work very closely with Noble Foods on that. They pay us a royalty fee and a donation to cover it. We work with them on the brand positioning and packaging but they manage the marketing and retail sales, with us acting as a brand guardian.
We have another part of the business that deals with food service providers that have service contracts with corporate offices, universities, and places like that, where One Water is stocked in the canteen.
MW: What exactly does your role cover?
AS: Everything from sales to brand, marketing and licensing across all our territories. The structure of the business runs down from Duncan Goose, who is the managing director in an entrepreneur/leader/owner sort of role. We have a small sales team and they work with our existing retail partners and stretch out our distribution. Plus there is a small team of marketing people who help build on our plans.
Before I joined there were people doing bits of it. Duncan was running the show pretty single handedly and part of my role is allowing him space to help build the One Foundation. People were previously doing some marketing and licensing, and now I can pull all that together and be really clear on roles and responsibilities and setting goals and targets so everybody is heading in the same direction.
MW: What are your main priorities at the moment?
AS: There are lots of things to get on with, such as building a long-term marketing plan. At the moment it’s sort of six months by six months and what we want to build is an 18-month to two-year plan. You need to build that, particularly in terms of working with retailers and the long lead times they have.
MW: How are you increasing brand awareness?
AS: There is a campaign currently running that is primarily on TV and radio. We produced a series of ads that are quite flexible; some talk about the range of products and some talk about a specific product like eggs or water. We’ve run the 30-second TV ad on about 60 spots. We also have a radio campaign running nationwide that is targeted primarily at daytime shoppers, such as mums listening to the radio in the car while dropping the kids off at school.
MW: How has your retail strategy progressed so far?
AS: We’ve made a good start with retail partnerships. We have distribution in Morrisons, The Co-operative, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Asda and Ocado. Some take a number of products, some take all. The short-term focus is to work on those existing relationships and work on building the product ranges that they stock but also increase their rate of sale. As people buy more, we get more shelf space and so on.
MW: Is it difficult to convince consumers to pay a premium for One products?
AS: Price-wise, we position ourselves at or just under the brand leader. This isn’t cheap own brand, this is a quality product. The challenge for us and the retailer is to negotiate a decent price so we can make some money. If we don’t make any money we can’t give any away.
MW: You already sell products such as water, toilet tissue, handwash and condoms. What others do you plan to launch?
AS: We will be launching new products but we need to have the resource and capability to do that effectively. We have plenty to do at the moment with the products and retailers we have on board now but we have got things in the pipeline for the next 18 months that do involve launching new products. But the ultimate aim is not to have, say, 20 products by the end of the year. The aim is to get more net profit that we can give away, which is about building distribution and brand awareness.
Thomas Schultz-Jagow, director of communications at Oxfam, asks: You have decided to prioritise brand-building over focusing on the ethical cause which has previously been clearly associated with One. In the eyes of the uninformed consumer, does that not make One products just like any other?”
Ashley Stockwell (AS): Research shows that consumers who want to do more to help improve people’s lives want to integrate this action into their everyday lives. They don’t want any of the heavy emotion and imagery that comes with traditional charity. So the key is to ensure our brand has the right balance between demonstrating the aspirational and visually engaging triggers, while also demonstrating the unique proposition of like-for-like giving. With the evolution of our One brand identity and the refreshed range of packaging we have gone some way to get that balance right. I believe we can be more than just another brand of toilet tissue because – let’s be honest – who wants to just be a loo roll brand?
Annika Small, director of internet safety body Nominet Trust, asks: How will you use the internet to increase public awareness of the causes that One funds in Africa, and the impact that people can make by getting behind One?
AS: We use social media extensively to highlight the issues we are tackling and share the impact the One Foundation is making. We use our own website, our own YouTube channel, and Facebook and Twitter to share a range of content. We have almost 250,000 fans on Facebook, so the challenge for us is to not only double the number of fans in 12 months but to develop ongoing engagement of those fans.
My last 24 hours
We are creating a new product development strategy and are in talks about our development plans in Australia. We had meetings with our PR agency and media agency this week to review how our campaigns are going and what needs to be done over the next 12 months.
I am also a mentor with the Marketing Academy. In fact, I recently hired one of the 2010 scholars Anita Kinniburgh, who was at Green & Black’s as a brand manager.
I cheekily got involved with the rebrand before I joined One, but there is still a lot to do in terms of rolling that out and making people understand what the brand stands for and its character and personality.
It’s weird having conversations about bottled water and TV ads then moving into insights into the toilet tissue business. But I find that interesting, having worked at businesses from an airline to trains to online then broadband and mobile – I can have a fresh view on things and question how they are done.
Marketing Week feature writer
If you were lucky enough to get onto the summer music festival circuit last year, you may have noticed that festivals such as Latitude, Reading and Butserfest sold One-branded water. Even if music festivals aren’t your scene, it is likely you’ll soon hear of the brand – its filter jugs recently went on sale in Asda and other projects, such as recruitment services and broadband, are in the pipeline.
You might have also come across One-branded loo roll, condoms, chocolate raisins, nuts, eggs and vitamin drinks in the aisles of your local supermarket. Or you might be one of the 5 million people a year to have seen the ad featuring David Tennant, which was made for £290 and airs for free on all Virgin Atlantic flights.
Matt Cooper, head of licensing arm Global Ethics Investments, spent five years running an environmentally friendly water cooler company until he met One founder Duncan Goose in autumn 2009.
Cooper says One’s products are aimed at the fashionable ethically-minded consumer who doesn’t like to boast about how much they’ve donated to charity, but might have Fairtrade and One goods visible in their homes. It’s almost like the UK version of Bono’s RED, which has global clout and big-name ambassadors.
Cooper says that people understand the brand because the proposition is simple – “I do this, you get that”.
One chief operating officer Julie Devonshire adds that the brand is starting to define who its customers are.
Last year One enlisted the help of Red Bull and M&C Saatchi deputy creative director Tiger Savage at a brainstorming day to help decide what to do next and who its “aspirational group” might be.
Having big names on board as advisers, such as former Green & Black’s managing director Dominic Lowe, Red Bull UK managing director Nigel Trood and Birds Eye sales and board director Nick Johnson clearly helps, but if ever the phrase “punching above your weight” should be applied to a company, surely The One Foundation is it.