Tired of the “broken” advertising model, Nestle’s global head of integrated marketing has jumped the client ship for a role in publishing, joining French media company Konbini as its first ever chief marketing officer.
Michael Chrisment worked four years at Nestle, predominantly managing its Nescafe brand; prior to that, he spent time in top digital marketing roles at fellow FMCG giants Mondelez and Kraft Foods. However, the catalyst to move out of consumer goods marketing and into media has been the realisation that, quite simply, the brand building model that he has spent most of his career working in is failing.
“Something is broken in advertising and we can’t do it the same way as before,” he recently told The Drum.
“People are more in control about what they want to consume and brands have to be much more respectful, collaborative and inclusive when it comes to engaging with people – especially the youth – and stop interrupting their [social media] feeds and lives with pure advertising messages.”
At Nescafe, he tried to pivot the brand towards this kind of thinking. He was responsible for declaring that the "dotcom is dead" and moving all of the coffee-maker's digital assets on to Tumblr in the hope of creating a more "conversational" relationship with its drinkers.
But while he’s not lost hope in the industry, he is wanting to play a larger part in “reinventing” it and “contribute a new way of marketing and building brands”.
Founded in France just over 10 years ago, Konbini describes itself as “new generation media. A leader amongst millennials” that “lives and breathes pop culture”.
“Whether it's the written word, imagery or video, we have developed a unique approach to content publication that resonates powerfully with our audience across the world,” its website proclaims. “Our audience is defined by their pioneering attitudes and behaviours, and their ability to influence consumers across the globe.”
A team of 200 work from offices in five cities – Paris (its epicentre), London, New York, Mexico City and, the most recently established, Lagos – and are divided into five platform groups: website, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter.
They create content specifically for each platform and the output – be it a single social media post, an article or video – falls under one of 10 editorial pillars (entertainment, inspiration, lifestyle, cinema, music, photography, society, series, environment, and partners).
According to its latest figures, the website reaches 150 million unique users a year, 80% of which are ‘millennials’. On Facebook, where it has a core 3.2 million ‘fans’, Konbini reaches 100 million people a day and lauds a 20% engagement rate. It has 250,000 followers on both Instagram and Twitter. Chrisment declined to reveal Snapchat figures.
“Konbini are experts in communicating with millennials around the globe. We want to craft intelligent stories that are motivational, educational and tailored to them in a positive way. This is really who we are and what everyone in the company moves towards,” he said.
While easily compared with a BuzzFeed or Vice, Konbini doesn’t have the same level of brand awareness. Rectifying that will be among Chrisment’s chief priorities but alongside the traditional part of this CMO role he has also been charged with developing the publisher’s commercial offering.
It currently centres around four main pillars. Like most, display remains an important (though dwindling) revenue stream, currently accounting for around 25% of earnings. “Qualitative editorial content” is, put simply, sponsored content on a project by project basis and something Chrisment described as “a high development opportunity”. While he was at Nescafe, he inked a six-month tie-up with Konbini in Nigeria – a region where it historically lagged other brands – that created “huge engagement, 10 times more than we used to have in the country” and led to a 30% uptick in coffee sales.
The more unusual commercial mainstays come in the form of “strategic partnerships on specific verticals”. Konbini will create a complete branded platform, be it a website, Snapchat channel or Facebook Bot, and all the content for it. Coca-Cola, Netflix, Orange and Airbnb are among the clients to have dabbled in partnerships of this ilk.
For Airbnb, for example, it developed a website called ‘Secret Doors’ that allowed the user to discover cities based on recommendations from influencers Konbini knew were already liked by its audience. Airbnb reached 2.4 million people, beating the 1.8 million goal and achieved 110,000 page views, almost double the number it had set out to achieve.
“This is a high priority area,” said Chrisment. “We have a lot of ask on it.”
The final strand ripe for development is its full-service offering. Konbini is, Chrisment said, increasingly being asked to take on the role of a traditional advertising agency but right now is incredibly selective about the clients it can manage. Currently, the only one on its books is Orange France which hired the publisher to develop the branding and communications strategy underpinning it for a new service it was launching called Dedicated Us.
“We need to shift the way [advertisers] go after people and the way we get them to consider brands. And it has to start with what people are interested in; listening to their passion points and giving them content to engage on it,” Chrisment explained, pointing to the success Nescafe saw in Nigeria as proof that “entering and addressing passion points of the youth, the brand can be reconsidered”.
“This is really the approach and traditional advertising agencies haven’t been doing this," he added. "They’ve been developing campaigns and messages around offers but not areas of conversations for brands to play in. We’re doing this and maybe this is where the tension ends.”
Given how editorial bleeds into commercial content, it has inevitably raised questions of ethics and independence. On this issue, Chrisment said: "People in the news industry and journalism question this; saying you’re doing informational news linked to a brand so are you still independent? Brands are providers of content and stories as well – this matters. There are many examples of brands transforming to media publishers.”
Chrisment pointed to his peers in FMCG marketing, former Mondelez execs Bonin Bough and Dana Anderson, as being at the forefront in pushing the idea that branded content can be as interesting, entertaining and engaging as a film on Netflix or YouTube video. It all boils down to being relevant.
“We’ve offering a radically new approach to brand promotion and really leveraging quality, on trend content that creates relationships with millennials. We’re not doing ‘Five things…’ or ‘Grumpy Cats’ that bring a lot of impressions but have no impact. We’re entering a long-term relationships and having a greater impact on people’s lives.”
On the subject of measurement, Christment is open on the fact that Konbini could be doing more. He wants the publisher to be a “leader” in the way it impacts a client’s commercial objectives and give more back than empty numbers vaguely linked to impressions or reach.
“Current methodologies are not enough,” he said. “We need to demonstrate what goes beyond reach and impressions. We can reach and engage but then we see the long-tail impact which travels much further as they react and share and to demonstrate it further and how it impacts sales and purchase behaviour.”
To do that, it is on the brink of inking a landmark deal with a measurement firm (he declined to reveal which) that will develop a set of KPIs to better measure the performance of promoted content and native advertising.