Marketing Week spoke exclusively to Michalski last week’s Festival of Media Global in Switzerland.
Marketing Week (MW): How do you get your teams excited about marketing products that involve sensitive issues such as incontinence (Tena) and feminine hygiene (Bodyform)?
Christoph Michalski (CM): How many dinner parties have you been to where people suddenly talk about feminine hygiene and incontinence care? You probably don’t know anyone working in that field. It is one of those categories where, on the face of it, it seems as if [the question is] how do you motivate people?
I worked on Axe at Unilever. When I went home after a long day I felt very inspired, really excited and I loved the brand. But did I really improve the world?
When you go away and visit nursing homes in China, Brazil or Europe and you see the distress that incontinence care brings to people, who basically feel that it is the last step before dying, when you are able to bring them products, innovation and ideas that helps them deal with it, you really do something fundamentally good.
So many people stand in front of this problem and don’t know what to do about it, they don’t want to ask their neighbour about the fact that their husband has become incontinent and they don’t even like to talk to their doctors about it.
Advertising for Tena advertising, shows what it can do for people, but every ad for Tena also creates awareness in people’s mind that incontinence care is an issue we can deal with. That is such as strong point for everyone who works on Tena.
The same for feminine hygiene. You could argue that for a young woman who menstruates for the first time that life suddenly breaks down on one hand, but on the other they realise they become a woman and maybe question what it is all about.
You learn how to articulate this in a good way without it becoming an embarrassing discussion. You would be amazed when you talk about these things with people at a dinner party, and they are absolutely happy to talk to you about it, because people have had experiences themselves.
MW: What are the key issues for marketers today?
CM: One thing is the online revolution. I was responsible for the interactive brands and customer centre in Europe for Unilever and the online revolution has created so much confusion in people’s minds. So any conference or event today has to drive to bring simplicity to a very fast changing environment.
The biggest change has been from a brand ‘temple’ to a ‘consumer centric’ discussion. The [consumer] was already there at the time of the brand temple except that nobody needed to do [think so much about them].
Secondly, as a brand owner or agency expert you cannot know everything any more. Because of the complexity of technology, things take off. Who would have guessed that Facebook would take off within three or four years at the level it did?
Then lastly, from a marketer perspective, I fear that we, veterans (and I’m not even a veteran), fear that I am overtaken sometimes with the comprehension of what people do with that [the new technology developments].
To be honest I had not heard of Instagram before Facebook bought it for $1bn. So I am thinking how many things are out there that are significant enough to pay that much for that I have never been exposed to. And I would not say I am the most remotely buried marketer never looking up from my patch.
MW: Consumer products now make up 80% of what SCA makes, up from 60% due to selling off the packaging division. What are the challenges for you?
CM: We have to deliver. The key challenge is that we have been compared to pulp and paper companies and our performance was good in terms of return on capital.
When you now compare our performance to [other global] FMCG companies, then we are still far behind. Paper-making is very capital intensive, therefore we need to really work on the cost side much more.
We also have the duality of a branded business versus private label – in our categories you have to be in private label to create the right level of scale – and we are consumer tissue private label in a big way.
In European terms, SCA is a very good company in terms of size, but on a global scale our competitors are significantly bigger. Procter and Gamble and Kimberly-Clark are bigger across the world, plus in each of our categories we have local competitors, which are often bigger on the ground than us.
MW: How do you find good marketers to work at SCA?
CM: It is a huge challenge. One challenge is that you have a company where people have started to work in and they have grown up in certain jobs. In all the companies I have seen so far, you have the same ageing population in the overall demographics.
So, we have now a lot of people of my age who are in consumer jobs where most of the consumers have changed profoundly. You have a generation who grew up a little bit with the internet and the 30 second commercial, still in a role doing their jobs and doing them well – but then you ask yourself, do they actually comprehend what Facebook actually does, because I don’t.
I ask younger people and teenagers about it. The question is how you ensure that despite your ageing population of marketers, you keep the freshness and also the drive of wanting to win.
MW: How are you marketing SCA as a corporate or employer brand?
CM: We have started a major drive to make SCA known [as an employer brand].We haven’t done that because we moved over time into the [FMCG] hygiene business, and it will be a big challenge for us.
In more developing markets, the corporate brand gives you credibility for your product brands. In China, it is more important that people know that you come from a reputable multinational. When you launch the next brand, you get a head start, because people feel they know SCA, or Unilever or Procter and therefore they will try the brand.
If you look at advertising in China, there will be the multinational brand name at the end [of the ad] which is very interesting difference to Europe, where you might say I am selling Impulse or Axe I don’t want to put Unilever on that.
MW: The idea of a lead agency has been talked about here at the Festival of Media Global. What’s your view?
CM: Depending on where the agency has its birth – for example Saatchi & Saatchi came out of the 30 second TV commercial, it will always prefer that. There is nothing wrong with that, but life has changed.
I think it should be the media planning agency which is the lead agency, which helps you translate your brand strategy to a significant media strategy. Then, after that comes the decision about which [creative] agency can develop the right package for the right media strategy. That might not be, but could be, a 30 second commercial, or it might be online or direct marketing or something else.
I look at my key competitors Procter and Gamble and Kimberly-Clark, when you are that size you can still afford to do your 30 second commercial and then do all the other things on top.
If you are a challenger you can’t do that and don’t have the financial clout to do that. Then it becomes important to say ‘where do I reach the best in the best possible way’ – and that becomes a media planning discussion.
Challenger companies won’t win the game of throwing money at the issue, they have to find different ways to communicate.