Rocket launcher – Unilever’s Jillian McLaughlin

Jillian McLaughlin is perched on a white futon pushed up against a wall adorned with playful party photos of herself and her friends. Knick-knacks and trinkets have been carefully placed around the futon, which is anchored visually by colorful throw pillows and a powder blue area rug. The set-up is reminiscent of a college girl's dorm room or a young woman's first apartment, and that's exactly the point.

Jillian McLaughlin is perched on a white futon pushed up against a wall adorned with playful party photos of herself and her friends. Knick-knacks and trinkets have been carefully placed around the futon, which is anchored visually by colorful throw pillows and a powder blue area rug. The set-up is reminiscent of a college girl’s dorm room or a young woman’s first apartment, and that’s exactly the point.

We’re at Unilever Canada’s downtown Toronto headquarters sitting in McLaughlin’s office, which she has deliberately transformed into ‘Katie’s Room’ to fully immerse herself

in haircare brand Sunsilk’s primary target:

25-year-old girls. ‘I wanted to really sink myself into who the target is…to really be obsessed with who she is, what she does,’ explains McLaughlin, 30, the brand building manager responsible for Thermasilk and the massive June launch of Sunsilk in Canada. She has even nicknamed the three variants of the 25-year-old bull’s-eye: ‘Katie’ in English Canada, ‘Christine’ in Quebec, and ‘Kirshma,’ the South Asian Canadian target.

‘It’s a trait of wonderfully natural marketers – they just live and breathe the consumers they want to reach,’ notes Tony Chapman, president of Toronto-based agency Capital C. He recalls that when McLaughlin first brought her agencies on board in October 2004 to prep for the Sunsilk launch, she tried an unconventional motivational technique. ‘To make sure that everyone really understood Katie, Jillian invited everyone over to her condo for a Katie Party to really see the target in the three-dimensional,’ Chapman says. ‘She’s just so passionate and excited, you want to do great work for her.’

One of the great pieces of work Cap C has done with McLaughlin is developing 14 different account-specific promotions to help woo retailers and get Sunsilk on the shelves in spite of its off-season mid-June launch. Three of the ASPs are particularly noteworthy: for Shoppers Drug Mart, they published 600,000 copies of a content-driven mini-mag, Hairapy, to be available in store and sent out with Glow magazine. (The chain was worried about some of the original version’s racier content, with Cosmo-style advice, so McLaughlin printed another 500,000 copies of that edition to be distributed at peripheral retailers like La Senza and The Shoe Company, which also get coupon space in the mag.) For Wal-Mart, Sunsilk ‘Hairapy guys,’ will be doling out tongue-in-cheek hair advice as part of a retailtainment initiative, which will be supported by two cinema ads to drive traffic to Wal-Mart. And, they’re doing a DM effort with Loblaws to help the grocer drive up traffic in its haircare aisles.

McLaughlin has a solid understanding of how to give retailers what they want, thanks to a two-year stint on the sales side at Unilever selling personal care to Costco. ‘Costco is very demanding,’ she explains. ‘You have to put a lot of energy into understanding the internal processes.’ She was clearly able to get into the right headspace, as she had several key wins, including getting the AXE launch into Costco and securing an in-store Unilever fence, Costco’s first-ever single-vendor fence. ‘I had a phenomenal relationship with my buyer. We created this Unilever fence together that allowed me to grow my business by 14% that year,’ she recalls. ‘I had a real passion for the business…[my buyer] had a real passion for winning. And, I think he also had a lot of respect for me because of my marketing experience’ [she worked on Dove and Vim before being shuffled over to sales].

McLaughlin also fired up Global to hatch some brand new opportunities. The net will be running eight one-minute ‘bathroom dramas,’ featuring four girls agonizing over trivial twentysomething dilemmas that are all traced back to – you guessed it – hair woes. ‘I think the success here is thorough briefing,’ McLaughlin says, adding that she was very hands-on throughout the development of the episodes. ‘I wrote the casting brief, went to all the castings [and] I was at all the shoots helping with how the personalities were being developed.’ She’s doing a similar initiative in Quebec, with a series of 45 different one-minute radio episodes on Energie 94.3, with the Quebec Hairapy man ‘Dominic,’ played by comedian Sériq. And, she worked with Toronto-based specialty agency Rao, Barrett & Welsh to customize print ads for the South Asian market, with slogans like ‘My hair has more bumps and kinks than a Bollywood romance.’ They’re running in mags like Anokhi and South Asian Life.

McLaughlin was also able to score a unique deal with CHUM, which offered up one of its commentators from the show Video on Trial for four ‘Hair on Trial’ vignettes. ‘I really believe that you need to bring your consumer something of value,’ McLaughlin says. ‘I’ve really challenged our media partners to add value, to not just do a brand-sell message.’

McLaughlin is no stranger to ambitious Canadian activations with unique media buys. Her efforts on the launch of Dove Nutrium won the Unilever Home & Personal Care – North America brand development growth award for best 2002 activation plan, which exceeded internal expectations by 28%. What really pushed the launch over the edge was a contest by CTV for a luxurious trip to L.A. that was promoted on-air and on a special CTV microsite. It attracted 27,000 entries in the first two weeks, as well as 17,000 sample requests – the most entries and requests CTV had seen at the time.

‘Jillian has superb energy, passion and enthusiasm, and it’s underpinned by strong business savvy, a zeal for consumer understanding and great team leadership,’ notes boss Geoff Craig, Unilever’s VP brand development, home and personal care. ‘She’s managed to maintain a team effort all dedicated towards the rock star launch of [Sunsilk], which is going to be a massively successful hair care brand in Canada.’

For now, all eyes will be on those anxiously awaited initial sales reports, to see if McLaughlin’s ‘rock star launch’ will help Unilever finally edge out arch-rival P&G to win hair in Canada.


Favourite book

Weber’s Big Book of Grilling because my husband makes great dinners from it!

Last ad that inspired you to make a purchase

Band Aids’ print ads for the new Blister Packs. Loved the great black pumps, and knew the blisters would hurt.

Greatest strength

My ability to build relationships, and have a ton of fun along the way.

Most useful business book, and why Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The best book on goal setting and becoming your personal best.

Number one thing you look for in ad agencies Great creative people who can see the big ideas.