Reckitt Benckiser Combats 'Social Fatigue,' Bets on Facebook

Laurent Faracci on the Effort to Shift Mentality From Pure Efficiency to 'Efficiency Plus Effectiveness'

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Laurent Faracci, U.S. chief strategy and marketing officer of Reckitt Benckiser, acknowledges that he works for one of the most cost-focused marketers around. When such a tough customer finds that a Facebook program pays off, it may carry Nixon-goes-to-China weight.

Laurent Faracci
Laurent Faracci

That may be why most attendees at Facebook's first CPG Summit on Jan. 17 stuck around to the bitter end in a cramped space near the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York to hear what Mr. Faracci had to say. And the results were encouraging -- at least for RB and Facebook.

The program behind new product Lysol Power & Free proved to Mr. Faracci that he can find a mass audience using Facebook. He said Lysol reached half of all U.S. women ages 25 to 54 and had a total of 310 million impressions through the effort, generating three-quarters of those impressions via "earned" rather than paid media. The program was part of a campaign, which also included TV, from Havas, Zenith Optimedia and digital shop Genuine that produced 30% sales gains for Lysol, which has been a laggard in the cleaner category, Mr. Faracci said.

The Facebook effort is part of a broader push by Mr. Faracci to rethink how RB goes about marketing, structures its staff, manages agency relations and evaluates results. That includes moving from a purely cost- and reach-focused "efficiency" drive to a broader look at "efficiency plus effectiveness," he said.

To that end, RB now uses a dizzying 35 performance indicators, mixing and matching them to the objectives of individual efforts rather than focusing strictly on sales impact or cost per impression.

Lysol Facebook page
Lysol Facebook page

In the case of Lysol on Facebook, Mr. Faracci said the numbers were similar to what RB typically reaches on TV and in a similar time frame. He declined to say how it performed on a cost basis vs. TV, though given FB's generally low cost-per-thousand and so many "earned," i.e. free, social-media impressions, it's hard to see how it couldn't have been cheaper.

More important, the effort began teaching RB how it must operate differently in social media from how it operates in the one-way formats of TV and online video that are and likely will remain mainstays of most of its media plans for some time, Mr. Faracci said.

The Facebook effort focused less on the Lysol brand and more on moms sharing information about how they clean without harsh chemicals. That's a key attribute of Lysol Power & Clean, positioned as a less-harsh alternative to chlorine bleach-based cleaners because it's based on hydrogen peroxide, which breaks down into water and oxygen, Mr. Faracci said.

Despite relatively light branding, the Facebook effort produced changes in brand-equity scores well above average for RB, he said -- getting back to the point of effectiveness rather than simply efficiency.

Nonetheless, Mr. Faracci said he's battling "social fatigue" among his marketers, who are bombarded by offerings from unproven social media as they go about their jobs selling cleaners, personal-care products and cold medicine with the best tools available -- mainly TV ads. He's combating such fatigue by making sure line marketers feel they own their social programs and ensuring all agencies -- traditional, digital and media -- are involved from the outset.

One successful program doesn't mean RB has cracked the code on Facebook, Mr. Faracci said. He's  embarked this year on a joint-business-planning program with the social network that will include deeper analytical dives into projects on Airwick and Finish, including use of marketing-mix models to evaluate results. He dismissed, not so obliquely, former General Motors CMO Joel Ewanick's dismissal of Facebook effectiveness. "If there's a door and you don't have a key ... It means "Let's go find the key together,'" Mr. Faracci said.

And he's trying to open doors beyond Facebook. Another experiment involves using WebMD data to target broader online display search advertising and multibrand local promotions (combining cold brands Mucinex and Delsym with cleaning brand Lysol) based on the symptoms users are reporting. It came during an opportune tough flu season. The WebMD and Lysol efforts dovetail with initiatives Mr. Faracci has been working on since before he came to the U.S. from headquarters in the U.K. last year.

For four years he's led the global effort to merge cleaning brand Lysol with largely personal-care brand Dettol to create a global cross-category germ-fighting brand. A broader multibrand "health and hygiene" positioning Mr. Faracci began at headquarters also underpins the purpose of a huge chunk of RB's business, which is unique among CPG players in encompassing big franchises in both cleaning and cough-cold medicine. Joint advertising and promotions, which include a "good defense is the best offense" efforts for Lysol, have helped RB score double-digit sales increases in both categories amid a rise in respiratory and stomach illnesses that started in the fall.

Mr. Faracci said when he arrived in the U.S. Lysol Power & Free had been on a slow track, which he pushed to accelerate. "Can you innovate in cleaners?" he said. "Yes. Method brought some action with their approach. But since then what's happened? We're making good strides."

And in a world where much of the action has been in developing markets, where many marketers fight for assignments, Mr. Faracci said he asked RB CEO Rakesh Kapoor to make those strides in the U.S.

"I don't think a good marketer or leader of tomorrow can do without being here," Mr. Faracci said. "While it was shifting five or 10 years ago away from here, now it's back in New York. Together with China, we are truly the two poles in the world of marketing. It's a new spring for the U.S., because you can change the way you talk to consumers, and do it in a cost-effective way."

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