'Today, as we sit here, the consumer is not on TV anymore, but more on digital. (Even then, the consumer is now moving) to the mobile world. That innovation will continue, and we will have to keep changing with the times.
- Freddy Bharucha, P&G Asia's chief marketing officer
EVERY 23 seconds, a bottle of SK-II's Facial Treatment Essence is sold somewhere in the world.
So claims Procter & Gamble, the American consumer products giant that acquired SK-II in 1991. P&G's extensive global reach and marketing ballast set the Japanese brand on a meteoric rise to the top of the global prestige beauty market.
Dubbed by fans as their "miracle water", SK-II's Facial Treatment Essence formula has not changed an ounce since its launch in 1980. Advertising strategies, however, have evolved dramatically.
"It could take a couple of days for me to tell you the marketing stories of each of our iconic brands," says Freddy Bharucha, P&G Asia's chief marketing officer.
He mentions, for instance, SK-II's newest advertising campaign. A far cry from the traditional mediums of print or television advertising, the new promotional package features a two-minute film littered with the fingerprints of Hollywood royalty. It is directed by Academy Award-winner Tom Hooper (The King's Speech and Les Misérables), and includes a musical score composed by Mychael Danna, the Oscar-winning composer of Life of Pi.
"More than just a television spot, we've put it out there in the digital space, and it's already making waves. Consumers love SK-II's heritage story," says Mr Bharucha.
(He's referring to the oft-retold tale of SK-II's origins, which supposedly began at a sake brewery in Japan, where scientists realised the secret to glowing skin was a patented yeast found in the sake fermentation process.)
One can watch the trailer on YouTube, and view the full-length advertisement on SK-II's Facebook page - but only after one has become a fan of the brand. It is a quick and easy way to gain more followers on the social media platform, through which SK-II can now update both diehard followers and casual onlookers.
SK-II even promotes its new marketing campaign on Words with Friends - a popular mobile app game much like Scrabble, except it is played on mobile devices.
Even though the exact amount that P&G spends to market SK-II is not publicly known, its "go big or go home" strategy - in not just traditional mediums like print, radio and television, but also in the online space - seems to have paid off in sales figures.
Despite the premium on SK-II products - a 75ml bottle of Facial Treatment Essence sells for $99 here, or $1.32 per drop - worldwide sales have risen at a dramatic rate.
While P&G declined to reveal how much consumers spent on SK-II worldwide last year, it said the upmarket skincare label has seen "strong double-digit organic growth" in the last few years.
In 2004, SK-II crossed the US$500 million mark in annual sales. Eight years later, it breached the billion-dollar mark, becoming P&G's first and only Asia-grown billion-dollar brand, further entrenching P&G's position as the global market leader in beauty care.
Recently, P&G has begun to transform the way it uses the digital world to make a lasting impression on consumers. More than using just individual product advertisements, the company has also embarked on a series of elaborate marketing campaigns that promote the P&G group as a whole.
"The Olympics is a great example of innovation all around, and how we're changing the rules of the game," says Mr Bharucha, who helped to mastermind P&G's "Thank You, Mom" campaign last year in the United States.
It was part of the largest multi-brand commercial initiative in the company's history, and came as the group sponsored the 2012 London Olympic Games.
Traditionally, Olympics sponsors get athletes to pose with a product while reciting a tagline. Mr Bharucha was adamant about finding a fresh, non-cheesy way to do things.
"We started by trying to find out what are some of the life insights of our consumers and these athletes. We found, as we were interviewing these Olympians, that their stories were very inspirational.
"But what we found even more insightful and even more heroic than (these athletes') stories were the sacrifices that their moms had made for them, and we found that very powerful.
"We stepped back and realised that we serve men and women, but our primary success comes from servicing families. And at the centre or heart of the family, is Mom. So we thought this was a perfect fit for us from an ideas standpoint, (and) very different from typical Olympics advertising."
The nascent idea soon bloomed to encompass a detailed and targeted advertising campaign in both traditional and online mediums, in conjunction with P&G products such as Pampers, Gillette, Pantene and Tide.
As part of the Web campaign, P&G produced a tribute film called Best Job and an online app on Facebook, which allowed both Olympians and regular consumers to thank their own mothers for their hard work and sacrifice.
