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Unilever's Lux Grows Sales in Asia and Latin America

A Q&A With JWT's Sam Williams About Selling Beauty Bar in More Prosperous, Competitive Emerging Markets

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SINGAPORE (AdAge.com) -- Lux, one of Unilever's billion-dollar global beauty brands, has evolved from a bar soap once marketed in the U.S. using glamorous Hollywood stars into a leading mass-market brand in emerging markets. Sam Williams is in charge of Lux's growth as Asian and Latin American women become more affluent consumers and rival local brands get better at marketing. Ms. Williams moved to Singapore in April as global business director for JWT's Lux business, overseeing marketing for one of Unilever's biggest brands. Previously, she was the London-based director of JWT's Kellogg's business.

Sam Williams
Sam Williams
Ad Age: How big a brand is Lux for Unilever?

Ms. Williams: Lux is sold all over the world and sales are over 1 billion euros ($1.3 billion) globally per year. It's one of Unilever's top three beauty brands, along with Pond's and Dove. Lux isn't sold in the U.S. anymore; the brand is marketed under the Caress name there.

Ad Age: Why is the global role based in Singapore?

Ms. Williams: The decision was made by Unilever, but it's essential from an agency perspective anyway since the global VP for the Lux brand, Tian-Poh Sze, is currently based in Singapore. The job has previously been based in Sao Paulo and Bangkok but it's been in Singapore for about two-and-a-half years.

Ad Age: Where is Lux sold?

Ms. Williams: Lux is in 50 or 60 markets globally, but the top 10 account for most of the business is India, Brazil, U.S. [as Caress], China, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Thailand, South Africa and Pakistan. Those are the main markets for skin cleansing. If you include hair-care products, we would also include Japan. Lux hair-care products are only sold in Japan and China. Unilever has other hair care brands like Sunsilk and Hazeline in major markets, but they have not decided to introduce Lux hair care anywhere else at this point. Lux is also big in South Africa. We are exploring the rest of the African continent but that's more about sales potential than current sales.

Ad Age: What is the strategy behind Lux's marketing?

Ms. Williams: The last big relaunch was in early 2008, with a campaign called "Diva," which had [English actress] Rachel Weisz as the global talent. We also featured [Bollywood actress] Priyanka [Chopra] in India. The campaign ran in 50-plus countries and was all about soft skin and increasing your desirability. The campaign was very sensuous, kind of a mix between food and beauty, with edible-looking soft-type imagery. The strategy was about helping women stand out from the crowd; that's what our consumer is looking for.

Bollywood actress Priyanka Chopra was featured in Lux's 'Diva' campaign in India.
Bollywood actress Priyanka Chopra was featured in Lux's 'Diva' campaign in India.
Ad Age: What's the current global tagline?

Ms. Williams: Unilever is a very innovation-led company so changes to the brand depend on what news is coming through. There's no tagline currently. That's one of my challenges, bringing some distinctiveness and coherence to the work. Campaigns can be local or multi-country, depending on the learnings, but that goes with the category. Women's interpretation of beauty can be very different around the world.

Ad Age: Has the global recession hurt Lux sales?

Ms. Williams: No, Lux is very mass-market, and most consumers are in developing and emerging markets. Even in the U.S. [Caress] is more of a Hispanic brand. Sales have grown every year for the past five years and Lux has strong brand equity and a strong presence in consumers' hearts.

Ad Age: Who is Lux's biggest competition?

Ms. Williams: It varies by market. Olay is a huge brand in China, but it's more premium. There are some strong local brands like Goodrich in India, Liushen in China and Parrot in Thailand and local value brands are a big point of competition, because they are becoming more sophisticated in their marketing. It's a big challenge for us, capturing women as they're trading up from soap bars and making sure they choose Lux rather than a local brand.

Other categories can even be a threat. In markets like South Africa, for example, a naturals range from Dettol was just launched and the packaging and in-store materials have more beauty cues than just germ-killing soap, so now there's competition coming from that category as well.

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Ad Age: Is Unilever focusing more on digital marketing?

Ms. Williams: We've done some work in this area already, like the Catherine Zeta-Jones film last year in North Asia. It's definitely an area we're looking closely at -- mobile, internet, and digital platforms. Lux is a mass brand and TV is still important.

Ad Age: What motivates consumers in emerging markets?

Ms. Williams: There is a global identity for Lux packaging that gets localized in a pre-agreed framework, and TV ads are shot featuring local stars. What unites [consumers] is [their] modest background. As women become more sophisticated in their beauty regime, that's where other products start to come in.

In some emerging markets, women are still using beauty bars. As they become more affluent, especially in places like India and China with their emerging middle class, they start to bring in other products like shampoo, conditioner, lipstick, and then move into face moisturizers, fragrances, whitening and skin tone products ... the products become more specialized.

Lux is one of their first beauty products with accessible aspirations and that gets portrayed through the Lux woman in ads and how we portray her consistently. We talk about her being a woman who writes her own story. That's what unites consumers with the brand.

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