Nivea's bespoke agency model is helping it address ‘communication Darwinism’
How does a brand that has built its name highlighting the power of human touch go about repositioning itself during a pandemic where social distancing is the order of the day? That’s exactly the challenge Nivea has been looking to solve these past few months, with help from a bespoke agency created by recently appointed creative partner Publicis that is driving change from the inside out.
Nivea owner Beiersdorf AG officially entrusted Publicis Groupe as its global creative partner on its flagship skincare brand at the start of 2020. And while most agency and brand-side marketers will concede that any new relationship is going to throw up a few challenges, they’ll also admit that’s even more true in the middle of a pandemic.
“It hasn’t been easy building a completely new agency model while we’re all in lockdown,” admits Andrea Pedrazzini, chief executive of One Touch, the dedicated business unit Publicis has been building for Nivea since January. “What it has done is accelerate the rate of transformation, how we react to consumer needs and engage with customers. Now, the way work needs to be much faster and more agile and we’ve already been doing that with clients like Beiersdorf.”
Nivea owner Beiersdorf AG officially handed the reigns over to Publicis Groupe at the start of 2020
With a name inspired by the brand’s vision, the bespoke One Touch creative shop now services Nivea (and Nivea alone) via eight creative hubs that build campaigns for 40 separate markets, including an HQ in its native Hamburg.
Nivea’s ad account went out to pitch in the summer of 2019 after its partner of over 100 years, FCB, announced it wouldn’t repitch for the €1.53bn business when its contract expired at the end of last year. The Interpublic-run agency stepped down after alleging one of the client’s marketers had made a homophobic comment during a creative call, telling the agency “we don’t do gay”.
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At the time, German parent firm Beiersdorf AG released a statement that neither confirmed or denied the allegation, using the opportunity instead to stress its commitment to diversity.
Media was not included in the pitch and is still handled by different agencies across territories (OMD in the US and Carat in the UK).
Now, armed with a new agency, it is embarking on a marketing transformation drive across all of its brands globally, and wants to integrate data, creativity and technology within its processes.
Pedrazzini joins Tobias Collée, vice-president of master brand and communication at Nivea, and The Drum’s consulting editor Sonoo Singh as part of the ongoing virtual Can-Do Festival to discuss how the pair have built the new model, which is enabling the brand to innovate quickly in the middle of a crisis.
The brand is one of many (Daimler is also onboard) investing in the Publicis Groupe ‘Power of One’ model that integrates data, creativity and technology for clients.
Last year, Beiersdorf made €7.7.bn in sales, with its consumer business segment (including Nivea and Aquaphor) achieving organic sales growth of 4.8% and delivering a strong contribution to the company’s bottom line. However, mass-market labels like Nivea have been struggling amid the rise of small, disruptive brands, and amid consumers preference for more natural ingredients and premium products, which has prompted Beiersdorf to push pricier lines like La Prairie and Eucerin.
In appointing a new agency, Collée says Nivea wasn’t looking to transform its brand, but to transform how it built relationships with customers, serving up more tailored creative to help it compete with established rivals like P&G as well as DTC newcomers.
“Manufacturers come from a time of advertising communism,” he says, noting how the typical FMCG way of working was to produce a mass communication, push it out to customers and “see what happened”. Now though, he says brands are competing in the time of “communication Darwinism” where eyeballs need to be won via five-second skippable ads on YouTube.
“This means we’ve had to change the way we talk to consumers… we had to transform how we communicate and we needed partners to help us on that journey.” This, he says, is why it has adopted a bespoke agency model.
“It’s about creativity, but it is also about data and tech. Yes, we need to understand what stage the customer is at in their journey. But even if we’re targeting the right consumer on the right device at the right time, if the content isn’t relevant then it will earn us nothing.”
'Share the Care'
Six months in, One Touch has already produced several major initiatives for the brand, helping it navigate the Covid-19 crisis through its marketing.
The positive power of human touch is as synonymous with Nivea’s brand as its blue tins and tubes are, and previous work – including ‘Rethink Soft’ and ‘Million Moments of Touch’ – has put the physical sense at the heart of its mission. Amid a global health crisis, however, where touch is still (for the most part) prohibited, Publicis has had to re-engineer Nivea’s purpose.
One early result has been ‘Share the Care’, a campaign that encourages people to share acts of kindness, big and small, online so it can spotlight them for others to see. Nivea’s own research shows that while 50% of global consumers are afraid about the pandemic, some 59% still craved the touch of those they loved – whether a hug, a kiss or even a pat on the back.
Last month, Beiersdorf also pledged €50m to an international funding program to support communities in their fight against the pandemic. The brand is teaming up with international organisations as well as local authorities to deliver relevant products and support people that need it.
Like LMVH and Brewdog, Nivea’s owner has also ramped up production of medical grade disinfectants within its European production network.
E-commerce and 'personalisation at scale'
In a world where shopping habits have changed forever due to a lockdown that forced people to buy goods online, Beiersdorf’s own e-commerce sales have accelerated by 32%.
“It’s just the beginning of the journey,” Collée says. “Marketing has changed more in the past two years than it has in the past 20, so we constantly need to improve for the sake of our customers.”
When it comes to e-commerce, Pedrazzini agrees that the “visible, lovable, shoppable” channel will become a bigger focus for Nivea. “The cornerstone of the new playbook is to really understand the consumer journey and also what the role of a brand should be,“ she says.
“Marketers need to be aware of what specific message, with what specific call to action, should go at what specific moment. That is absolutely crucial. It is about personalisation at scale, but there will be moments where it will all be about being visible and there will be moments where it will all be about being lovable and shoppable. So understanding those moments is crucial.”
Pedrazzini and Collée spoke with The Drum‘s Sonoo Singh as part of The Drum‘s Can-Do Festival, an online event celebrating the positive energy, innovation and creative thinking that can make the marketing community such a powerful force for good. You can watch the interview in full here.
Sign up to watch forthcoming sessions and see the full Can-Do schedule here.