Unilever's Ambitious Encore to Dove and Axe Branded-Entertainment Efforts

Pond's Partners With USA Miniseries for Multimedia Integration Deal

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Who: Srini Sripada, marketing director-skin care, Unilever
Srini Sripada, Unilever's marketing director-skin care: 'I feel we're in the business of storytelling about our brands.'

Why you need to know him: Unilever has become an increasingly active player in branded entertainment. Flagship brands Dove and Axe as well as other key brands such as Degree all have launched or expanded programs in the past year. Mr. Sripada is the marketer behind one of the company's most ambitious projects to date, a Pond's tie-in with USA Network's six-part miniseries "The Starter Wife," which starts May 31 and includes on-air, online, in-store, print and outdoor promotions, as well as a microsite (ponds-thestarterwife.com) aimed at searching for 40-something women who personify "grown-up beauty" and will be featured in vignettes during the miniseries.

Credentials: Mr. Sripada got his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering, but after receiving an M.B.A. from Columbia University, he went to work in marketing as an assistant brand manager for Procter & Gamble Co. He returned to the East Coast to be close to family, joining Campbell Soup Co. and working on brands such as Chunky Soup before coming to Unilever three years ago as a marketing director on the skin-care business.

Why did "The Starter Wife" make sense for Pond's? "Seldom do we come across entertainment properties whose central theme fits so well to the brand's story. The Pond's woman is inherently confident. She has this grown-up allure and sophistication that comes from age and maturity ... that green 20-year-olds don't have. 'The Starter Wife' is a fascinating tale of one person who exercises such confidence in the face of adversity. It was a fantastic backdrop for us to tell the story."

How did the deal come together? "When we work on brand planning, we have multiple team communities of various partners sit together and say, 'Here's our clear strategy on the brand and vision we want to take.' Actually, this idea came from another agency partner [promotion shop Alcone Marketing Group, Darien, Conn., a unit of Omnicom Group] and our media partner [WPP Group's MindShare], who said, 'Why don't we see how we can bring this to fruition?'"

Where does "The Starter Wife" fit in the broader marketing mix for Pond's? "It is a big part of our marketing initiatives in the first half of 2007. Our goal is to integrate the program 360 [degrees] both at retail and in a promotional context. ... We have a contest that engages the consumer in the storytelling process and a 'Watch and Win' contest where select women will get a right-hand diamond ring, which is an empowering symbol for where we want to be."

How did you get started in marketing? "I'm an undergrad in mechanical engineering ... but after my M.B.A., my first assignment was in marketing. It was almost like a fish in water. I feel that I've connected with all aspects of marketing. There's a business aspect that feeds my sense of orderliness as an engineer. And the creative aspects connect with my [right] brain. So it's really an ideal career choice for me."

What do you see as the role for branded entertainment for Pond's or Unilever skin care more broadly? "I feel we're in the business of storytelling about our brands. And today's media world gives us the fantastic opportunity to connect and tell our stories in the best possible way."

How will you measure success with "The Starter Wife?" "The simple way is you measure success with volume, profit and share. I believe, having delighted our consumer and meeting her needs and providing a meaningful difference in her life, that it will show up in the tracking measures we have. We track consumer perceptions of our brand monthly and report them quarterly on the basic measures of: How does she feel about our proposition? Does it solve her problem? Are we experts in skin care? Does she view us as providing answers to her problems in a particular area that she's concerned about? But, ultimately, it's: Have we delighted her? Have we built loyalty for our brand? I've seen, with many brands, that those things always translate into volume and share."

What do you like to do in your free time? "I like to cook, which is probably why I was in the food business. And I like to experiment with spices, given my background in Indian cooking, where spices are heavy. I try different things. Sometimes it fails. But over time I've figured out what not to do. I like to read, and I like to exercise. I normally get up at 4:30 in the morning to exercise. That's the time I feel I'm on my own and can concentrate, think and exercise. That frees my mind to think of things and get ahead of the game. I love traveling, and I've divided the seven continents into sectors, so over the next few years I'll be able to make trips in such a way that I cover the different continents."

What's on your iPod? "I have a 60-gig iPod that thankfully isn't filled yet but has a lot of different music, sorted out by genre, starting with Indian classical music, pop music and podcasts from several websites I follow [such as BBC, Radio Australia and CNN]. And there are some comedy shows I follow. Some of the TV shows I've kept are what I would call the best creative work that has inspired my imagination."

What are the comedies you've kept? "Some of them are Britcoms -- there's "Yes, Minister," an old Britcom from the mid-1980s, which is very good comedy but also a reflection of life and culture -- a lot of evergreens about how people interact in life and culture. Some of them are 'Seinfeld' episodes, which I think are just a great reflection of human life that remind you that the mundane can be the most comical if properly portrayed."

Do you have a TiVo? What's on it? "I don't, and there's a reason why. I'm a cook, and I like my food cooked fresh. Similarly, I like to see my TV programs fresh and live. I feel when I'm watching TiVo, I'm fast-forwarding to the end to get it over. It's almost like eating reheated food, and I want something live. Appointment television is not dead in Srini's household. If I want something, I'll go back and watch it."
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