Tesdorpfstr. 11 – 20148 Hamburg – Germany
+49 (0)40 413 43 0012
Germany EN

Making a long-distance relationship work

Marketing-interactive, November 2012


“In the relationship, the keys to success centred on ambition and freedom. Unilever showed genuine ambitioin to break the category norms in this market and challenged itself to brief for greatness and create the best advertising to men in the US. This meant Lowe could then approach the creative challenge with freedom of thinking and freedom from borders. They worked as a global ideas community to deliver a radically different creative platform for Clear. Spicing up a long-term partnership, Unilver and Lowe delivered a highly distinctive campaign for Clear, which is producing strong results.”

Richard Bleasdale, regional managing partner, The Observatory International Asia Pacific

With more global brands placing their headquarters in Singapore, the country is becoming a decision-making centre for many brands. But how does this structure work? Unilever and Lowe relate their experience of marketing Clear shampoo’s US breakthrough from these shores.
While the Clearr shampoo brand already had a presence in 40 markets globally, one market it had yet to enter was America – one of the biggest markets for hair products. Surprisingly, one thing the Unilever team found was the market seemed immature and underdeveloped, being dominated by a handful of key players. In particular, the positioning of anti-dandruff products was also underdeveloped.

“The existing solutions in the market gave the impression that anti-dandruff shampoo is a solution that you use one time, but you wouldn’t want to stay on it for too long because the solution is too harsh, and not something you would want to use every day,” says Francois Renard, global brand vice-president of Unilever Hair Care. “Therefore we saw a huge opportunity to grow the market in the US.”

The team wanted to launch with this idea: if you want to change the problems in your hair, you have to start where it matters – the scalp. It based the creative on the idea Clear was not only a dandruff-removing shampoo, but one that could be used every day to nourish the scalp.

While the brand has had much experience in Europe and Asia preceding this launch, the approach for the US was completely different.

For example, in several Asian markets, celebrity brand ambassadors such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Korean pop star Rain and Sidhant Kapur for India were used for the advertisements. But as it would turn out, the same formula wouldn’t work in America.

“We tested global ideas, for example, using our global performers such as football players, but the US needed more connection and familiarity. They were also not engaged by too much functional and literal sell,” Renard says.

He says while trigger points for consumers are largely the same, cultural nuances called for a different approach. For example, what drives a Chinese consumer will be very different from what drives someone in the US.

“In China it is all about success, being flawless and projecting that; but in the US consumers are more likely to feel like they have been through that phase, and want to achieve those goals in a more humorous and charming way,” he says.

The American campaign takes a notably different approach, starring a relatively unknown actor in a dilemma. The TV commercial starts on a melodrama note, with a man stumbling through a desert. As the man falls helplessly to the ground a narrator says: “Oh to suffer with dandruff. Women hate it.” The clip cuts to beautiful women draped in sexy desert garb, scowling at the man.

“But now sad man, you’re saved by a new anti-dandruff shampoo, Clear,” booms the narrator, as one beautiful woman arrives holding up the shampoo.

As the voice-over describes Clear shampoo’s redeeming traits, the man emerges triumphant from the tent, riding off on a horse with another gorgeous woman ruffling his now perfect hair.

TV and digital marketing took prominence in the media planning to introduce the new brand. Online, a Facebook page had also been set up, giving men “manly” pointers on anyting ranging from how to open doors for women, style tips and more, in an aim to engage the audience and establish its humorous brand personality.

While the work was done here [Singapore], Lowe still had to brief its New York office for ideas, working closely with chief creative officer for Unilever North America, Ronald Wohlman.

Did the team experience any difficulties handling the brief halfway across the world?

Subarna Prabhakar, global brand director at Lowe and Partners Worldwide, claimed there were none.

“We work as an ‘ideas community’ and we are the global team based in Singapore so we are used to handling briefs where the creative work travels across the world.”

The idea was share mutually though the New York team’s local experience came in handy during the execution of the campaign.

“It’s sheer arrogance to think we know everything from here.” Prabhakar says.

While she says the distance didn’t affect the process, Renard says the team was stuck in trying to get the right idea out, throwing out one after another for a good length of time.

“We were trying many different versions and it was still not working. Time was a problem and we still couldn’t break the apathy in the market for this kind of advertising. Of course, this was frustrating,” Renard says.

The team tried many different things, working on weekends, changing the place they worked and the way they worked.

The fact Unilever and Lowe are long-time partners definitely helped the process, adds Renard and Prabhakar.

In fact, Renard describes it almost like an old marriage. “It definitely helps to have the same agency. We understand each other so well sometimes we don’t even have to talk. We don’t have to try and convince each other as we know what’s happening.”

Adds Prabhakar: “It’s very important to be able to tell your client when you agree or don’t agree. The creative people really need to feel they have the freedom to do that. The great thing with Unilever is we are actually able to do that. That is something that is very valuable for an agency.”

The expectation from management kept standards high. While Unilever has been increasingly asking for big ideas and is very much open to new initiatives, an idea has to be long-lasting and sell. That called for a good brief.

“We kept asking ourselves before we spoke to the accounts team, are we briefing for something great? Often, in the industry people don’t brief for something great, but they expect something great,” Renard says.

According to Renard, the team deliberately set a different benchmark, instead of asking for traditional category standards and types of advertising. The benchmark was to create the best advertising to men in the US, irrespective of the category, in an effort to liberate the creative teams from standard “recipes” of hair advertising.

And with that, the brand has its success, achieving good sales figures for the launch. On Facebook the brand saw 130,000 Likes in one month, says the team. The campaign is still ongoing, with more executions to roll out in the coming months.


  • 90% distribution achieved for in-store distribution in the US
  • Over a point of share gain since the launch.
  • Over 130,000 Likes on Facebook in one month
  • Over 318,216 views on YouTube for the first commercial since the June launch this year and 11,881 views for a second commercial.


marketing-interactive, September 2013

For its latest campaign, Greenfields milk launched what it calls its boldest one yet. Elizabeth Low looks at how its agency relationship affected the move.

In May this year, Greenfields Milk came up with what Jan Vistisen, head of marketing and sales for AustAsia Foods, calls its “boldest” ads yet. It slapped new blue and white ads all over town, titled “Honest Milk”, questioning if consumers knew where their milk came from.

While Vistisen is quick to clarify this was not a rebrand, but was a campaign, he adds the new position has changed much of the way the brand communicates itself, not just in its marketing efforts, but to its trade partners.

“Of course one of the objectives was to generate sales,” Vistisen says.

But with its bold new tag line, the brand is also changing the way it talks to its trade partners such as NTUC and Starbucks.

“We place more importance (now) on highlighting where the milk comes from.”

Back to Archive