SINGAPORE (AdAge.com) -- Unilever is turning on the cyber charm in Asia with a burst of social-media activities for brands like Pond's, Lux and Comfort. One effort in China, an experiment to use bloggers in a blind test of Pond's Age Miracle moisturizer, will become a regional marketing strategy for the skin-care brand.
In the market for just a year, Pond's Age Miracle hasn't leaped off store shelves. The anti-aging cream faces strong competition from entrenched brands such as Clinique, L'Oreal, Lancome and Procter & Gamble's SK-II and Olay brands. Like most Asian women, Chinese women are fastidious about their skin-care regimen and loyal to favorite products.
After weighing the costs of an ad blitz in traditional media, Unilever opted for a stealthy digital campaign to generate buzz, establish the product's credibility and encourage Chinese women to give Pond's Age Miracle a try. Unilever and Ogilvy PR Worldwide created a blind trial program among affluent women. On sites such as Onlylady.com, Unilever asked for volunteers to try out an unidentified anti-aging solution and quickly signed up with 150 official testers.
It was a risky decision. China's blog community is large, active and influential. More than 100 million Chinese claim to communicate via forums and discussion boards and 41 million are heavy social-media contributors, according to Netpop. If women hated Pond's Age Miracle, the brand would tank.
To Unilever's relief, bloggers gushed over the mysterious moisturizer in hundreds of posts during a seven-day trial last month. Even after the trial ended, nine out of 10 continued to endorse the brand as enthusiastic, and unpaid, brand ambassadors.
"This is the first time used we've used social media in China. There is no doubt we will use it more to connect with consumers," said Shanghai-based Laercio Cardoso, VP-marketing for Unilever's home and personal-care brands in China. He's developing social-media campaigns for two other Unilever beauty brands due out at the end of this year.
That enthusiasm doesn't come as a surprise Thomas Crampton, Hong Kong-based director of 360 digital influence for Asia/Pacific at Ogilvy PR.
"We're conducting social media campaigns in a wide range of ways with many types of clients across Asia. The hunger for it is huge," he said.
The China launch strategy was closely monitored by Unilever's global Pond's team in Singapore, which now plans to create similar blind trials to market Pond's Age Miracle in key Southeast Asian markets such as Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam. Although Pond's is a global skin-care brand, it's especially popular in Southeast Asia.
"Everyone was excited by the response in China," said Singapore-based Mutya Laxa Buensuceso, Unilever's global brand director for Pond's. "[And] the cost of those sites are a tenth that of traditional media, so it's very cost efficient as well."
Asia is also a Unilever lab for using Facebook as a marketing tool. The region is home to dozens of Facebook fan sites and communities dedicated to Pond's. One in the Indonesian city of Bandung has close to 10,000 members. Unilever is using that site as a test to reach young Asian women, developing tailor-made Facebook activities like games, invitations to events, a branded merchandise program offering discounts to local lifestyle hangouts and a mobile app with girl-friendly content.
Elsewhere in Asia, Unilever engaged consumers of Comfort fabric softener in Vietnam with an interactive campaign by local digital agency Who Digital. In a five-week contest, husbands were invited to submit stories about love. Each week, advertorials in local magazines published five winners. Consumers could also create and send love messages on a Vietnamese-language web site.
Unilever's Singapore-based global Lux team is promoting that hair-care brand worldwide this fall with a TV spot by JWT, Singapore, called "Behave Beautiful," starring Bollywood star Priyanka. Lux isn't sold in the U.S., but is a billion-dollar Unilever beauty soap and hair-care brand globally.
Last month, in a global first, Unilever invited top beauty bloggers from countries like India, Malaysia, and Indonesia to encourage followers to view the Priyanka spot and then create and upload their own "Behave Beautiful" clips to the Lux YouTube channel.
"It's a fun contest that invites women to be beautiful rather than be an object of beauty," said Tina Reejsinghani, global PR manager for the Lux global brand development team in Singapore.
The program, also created by Ogilvy PR, is running globally for at least three months, with a special focus on India, Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
If the Lux promotion is a hit, it may run into 2010, Ms. Reejsinghani said, highlighting one of the disadvantages of a social media campaign. "You don't really see results right away, you have to let things play out. ... We don't have as much hold and control as we might like, but that's also the beauty of it."