Unilever’s ace in the hole

Through a series of risky marketing manoeuvres, Pete Pinfold has been able to completely turn the Degree brand around in Canada, taking its sales from double-digit decline to double-digit growth during his three-year stint as brand manager on Degree and Dove deodorants. While Pinfold, 34, has now moved to Unilever's Markham, Ont. office for a cross-functional trade sales opp, he set the wheels in motion for two ambitious brand experience projects that are in market today: the Degree Poker Championship and the Degree Fashionista Challenge. Both aim to reinforce Degree's new identity after a complete North American overhaul and relaunch, of which Pinfold led the Canadian leg.

Through a series of risky marketing manoeuvres, Pete Pinfold has been able to completely turn the Degree brand around in Canada, taking its sales from double-digit decline to double-digit growth during his three-year stint as brand manager on Degree and Dove deodorants. While Pinfold, 34, has now moved to Unilever’s Markham, Ont. office for a cross-functional trade sales opp, he set the wheels in motion for two ambitious brand experience projects that are in market today: the Degree Poker Championship and the Degree Fashionista Challenge. Both aim to reinforce Degree’s new identity after a complete North American overhaul and relaunch, of which Pinfold led the Canadian leg.

On the Dove front, Pinfold led the much-talked-about Unilever-sponsored documentary Beauty Quest on W Network. ‘He took on work above and beyond what was expected,’ notes Erin Iles, marketing director, spreads and dressings at Unilever, who led the Dove masterbrand at the time. ‘He figured out how to [depict the Dove philosophy in] a documentary – he completely owned and led that project and brought it to fruition.’

When Pinfold joined Degree in 2003, it was still positioned as a unisex brand, which research indicated was problematic. ‘Men thought Degree was for women, women thought it was for men,’ Pinfold explains. ‘The issues were very clear. What needed to be done was perhaps less clear.’

A North American relaunch was already in the works, and Pinfold worked closely with his Unilever counterparts in Chicago on the project, collaboratively determining the new positioning, fragrances, packaging and other logistics. The relaunch saw the unisex products phased out, and the introduction of Degree for Men and Degree for Women. While the U.S. team decided to make the transition from unisex slowly and waited a year to put gender designations on the packaging, Pinfold opted to do it immediately. ‘There was some risk to doing that…but at this point we had nothing to lose…. The beauty of living in Canada is that you really can bill yourself as a test market.’

But Pinfold also faced challenges unique to the Canadian market. Antiperspirants are classified as drugs here, subjecting them to restrictive marketing regulations. Luckily, Pinfold has done pharma time: His first marketing gig was at Mississauga, Ont.-based Wyeth Consumer Healthcare, where he worked on brands like Advil and Dimetapp. This knowledge came in handy on a sampling program following the Degree relaunch. Marketers aren’t allowed to just give away pharmaceutical products, so Pinfold developed a DM sampling program with Shoppers Drug Mart’s Optimum database, sending coupons to female lapsed Degree users and inviting them to purchase full-size antiperspirants for one cent. It garnered a high response rate, and even won the Shoppers Drug Mart award for sampling program of the year in 2004.

Pinfold is no stranger to marketing gambles: He opted to go ahead with the Dove Beauty Quest documentary in 2005, even after finding out that Unilever wouldn’t get final approval. He admits it was a bit unnerving. ‘As a brand manager, you like to think you have control of the mix,’ he says, adding that he had enough confidence in W and prodco Telefactory, and their understanding of the Dove philosophy to justify going ahead with the project. W embraced the project, and even did Dove-tagged interstitial vignettes with its own personalities like Sue Johanson and Candice Olson talking about their thoughts on real beauty. The documentary debuted in July 2005 on W, has been rebroadcast twice on that net and three times on the Documentary Channel to date, and has over-delivered on audience expectations by 15%. Iles credits Pinfold with easing internal concerns. ‘He rallies the team around things that might be risky or scary and converts that energy into excitement,’ she says. ‘He’s a great advocate for doing new, different things.’

The Degree Poker Championship, now in its second year, could certainly be described as new and different. Plus, poker is a great fit for Degree for Men’s tagline: For Men Who Take Risks. Pinfold developed the project with his promotions agency, Toronto-based Segal Communications in 2004, when the possibility of an NHL strike was in the back of everyone’s mind. ‘He really has an appetite for: ‘Let’s do a first-ever,” notes Baron Manett, Segal’s VP. ‘Where a lot of clients get nervous, he walks the walk.’ Pinfold pitched the idea of televising a large-scale poker tournament to TSN, which quickly agreed to a three-year deal. To further reinforce the tagline, Pinfold and his team decided to create the Degree All-In Moment during the tournament. ‘It’s the highest risk reward moment in the game – that’s the moment Degree wanted to own.’

To help navigate the tricky gaming regulations, Pinfold also brought Casino Amusements Canada, a gambling regulations consultancy, on board. His original idea was to hold the tournament in the vacant NHL hockey arenas, but gaming regulations stipulate such tournaments must take place inside casinos. So, he also brought the Niagara Fallsview Casino into the fold to host the event. ‘He often talks about his belief in partner marketing,’ notes Manett. ‘He’s gets that equation of one plus one equals three – or four.’

Pinfold’s penchant for partnerships is evident again with this year’s Degree Fashionista Challenge, which aims to raise awareness for Degree for Women and reinforce its tagline ‘Little Black Dress Approved.’ Partners include Weekly Scoop magazine, eTalk Daily, Le Chateau and Sweetspot.ca. The contest, which launched in April and runs until July, works like a stock market for celebrity fashion. Consumers can select fashion stakes in a roster of celebrities like Salma Hayek and Nicole Kidman, whose value goes up and down based on fashion hits and misses as covered regularly by the three media partners. Weekly Scoop ran an eight-page gatefold explaining the contest in its May 1 issue, specially priced at 25 cents. The gatefold is available free at Le Chateau stores.

Now settling into his new role on the sales side, Pinfold is focusing on Unilever’s Costco business. ‘It’s a great opportunity to broaden my skill set,’ he says. ‘I think my exposure in trade will only make me a stronger marketer.’

FIVE QUESTIONS

Favourite book:

Papillon, by Henri Charrière. It’s one of the first books I remember reading. It’s just a good escape.

Favourite movie:

Victory, a WWII movie about POWs who end up having a soccer match. It’s Sylvester Stallone’s greatest movie. I’m a big soccer fan.

Last ad that inspired you to make a purchase:

Those Canadian Tire innovation spots. They get me into the store.

Favourite vacation spot:

Cape Cod. I have a three-year-old and a one-year-old. It’s very safe and relaxing. A great place for a family.

Favourite way to unwind:

Steaks on the barbeque and an old fashioned game of Bocce.