January 18, 2011
Our “CMO Experience” class last week at UCLA Anderson was an epic one. The class topics were the importance of business/brand frameworks, and how you begin to reveal the Ideal behind your business that will drive growth.
But the real sizzle was from the guest speakers for the week: former Chief Marketing Officer of Unilever, Simon Clift, and Marc de Swaan Arons, the co-founder and Chairman of EffectiveBrands, a global marketing consulting firm.
They were fabulous in the classroom, and my colleague Professor Sanjay Sood (who teaches this course with me) and I are so very grateful they came from Sao Paulo and New York to be with the students at UCLA Anderson. We had cocktails with students the night before the class, and then we had more “formal” dialogue in the classroom. Both Marc and Simon illustrated how they approach brands, outlined their frameworks, and told stories from their experiences. Cases included Dulux, Nike, Johnnie Walker, Dove, Omo, Axe/Lynx.
One very interesting, and controversial issue, emerged from the discussions: how did Simon and Unilever feel about the juxtaposition of Dove’s Brand Ideal of improving women’s self esteem with Axe/Lynx’s Ideal of helping geeky guys get the girl, with a “tongue-in-cheek” sexist portrayal of girls? Wikipedia reports that a few years back the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood claimed that the work on Axe “epitomizes the sexist and degrading marketing that can undermine girls’ healthy development.”
One of our bright UCLA Anderson students wrote me a note after the class, here is an excerpt from that note:
“While Dove in the Campaign for Real Beauty was trying to correct the distortions in the industry and improve women’s self-esteem, the Axe brand was continuing to perpetuate the distorted image. Granted they are 2 brands with different targets, but for the parent company, doesn’t that create a bit of conflict in its values? A more cynical person might think it was all an ingenious overall company masterplan, yet a sustainable plan since one brand brings down women’s self-esteem and another tries to bring it up.”
When this came up in class, Simon remarked that the issue only came up in the U.S. He feels the light-hearted nature of the Axe/Lynx work is not inconsistent with Unilever’s core values, and that it does not represent a conflict with the Brand Ideal of Dove. These are two different brands, trying to bring some joy and meaning to two different groups of people.
Simon and I agree on most everything these days, our views of the world and on brands are very similar. But on this issue, I am in a different place. I totally support that each brand in a multi-brand company needs its own voice, its own Ideal, its own “subculture.” But I feel each brand in a multi-brand company needs to not only live under the parent company’s beliefs and values, it needs to actively trumpet them in its own voice, in its own style.
At P&G we had two brands in these very same categories, Olay and Old Spice, and they competed head-to-head with Dove and Axe/Lynx. We found a way to reveal their individual Brand Ideals, or Purposes, in a way that brought to life P&G’s purpose with no inherent conflict. And, by the way, Olay’s and Old Spice’s Brand Ideals grew those businesses competitively with Unilever, often outpacing them.
This is not an easy blog to write. These are grey areas. These issues are amplified within certain cultures, certainly the U.S., but not only the U.S. Unilever is a great company that has done, and will do, a lot of good for the world. Simon is one of the most intelligent, caring and kind human beings I have ever met.
I teach again at UCLA Anderson this week, and the discussion will continue. Sanjay and I will ask the guest speaker for the week, Roy Spence, to weigh in on it. Simon, we will miss you!