Unilever revitalizes Wall's ice cream brands in China

Magnum & Cornetto ads break April 1

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SHANGHAI--Unilever is revitalizing two of its Wall's ice cream brands, Magnum and Cornetto, with major campaigns for each product line launching across China on April 1.

After almost a year of detailed planning, Unilever is relaunching Magnum, a high-end ice cream bar that is one of Unilever's big global brands, with a creamier, richer flavor in vanilla, chocolate biscuit and cappuccino flavors. As part of the overhaul, new packaging and marketing reflect its more premium image.

Unilever also updated the image of Cornetto, a mass-market brand, with a music-themed campaign starring two Chinese pop singers, Singaporean J.J. Lin and Shanghai native Jin Sha.

Getting the right products and branding into China was critical. With most of its urban, affluent population living in mild seaside climates, the country's ice cream season starts in March and lasts through late September. But historically, Chinese are not ice cream fans and sales among these consumers remains relatively low, three liters per year compared to about 22 liters in the U.S. On a national average, including poorer rural areas, the consumption of ice cream in China is extremely low.

Competition from local dairy companies like China's Inner Mongolia Mengniu Milk Industry Co. and Inner Mongolia Yili Co. has also intensified in the past couple of years. Both Chinese companies have greatly improved the quality of their products, and in general, have better distribution, local market understanding and lower prices than multinationals.

Unilever and other foreign ice cream marketers also have to overcome local taste preferences. During the hottest months of summer, Chinese often prefer water-based ice cream products like red bean sticks rather than dairy-based brands like Magnum and Cornetto.

Global brands, local strategy

New campaigns for both brands were created within Unilever's new operating framework, in which a global vision for all brands is rolled out from a single platform, rather than through a local filter, a past strategy that didn't work well. Those failures, combined with the company's decentralized structure and internal bickering, led to a fragmentation of brand values. The company hopes its turnaround strategy will help win back market share lost in China and other emerging markets to multinational rivals, both in household care products and food categories.

The "obvious place for Wall's to start" was relaunching Magnum, the largest brand in that division's global portfolio, said Ian Maskell, Unilever's Shanghai-based managing director, North Asia for Walls brands. "In this era of global communication, we are very aware of the power of global brands and the efficiencies we can establish."

Wrapped in new packaging that exudes a strong sense of indulgence, Unilever's new Magnum formula has already launched in Europe and Latin America, but Chinese retailers will be the first to stock it in Asia.

“It wasn't just a matter of freshening up ads to drive sales,” said Stephen Drummond, group managing director of Nitro Group, an independent agency which handles creative for Magnum and Cornetto in China. Creating new ads “was a matter of catching up with the product. It's dramatically better. The chocolate taste is far more intense.”

Blog strategy appeals to young consumers

The campaign is running in TV, magazines and in-store merchandizing, but localizing the brand’s global strategy in China, one of the biggest internet and mobile phone markets in the world, mostly depends on digital media. Unilever has invested in a massive online competition that taps into the popularity of blogging in China.

“Blogging is a big phenomenon in China,” said Mr. Maskell. An ex-Mars marketer and veteran of China's confectionery market, he is part of a global Wall's team that rolls out the brand's worldwide strategy in local markets, working alongside Mike Zhang, Shanghai-based managing director for Wall's in China, who oversees the localization strategy.

“There are several reasons why, but mainly it's the way media has been controlled in China. Blogging provides an outlet that is reasonably free. Some bloggers have become quite well known in their own right and they were recruited to be judges on this project,” he added.

The company is inviting consumers to create a blog on its Chinese Magnum micro-site or provide a link to an existing blog. Consumers can read and vote on which ones they like best, and read the evaluations of Unilever's celebrity blogger judges. For the voting, a standard online “click” equals one vote but a code on the stick of each Magnum allows consumers to create five votes.

“We've linked the competition with the product, if you buy a Magnum, your voting power increases. It's quite an elaborate site,” said Mr. Maskell.

The site attracted more than 100 blogs before the ad campaign broke. He predicts “tens of thousands" of blogs by the time the promotion ends in August, due to the popularity of blogs and the internet with his target audience. "Hopefully, they will want to return to see how it's going. They almost use the internet like a TV station.”

Unilever will give away two Volkswagen Beetle cars at the end of summer, to the winner of the blog competition, and to the voter most involved in the competition. The dual nature of the campaign is also an analogy for the campaign's ad slogan, “Reveal both sides.” That's a reference to the product's ice cream center and chocolate coating and, in a broader sense, to the nice vs. naughty side of those who indulge in Magnum bars.

“We're rewarding both the blogging public and voting public, to make it interesting for both sides,” he added. “The analogy is, there are two sides to our consumers, public and private. The idea of the blog is that people will share their private site, which makes it interesting to read them. We believe this is a paradigm-changing idea and the brand will be seen as very innovative because of it.”

Music and mobile phones

For Cornetto, Unilever is attracting teenagers with a music-oriented campaign about social bonding, “Love is in the Air," that relies on the popularity of J.J. Lin and Jin Sha. The company released a single by the same title performed by the duo that is also the theme of the new TV spot, and hopes the tune will become one of China's pop hits of the year.

In a collaboration with Sina Corp., one of China's most popular portal sites, and Motorola Corp., the campaign is supported online with a digital campaign that carries on last year's "flip the lid" promotion for Cornetto. A unique code on each lid can be sent to a Sina mobile site by an SMS text message, allowing consumers to download free extras featuring the pop stars, such as wallpapers and ring tones. Unilever also set up a web site about the pop stars and the promotion at walls.com.cn.

Consumers can enter a competition to win one of the 300 Motorola phones that Unilever is giving away in a joint promotion with the U.S. handset maker, said Mr. Maskell. "It's a new model that has just been launched. Motorola see this as a sampling exercise and their phone is visible in the new Cornetto TV ad for a few seconds."

Unilever also organized events featuring the two singers, such as small concerts in Beijing and Guangzhou for up to 2,000 fans, who win tickets through the SMS mechanism. Viacom's MTV channel will promote the campaign's pop music single.

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