To change that mind-set, Mr. Palmer, Kimberly-Clark's first chief marketing officer, has taken some radical steps at the marketer that spent $412 million on worldwide advertising last year. He's hired managers for global brand development, market research and integrated marketing communications. He's committed to increasing marketing spending by $200 million in 2009, and moved about 25% of Kimberly-Clark's outlay into nontraditional media, such as digital and shopper magazines.
Now he's also enlisted communications-planning shop Naked Communications -- known for its emphasis on nontraditional marketing -- as Kimberly-Clark's new agency partner. A contract with Naked was finalized last week, but Kimberly-Clark has been working with the agency since September on eight brands, including Scott, Kleenex, Pull-Ups and Depend.
"The old approach elevates TV as the cornerstone, and that sort of takes a shotgun approach across all other consumer touch points and therefore has the tendency to create a lot of waste," Mr. Palmer said in an interview. "The new approach puts TV and all the other touch points on a very equal footing, then determines very clearly what are the targets to be achieved, and then enables us to take a really targeted rifle shot at the right place at the right time to hit the consumer to get the outcome we want. So it's incredibly effective and a lot less wasteful."
The assignment is a major coup for Naked, which is widely regarded as the leader of marketing's communications-planning revolution. Naked, which came to the U.S. about two years ago after building a successful network in Europe, already works with Nokia, Coca-Cola and Kimberly-Clark competitor Johnson & Johnson. (It will not be working on certain Kimberly-Clark brands because of a conflict with its J&J account.)
The thought behind the new focus on communications planning is not only philosophical but practical for the Irving, Texas, marketer, according to Hedy Lukas, Kimberly-Clark's VP-integrated marketing communications. Put simply, TV spots and print ads alone don't sell tissues. "One of the things we've begun to realize in this process is that we have traditionally overthought the whole awareness thing, which TV does very well," Ms. Lukas said.
"We began to recognize that some of the barriers to our success are more likely in the area of direct interaction -- a touch, a feel, an action step in the retail environment where the rubber hits the road and the consumer is making choices. We hadn't prioritized those things as key components of our marketing mix," she said.
'A very different approach'
As an example of this new focus on communications planning, Mr. Palmer cited adult incontinence product Depend. With Depend, the brand idea is about "preserving relationships through discretion," Mr. Palmer said. So rather than focusing on potentially embarrassing 30-second spots about incontinence, Kimberly-Clark has thought about a "very different approach where you try to build a relationship with the consumer." That means rethinking packaging to make it more discreet, reworking product placement on supermarket shelves or making the product easier to dispose of so it's less obvious.
One potential sticking point of the new partnership is that Naked will have to coexist with Kimberly-Clark's existing agencies, JWT, Ogilvy & Mather and MindShare. Mr. Palmer said the move to communications planning is not an insult to the good work those agencies have produced but rather a response to a changing marketplace.
"What we are seeing is very different," Ms. Lukas said. "It's a completely fresh, channel-neutral look at the challenge of marketing objectives. We dialogue together with the ad agencies, with the consumer-promotion teams, with our media-selection group, our online teams, and we are really focused on resolving the issue as opposed to 'Hey, let me see how I can adapt your creative idea to my particular medium.' That's a very different dialogue than the ones we had two to three years ago."