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Why Nivea is still touting the power of touch in a world where it’s almost forbidden

When your whole brand is built around the ‘power of touch’, what happens to your marketing in a pandemic that prohibits physical closeness? Nivea’s vice-president of brand Ralph Zimmerer explains why the skincare giant is continuing in its mission to be a “custodian of human touch and closeness” in the darkest of times.

While many brands go ‘touchless’, Nivea knows the business value of human touch. For years, the skincare giant has put the sense at the core of its marketing through campaigns such as ‘Rethink Soft’ and ‘Million Moments of Touch’, which have highlighted the positive health effects physical contact, while successfully shifting moisturizers, body lotions and sun creams.

Now though, we live in a world where touch is all but forbidden, with government campaigns across markets still urging social distancing and handwashing. The Covid-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of human touch while simultaneously making it more difficult to experience the skin-on-skin contact many need.

Intrigued by the impact this is having on individuals, the Beiersdorf AG-owned brand has just unveiled two global reports that explore the state human touch pre- and post-pandemic. In tandem, it is launching a campaign dubbed ‘Care for Human Touch’, which will see it support skin-touch projects that promote the quality of life for people at risk of loneliness, such as the visually impaired, elderly people diagnosed with dementia and premature babies.

“We actually started working on this campaign in 2017 because we saw a tension emerging in society that people felt there was less human touch in their lives as connections have become virtual and people are busier,” explains Nivea’s vice-president of brand Ralph Zimmerer.

“As a skincare business, this is a territory we have a lot of passion for, so we started to lean into it. Our original plan was to launch this in March last year, but then we couldn’t [amid the uncertainty of coronavirus]. Post-pandemic, we saw things had got much worse and decided we had to approach this topic in a sensible way.

“We’re not running out and saying ‘touch everyone’. We want to remind people of the health benefits of touch and remind them about the importance of relationships in this time.”

‘Now is the right time to talk about touch’

Both reports from Nivea reveal a concerning level of physical touch deprivation and loneliness, with almost half of the 12,000 consumers surveyed saying isolation made them feel lonelier than they’ve ever been in their entire lives. The studies also find a connection between feelings of loneliness and lack of being in touch with others amid the health crisis, both physically and emotionally.

Four out of five people living alone say that they do not experience human touch daily and almost two out of three respondents wish they would receive more hugs.

People living in single households and single parents, as well as teenagers and millennials, are most affected by loneliness: 23% of single parents say they feel alone and 24% of teenagers say the same, versus a global average of 16%.

For Nivea, the physical and psychological health benefits of human touch are scientifically proven – studies have shown that skin-to-skin care reduces the mortality rate of premature babies by 20% and hand massages in dementia patients have been shown to significantly reduce agitation. However, the sense as taken a backseat in modern life with Nivea’s respondents classifying such health benefits as ‘new to them’.

“We feel like, at this time, talking about the life-saving power of touch is the right thing to do as people express a desire to catch up on what they’ve missed for so long, when they can,” says Zimmerer.

As part of the ‘Care for Human Touch’ project, the brand has pledged to invest €20m in local skin-touch projects around the world, with the aim of reaching 150,000 people who would benefit from physical contact.

This will be supported by a long-term marketing campaign, which (in light of both studies’ findings on how young people are being impacted by barriers to touch) will target younger generations and millennials.

The media plan for this work will be skewed online, with a digital hub in situ to drive awareness of the power of touch through interviews with professors and other relevant content.

There are no current plans to link this hub directly to product, says Zimmerman, despite preparations being made by Beiersdorf to launch its own direct-to-consumer (DTC) site later this year to capitalize on the Covid-19 e-commerce boom.

Social media will play a big role in promoting the initiative too, with channels including YouTube and Instagram being used to tell the stories of how touch has saved people’s lives.

Because the campaign pre-dates Nivea’s appointment of Publicis Groupe as Beiersdorf’s global creative partner, the business worked with a number of agencies on the launch.

Throughout the pandemic, Publicis has been running ‘Share the Care’ with Nivea, a campaign that encourages people to share acts of kindness, big and small, online.

The business impact of purpose

Purpose-driven work has been a key tool for marketers in engaging customers during the pandemic, but some advertisers have been criticized for their failure to link doing good with doing good business results.

For Nivea, success for this campaign will initially be about opening a dialogue with young customers who might not be as aware of their products as their parents and engaging in a subject that’s currently important to them as they face isolation.

At the end of 2020, Beiersdorf noted a significant improvement in business following a revenue drop in the first half of the year caused by Covid-19.

Sales for the first nine months of 2020 came in at €5.7bn ($6.9bn) for the German FMCG business – a decline of 8.5% on the year after the pandemic-induced slump.

As well as using this campaign as a conversation starter, Zimmerer says it will also be measured through a series of traditional brand KPIs that will “show whether the image of the brand has evolved in the direction”. Nivea hopes it will.

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