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Inside Colgate-Palmolive's TikTok-led digital transformation efforts


By Shawn Lim, Reporter, Asia Pacific

December 12, 2019 | 9 min read

As one of the latest brands to jump on the Bytedance-owned TikTok bandwagon, Colgate-Palmolive believes the platform will be key to its efforts to ramp-up digital transformation in 2020.

In addition, Lyndon Morant, the marketing director of integrated marketing communications at Colgate-Palmolive tells The Drum on the sidelines of Vidcon Asia Pacific the oral care giant also experimented with TikTok to offer the brand's points of view on a particular moment in time, which in this case, was on World Smile Day.

“We did not only use TikTok, it was part of our 360 activations, but TikTok became the biggest piece of the pie. Why did we do it? Because we want to give people reasons to smile,” he explains.

“Our brand's core and essence is about optimism, and we believe that people with optimism who convert that optimism into action are the ones who change the world for the better.”

He adds: “That optimism is reflected by the smile on their faces. So that's the Colgate smile that needs defining, in culture. We leveraged this moment as an opportunity to do that.”

The FMCG brand launched a hashtag challenge called “Smile Challenge” that covered India, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines over six days. Colgate introduced a customised smile sticker that can detect and virtually score the TikTok user's smile.

A hundred TikTok content creators in the five countries were also invited to film and upload videos for the challenge, encouraging users to upload their own versions on TikTok.

“We were attracted by the combination of the reach and the penetration that TikTok has when targeting hard-to-reach demographics in the markets that are important to us in the region,” explains Morant.

“The combination of that penetration plus the creative community led us to commit to it in a big way. So it wasn't just dipping a toe in the water. We're like look, if we're going to do it, then we want to make it big.”

“We don't want to leave any regrets on the table, because it's a single moment in time that we're trying to activate around.”

TikTok claimed the “Smile Challenge” campaign produced 1.6m user-generated videos, 2.5bn total video views. For the music, it said there were 53,000 videos generated by users and 26m video views in total.

Colgate is very pleased with the results of the campaign, according to Morant and the brand believes it has become relatable to its newly-acquired audience.

“The brand is what is left in the mind and the hearts of the people that you've spoken to. It's not the interaction of pushing advertising to people anymore, which sounds obvious and its nice words, but we have to embrace that,” he says.

“The brand is co-owned by the company, and by the folks that the company serves, or its service to the consumer. So we wanted to create that campaign idea that was incomplete, which relied entirely on the consumer's interaction with it. That’s what the lens and the hashtag challenge enables us to do.”

Colgate also believes marketing to millennials and Gen Z needs to avoid sales messages because they are an audience not looking to be sold to but looking for a brand that aligns with their personal values, which subsequently will always result in increased sales.

Morant points out that people are still using the hashtag, which he says is a compliment to the brand and shows it is doing its job well because the campaign was on-brand, rather than “an in your face sales activation”.

He adds that while the brand design elements were still very much integrated during the campaign, Colgate did not intend to drive people to e-commerce, sell a particular sub-brand, and educate oral care behavior. Instead, the brand was just there to help users see what their smile could do.

“It's definitely on purpose to not minimize the brand, but we called the hashtag challenge, the smile day challenge. We didn't call it the Colgate smile day challenge. Even though we created that, we worked together with TikTok, and we created that,” says Morant.

“The hashtag didn't exist before. So we know that so long as the consumer is reconsidering their own smile and they are thinking about their smile when they wouldn't have done before, then we're doing a good job.”

Morant believes while TikTok’s analytics and measurement offerings are still in the early stages of development, it is important for brands like Colgate to find common ground with the platform. He says the cost per engagement is always a good benchmark because brands can buy views, but not interaction.

He notes TikTok campaigns can be optimised through interaction, but that means that a brand goes into a campaign idea, they will design it in a way that is unfinished.

Brands that measure cost per interaction or cost per engagement on TikTok can break that out to customers’ shares, comments or likes, which Morant says is a good way of assessing whether a campaign has been taken up positively by the active community.

He adds that it is important to know that the metrics are different for TikTok, Snapchat and Facebook. Morant recalls Colgate once ran a branded lens on Snapchat and felt the platform’s measurement was incompatible with the brand’s own.

"How did we look at world smile day in particular? I think it blew our expectations in terms of interactions and scale and visibility of it. The kind of halo outside of TikTok is hard to quantify. We did a very successful campaign within TikTok, and we know that says there's a big overlap from TikTok to Instagram in India,” he explains.

“I think TikTok has just passed Instagram in India in terms of users, but I would assume an 80% overlap. However, the behavior is so different, that the echos tend to exist within one particular platform, which is interesting.”

He continues: “Because in a mass media like TV and OOH, campaigns like Nike’s “Dream Crazy”, the media platform echoes into other media platforms. So I think that's interesting, that it shows to me that there is a lack of understanding or really visibility, among media as to what goes on TikTok.”

“If you watched news TV today, particularly American news TV, it quotes social media a lot, right? So it's odd when you think about it, that TV quotes Twitter, which then quotes TV, which quotes Twitter. So the act of journalism is evolving, and TikTok is not part of that conversation yet. So I think that's interesting for us.”

“How do we maybe PR the things that happen on TikTok outside of the platform? How do we make TikTok, although the community is in a very particular mindset, that they are using the app in a very particular way? How do we amplify that into other channels, is an interesting challenge for us, and everybody.”

TikTok continues to bat off accusations that it is not doing enough to ensure the safety of children on the platform.

In July, The Guardian revealed that the video-sharing app had been under investigation since February for how it handled personal data of its young users and whether it priorities the safety of children on its social network.

It recently released a guidance campaign to teach its young audience safer practices online. The safety videos demonstrate how users can prevent themselves from harm, using real creators to visually enact situations that appear online.

The campaign covers six areas in six videos that demonstrate how users can use multiple in-app safety features.

While Colgate has experienced success on TikTok, Morant says brand safety and third-party verification remains top of mind for the brand. He notes Colgate is concerned about safety in particular and it ensured brand safety mechanisms were in place before it launched its “Smile Challenge”.

“Bytedance assures customers, of course, that brand safety is a top priority for them as a family brand. Certainly, the most democratic brand in the world, that needs to be associated with smiles, the risk is very real for us,” he explains.

“We made that clear upfront and we also work with a PR company to manually look through video submissions for the campaign, of which there were a lot, and see whether there was anything on towards happening, and stay vigilant to that.”

After making sure those checks and balances were in place, Colgate was relief that there was nothing that threatened its brand safety, according to Morant.

“I would have expected there to be something because when you run campaigns on other platforms, especially open platforms, that invite comments, some of the challenges with open media are well documented,” adds Morant.

“That is always a concern for us because we need to be associated with optimism and positivity, and that's our point of view really. So it's hard if that's not.”

At Vidcon, The Drum also spoke to Singtel about its international goals, Nas Daily on influencers and Coca-Cola’s director of integrated content and creative excellence for ASEAN on why it is important to have a side hustle.

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