Beyond Dove

Yes, the brand helped put him on the map. Now strategy's Marketer of the Year, Unilever's Geoff Craig, has his sights set on energizing marketing in Canada

Yes, the brand helped put him on the map. Now strategy‘s Marketer of the Year, Unilever’s Geoff Craig, has his sights set on energizing marketing in Canada

Geoff Craig, Unilever Canada’s VP/GM brand building, has had a remarkable 2007. He knows it, the awards prove it, and yet again the industry has acknowledged it with strategy‘s Overall Marketer of the Year title.

‘I’ve never seen anything like it in my 25 years in the business,’ says Tony Chapman, president of Toronto-based Capital C, of Craig’s colossal success. ‘It’s a combination of good fortune, great brands and his leadership.

‘Equally important is that he delivered the business results,’ adds Chapman, who has worked with Craig for three years on such Unilever brands as Sunsilk. ‘It’s not just, ‘I ran the Dove pony to death.”

Yes, Dove. Post-’Evolution,’ the viral campaign that won everything from Cannes to Clios over the past year, Craig says he’s quite aware of ‘Dove fatigue.’

‘The industry gets tired of a good story. I don’t have Dove fatigue and, most importantly, consumers don’t have Dove fatigue,’ he says, citing that in Canada Dove continues to grow. Craig wouldn’t share specifics about recent year-end numbers, but offers: ‘We did grow share overall. Dove’s was double digit.’

He’s also equally proud of the work and awards his other brands racked up in 2007. A recap: on the Axe brand, a website with a downloadable widget named MINDI by Toronto-based Dashboard won the Yahoo Cream of Venice award at the inaugural Venice Festival of Media, up against 34 finalists from 19 countries.

On Sunsilk there was the ‘Bride Has Massive Hair Wig Out’ viral, made for about $3,000, which was an unprecedented YouTube and PR success that attracted 2.8 million views in a few short months as well as coverage in top North American media. It also won a Canadian Grand Prix New Product Award in the Hair Care category from the Canadian Council of Grocery Distributors.

And as part of the ‘Eat for Real’ campaign for the repositioned Hellmann’s brand, about 50 community vegetable gardens were set up in five Canadian cities to reinforce the brand’s ‘natural’ positioning and reach consumers in a unique way.

‘I believe we can do it again,’ he says of his past year’s achievements. ‘Call me an optimist.’

That he is. In a conversation peppered with words like ‘remarkable,’ ‘possibilities,’ ‘belief,’ ‘courage’ and ‘conviction,’ as well as constant praise of his team and agencies, Craig seems ready to build on past success.

His sense of the possibilities comes in part from crafting a vision with his marketing directors of what marketing at Unilever Canada could be back in 2006, and rolling it out in 2007. It’s something he was perhaps poised to shepherd through after having eight different jobs in different departments since joining the company in 1992 – including HR, sales, operations, trade marketing and financing – before winding up in marketing as head of home and personal care. That varied experience has allowed him to have ‘better conversations’ and encourage ‘better outcomes,’ he says, as well as inform his goal: ‘To become Canada’s fastest growing CPG,’ and do it all with meaningful work.

To achieve that, Craig has embarked on a path of engaging and inspiring the just over 60 brand and assistant brand managers who work daily on his roster of 32 home and personal care and food brands – including Hellmann’s, Sunlight, Q-Tips, Axe, Degree – as well as the partner agencies, including Capital C, Ogilvy & Mather and Segal Communications.

One example, says Chapman, was a video Craig created about being meaningful, which he broadcast to his agency partners at the end of 2006. ‘The 25 people in the room all walked out saying, ‘I’d walk on water for this guy. This guy is the real deal. I’m going to do great work for this guy.’ He just created this amazing buzz.’

Internally, he’s had the same effect. ‘He’s created an environment where we make sure we believe in the ideas at the beginning of marketing programs,’ says Carolyn Spriet, director of home care, who has worked with Craig for 13 years. And more brands in Craig’s portfolio will soon launch campaigns that tap into that philosophy.

On the Vaseline brand, following the success of the ‘amazingness of skin’ global positioning, a skin analysis website ( designed by Dashboard with Toronto-based Zig allows consumers to enter details like where they live and their skin type to determine which product is best for their skin. Currently up and running, it will be rolled out globally this year.

At Axe, a new body wash called Skin Contact will include a partnership with dating website; cinema and Facebook will be part of the launch.

Dove will soon debut its Pro-Age play, penned by Canadian playwright Judith Thompson and the subject of a documentary by former prima ballerina Veronica Tennant.

Over at Becel, there’s the Red Dress campaign, which builds on the brand’s longstanding relationship with the Heart and Stroke Foundation. And if that weren’t enough, Craig has recently added a new brand to his portfolio: Ben & Jerry’s. Campaign plans are in the works.

Craig says a smaller market has equalled bigger possibilities. It’s allowed his brands to execute more creative executions, as well as be more agile and nimble and take more chances than his counterparts around the globe do. ‘It’s easier in Canada,’ he says. ‘We’re not under the constant microscope of the stock market.’

Craig also hopes to cast his growing net of influence much farther. This year he created a group of 10 of his agency partners that he unofficially calls the Canadian Marketing Conclave. The plan is to meet twice a year to discuss ideas, trends and the industry’s future, to ensure not only that Unilever stays ‘remarkable, [but that] the Canadian industry gets more innovative and leads the world in this sea of change,’ he says.

‘He’s quite bold, and he’s very brave,’ says Spriet. ‘I think our U.S. counterparts would prefer we take a more conservative approach on things. He’s not afraid to be different, because he’s willing to take calculated risks. That’s important and refreshing when you’re the small guy up against the U.S.’

That bodes well for Craig’s future – and perhaps for marketing in Canada overall. ‘Head, heart and hands leadership: to me, the best leaders of the future have the ability to think, feel and do,’ says Chapman. ‘The best marketers normally nail two. Geoff has all three.’

Team size: 64

Years at Unilever: 16

First job in marketing: Assistant brand manager, bacon, Maple Leaf

Professional highlight of the year: It’s a tie. First: ‘When I got the phone call from Cannes to say we had won the Film Grand Prix…how can you not love that?’ Next, Craig sent over 50 handwritten letters to the parents of his staff, commending them for the work they did in 2007. ‘There’s nothing more important for parents than seeing their children successful. It created a bunch of great moments.’

Marketing style in three words: ‘Synergistic. Provocative. Yearning (for a better future).’

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