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Reckitt CMO says virtual studio models are key to ad sustainability

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By Jennifer Faull | Deputy Editor

January 20, 2023 | 9 min read

We catch up with the hygiene and health giant’s marketing boss, Fabrice Beaulieu, who has been nominated for The Drum and the World Federation of Advertisers’ (WFA) Global Marketer of the Year award.

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Fabrice Beaulieu, Reckitt / PR

Fabrice Beaulieu is a veteran at Reckitt, having served in a variety of marketing roles since 1999 before being appointed chief marketing, sustainability and corporate affairs officer in April last year. Since then, he has implemented a number of new processes to accelerate the performance of the hygiene and health giant’s brands globally, including the launch of a Marketing Centre of Excellence and a new brand purpose agenda.

In the coming year, he is focusing on the ways in which it can make its advertising more sustainable – particularly through new production models such as ‘virtual studios’.

Here, we quiz Beaulieu to find out more about that plan. (The interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

You have instigated a major shift towards a purpose-led brand strategy at Reckitt. This year has seen the idea of brand purpose come under a critical spotlight. How do you balance purpose with profit and ensure that the marketing aligns with the wider business goals?

Brands usually come under the spotlight when they behave unauthentically. We are cognizant of this and always want to act with intention, meaningfully. What our brands exist to do is clear and was always there, but it also has expanded in the last few years as peoples’ expectations shifted around sustainability. People now demand – across generations, across geographies – that brands become more sustainable.

We have pivoted our model to build categories while at the same time delivering more sustainable products (less plastic, greener chemistry, lower carbon emissions) and an active and positive contribution to society. Brands are expected to act, fight, impact!

In practice, this has two major implications for a marketer. First, it reframes innovation: top-quality must go hand in hand with higher product sustainability, and secondly, it also reframes communication: the programs of positive impact a brand creates can become the core of its communication.

In other words, sustainability is now at the heart of the brand playbook. Therefore, it aligns naturally with most business KPIs. At least that is how we see it at Reckitt.

When it comes to your purpose-led brand initiatives, are you changing the metrics by which you measure success?

Absolutely – our understanding of success has dramatically broadened. Our metrics are business and sustainability metrics. We are looking to both grow our categories and make a measurable impact in the world. It sounds perhaps a little abstract, so let me give you an example. Let’s take a look at what our [dishwasher tablet] brand Finish does around water. Today, already 2 billion people face some level of water limitations in a year. Unfortunately, that number will go up significantly in the next decade.

The Finish teams have therefore redesigned our product to make pre-rinse unnecessary. Most people who have a dishwasher indeed rinse their dishes in the sink before placing them in the dishwasher and, in doing so, waste around 40 liters of water – each time!

The brand is on a mission to tell these facts in dozens of countries globally and inspire this meaningful change of behavior: skip the rinse. And it works: in Turkey, we collect water bills, therefore we know that the water consumption of those who skipped the rinse is around 20% lower. Meanwhile, more tablets get sold overall (11% in volume last year) because the machine gets used more frequently.

That’s a concrete example of sustainability metrics aligning directly with business goals.

How are you working more effectively with agency partners in 2022/23?

We resort more and more to powerful frameworks, like the AA Ad Net Zero and the WFA Planet Pledge. These are two initiatives I have deeply admired in the last 12 months. These frameworks are designed to take our industry on a journey of concrete action in the field of sustainability and climate. These programs help us as an industry to move forward, defining joint actions together with our closest partners.

Embedding sustainability deep into marketing thinking has inspired stand-out innovation and creativity across all Reckitt divisions. It has also completely transformed the conversation with our closest creative partners. It has broadened our insights, enriched our briefs and energized our talent. It’s also made us realize even more how close our values are to theirs. I would like to celebrate here a few of our key partners, McCann Group, Havas, Brandtech Group and Publicis, for their relentless passion, their growth mindset and, obviously, their creativity.

That creativity will be more and more brought to life by new production models – virtual studio models, mostly, because they cost less if you know what you are doing and because they emit less carbon. Virtual production can also liberate your agency’s creativity. You can deliver your message from a kitchen or the top of a futuristic building, a mountain or a desert… all shot seamlessly in the same studio. We really want to lead the industry in that direction of virtual production and our partners are deeply engaged in that journey with us.

What are the biggest challenges facing FMCG marketing leaders today?

The marketing playbook is rewriting itself as we go. Embracing that change is both the greatest opportunity and the greatest challenge facing marketing leaders.

Sustainability is a whole new ball game for marketers. It makes everything increasingly complex as you need to look across the whole end-to-end value chain, from sourcing and production to consumption and post-use. The constant evolution of the digital landscape makes our interactions with consumers significantly different from even just two-to-three years ago. Our creativity and content are being stretched to totally new horizons.

It’s an exciting time to be a marketer, but it can also be a little daunting – overwhelming, some may say. That’s why we completely relaunched our Marketing Academy at Reckitt to be tech-led, personalized and gamified. Tech really shapes and nurtures the learning culture we want in the company, plus it ensures it is totally inclusive and that everyone can get involved! And it’s a learning culture that our closest partners also fully embrace.

In the face of a bleak economic outlook for 2023, how are Reckitt’s marketing priorities changing? What does your marketing mix look like for the year ahead?

Firstly, we truly empathize with what many of our consumers are going through all over the world. At Reckitt, we go out of our way to ensure broad access to our products, securing various price points and types of solutions in our portfolio of brands.

These economic challenges reaffirm our belief in superior product quality and brands that step up to impact society positively, delivering value in product usage and beyond!

We have a renewed focus on productivity to drive down our costs. This year, for example, we partially internalized our production to unlock major efficiencies without any compromise on quality. There is no spending bucket that remains untouched!

You can vote for Fabrice Beaulieu to be named Global Marketer of the Year. Voting closes January 31.

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