"People could add their own postings, interact with our content, (and) that would then have a whole daisy chain effect of its own . . . Yes, we had 30-second spots on TV, but we were putting in a whole bunch of extra content out there in the digital space," says Mr Bharucha, who notes that such flexibility would be impossible on traditional mediums - and not only because of prohibitive costs.
At the end of P&G's "Thank You, Mom" campaign, Mr Bharucha says the group "exceeded expectations", hitting 20 billion impressions (a measure that counts each time an advertisement is displayed). "That's 10 times any normal campaign," he notes.
Despite the overwhelming success of the Olympics campaign - which a P&G employee referred to as "Freddy's baby" - the marketing maven believes there's "no place for complacency".
"Today, as we sit here, the consumer is not on TV anymore, but more on digital. (Even then, the consumer is now moving) to the mobile world. That innovation will continue, and we will have to keep changing with the times."
This revamp in marketing strategy does not come cheap. Last month, the Wall Street Journal reported that P&G is now spending more than a third of its US marketing budget on digital media.
According to P&G's 2013 annual report, advertising costs included worldwide television, print, radio, Internet and in-store advertising expenses. These have been rising steadily in the past couple of years, from US$9.2 billion in 2011 to US$9.7 billion in 2013.
Sometimes, spending more money isn't the solution.
Take the example of Gillette in India, where P&G's market share of the razor market has literally exploded since introducing its Gillette Guard razor.
"If you go into the towns and villages, these men don't have fancy mirrors. They essentially bend down in a cramped space without running water, hold a mirror in one hand and their razor in the other. A fancy, top-end, five-blade Gillette razor set is not going to be of much use there," says Mr Bharucha, who hails from India.
P&G responded by creating Gillette Guard - an easy-rinsing single-blade system that prevents nicks and cuts, with 80 per cent fewer parts than an upmarket razor, and 10 times cheaper than a top-end Gillette razor.
"See this here," says Mr Bharucha, pointing at an oval-sized hole at the end of the Gillette Guard handle. This allows the user to hang it up, effectively addressing the space crunch often seen in Indian homes in villages.
"All those little nuances that were created make a difference . . . And it's much more affordable. That's why I think we're No 1 in India."
According to P&G, the new razor has seen the group's share of the Indian razor mass market jump from being virtually non-existent to pole position.
"It's a good example of the extremes we see in Asia. There are constantly changing dynamics at the top end, as well as in the value segments. So we have to innovate and serve both."
Some of these innovations are possible only because of P&G's significant expenditure on consumer research and research & development. The group spends US$400 million each year on 15,000 types of studies, and has an annual R&D budget of about US$2 billion.
That 10 per cent of its 8,000 scientists are now based in Asia should come as no surprise, especially since Mr Bharucha believes that "Asia could one day be the largest part of (P&G's) business in the world".
Asia accounts for 18 per cent of P&G's net sales; Latin America, Western Europe and North America make up 10 per cent, 18 per cent and 39 per cent, respectively.
"This is where the future is. That doesn't mean North America or Europe are not important - they will always be a core for us."
"Of course, I'm from Asia, so I'm very passionate about the region. There is no doubt that Asia is where a lot of growth is. This is where the population is, this is where the future superpowers and powerhouses lie.
"And this is where (you have) a range of consumers: you have the richest, whom you have to delight with innovation, and then you also have the ones who don't have enough. But you still want to innovate for them to improve their lives. In fact, it is (in those consumers' lives where) you can make the most significant (changes) with your innovation."
Ever the marketing buff, Mr Bharucha says P&G treats recruitment "like a marketing campaign", where the company's values and principles are laid out clearly, so as to attract the right people.
"We also promote from within P&G. So we essentially recruit from the bottom, groom them, and move them up the system. That comes with pros and cons, but there are far more pros for us than cons, (because) there's so much pride in our purpose . . . that holds us together," he adds.
Mr Bharucha is himself a product of P&G's promote-from-within culture. He joined the company in 1995 as an assistant brand manager for Ariel, a flagship laundry brand in Asia.
"It's been 17-and-a-half years since I joined P&G, after completing my MBA from the Indian Institute of Management in Calcutta . . . Every night I've slept well on my pillow. I've never had to make even the slightest of decisions where I've felt like the company made me do something wrong. That's a culture that I think is a competitive advantage to us."
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