Appreciating the Undertones of Asian Marketing

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Linda Kovarik's dual understanding of Asian consumers and Procter & Gamble Co.'s brands has helped turn P&G into a market leader across the region.

Linda Kovarik, regional planning director for P&G Beauty Care in Asia/Pacific at Leo Burnett Worldwide.

As Leo Burnett Worldwide's regional planning director for P&G Beauty Care in the Asia/Pacific, Ms. Kovarik oversees the Publicis Groupe-owned agency's research across the region, particularly in China, P&G's sixth-largest market. She leads the implementation of strategy and communication for brands such as Vidal Sassoon, Max Factor, Rejoice, Clairol and Whisper.

Revamping a little-known product
Ms. Kovarik, 35, helped the U.S. marketer revamp SK-II from a little-known Japanese product into Asia's top-selling premium skin-care brand, using market insights communicated through celebrity testimonials, at the expense of prestige brands such as Estee Lauder, Lancome and Dior. A campaign that ran last year for whitening masks, for example, featured SK-II's ability to reduce undertones, "tapping into our discovery that many Asian women feel they have yellow, red and green undertones. That was a huge insight for us," recalls Ms. Kovarik.

She also helped P&G grow Rejoice into China's top-selling shampoo. Ads showed "real women in scenarios that will ring true to them," not just a model with beautiful hair, Ms. Kovarik says. An upcoming Rejoice campaign features spirited women moving forward in an imperfect world, such as women attending a night school class or taking parents on an airplane for the first time.

Ms. Kovarik is based in Hong Kong, but is frequently seen in P&G's home base of Cincinnati, sharing insights for projects such as the rollout of SK-II in the U.S. last February and in the U.K. in 2002. She's the sole representative from P&G roster agencies taking part in a global initiative analyzing advertising for low-income consumers.

Figuring out customers' aspirations
"Linda has the ability to gain insights about consumers that we find difficult to get, using great techniques for listening to consumers. She's terrific at figuring out our customers' human aspirations and how our brands can meet those needs," says Ravi Chaturvedi, P&G's vice president of health and beauty care for Greater China, based in Guangzhou.

A bra designer, basketball player and mother, Ms. Kovarik contends: "You have to ask great questions to get great answers. I look at research as oracle, using information as a springboard."

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