Becel’s Margaret McKellar: Marketing with heart

Margaret McKellar is quickly becoming Unilever's queen of launching brand new events. In her most recent endeavour, she spreads Becel's heart-friendly message through a Canada-wide concert experience

A sea of women (and a few men), many dressed in red, filled the Winter Garden Theatre in downtown Toronto on April 23. They were there for the Love Your Heart benefit concert to hear music by Chantal Kreviazuk, Deborah Cox and Diana Krall, as well as listen to stories of ‘heart heroes’ – women who’ve been personally affected by heart disease. The evening’s host, Cheryl Hickey of Entertainment Tonight Canada, proudly introduced Margaret McKellar, brand building manager for Becel. Wearing a black dress with the obligatory splash of red courtesy of a pashmina, McKellar looked at home on the stage as she thanked the audience for being there.

The concert went off without a hitch (besides a few minor technical difficulties). And Becel’s heart health message couldn’t have been more prominent. The fact that heart disease is the number one killer of women but that most women don’t know it was repeated throughout the concert, with the performers talking about the cause between songs. Diana Krall even incorporated Becel into one of her songs, which led the audience to laugh and applaud.

Last year, Becel came on board as the founding sponsor for the Heart & Stroke Foundation’s ‘Heart Truth’ campaign, which McKellar says was a natural fit: ‘They approached Becel to be the founding sponsor, and given the brand’s longstanding heritage and mission of improving the health of people’s hearts, we saw this as such an important step in our long-term vision.’ Besides the concert, Becel has supported the Heart Truth fashion show featuring Canadian female celebrities in red dresses, and the Ride for Heart bike ride along Toronto’s Don Valley Parkway.

Becel was first developed by Unilever in the 1950s when the link between heart disease and saturated fats was discovered. A group of cardiologists asked the company to come up with an alternative to butter that was healthier for hearts, hence Becel was born. ‘Here’s a brand whose mission is to improve the health of the world’s hearts. It was founded in that and it’s always been very true to that mission,’ says McKellar, discussing the natural brand ‘Heart Truth’ partnering strategy. ‘And to me, having that sincerity and authenticity and clarity of what the brand stands for makes it so exciting.’

In Canada, Becel is the margarine king. It holds a 49.1 share of the segment and a 23.1 share of the total spreads category, growing at +15%. Among spreads, its biggest competitor is butter. Becel is also big business around the globe. It’s a strong brand in the U.K., the Netherlands and Germany, and Canadian creative has been recently exported to Turkey and Australia. In several other countries, Unilever sells margarine under different brand names, for example in the U.S., where it is called Promise and is a much smaller business.

In Quebec, different rules and regulations govern the names of margarine products (for example, Becel Buttery Taste is called Becel Gold), and, until recently, even governed the colour of the product. However, Becel’s heart health message works nation-wide.

Complementing the Toronto Love Your Heart concert was a simultaneous French-language concert in Montreal featuring Quebec artists Isabelle Boulay and Laurence Jalbert. The concerts were simulcast live to 84 Cineplex movie theatres across the country, viewed by 35,000 women who bought specially-marked packages of Becel that had a PIN which they could enter at for two free tickets. Each time a PIN was entered, Becel also donated $1 to Heart & Stroke.

McKellar says that the idea of the simulcast was inspired by the Sex and the City movie, which brought many women together for a rare night out. ‘Women tend not to do things for themselves, we tend to do things for everyone else,’ explains McKellar, ‘so the idea was really to have women come together to learn about this and try to rally them to start supporting each other.’

Besides packaging and the website, the concert was promoted through a small print buy in women’s magazines and a 30-second TV spot. McKellar enlisted Canwest on-screen talent like Cheryl Hickey and Kim D’Eon from ET Canada and the cast from ‘da Kink in my Hair, who starred in 15-second spots. ‘These are women who will have a lot of influence on the Canadian population, so them talking about the issue and talking about what they’re doing was really fantastic,’ says McKellar.

McKellar is the steward of the Becel brand in Canada and she works with a small team of two assistant brand managers, as well as another brand manager and assistant on the development side, all under marketing director Jon Affleck, who oversees Becel as well as several other Unilever brands. They worked with Toronto-based agency Capital C, as well as National PR, Ariad and Marketlink to put the concert together. ‘The Becel Love Your Heart benefit concert was one of the most complicated programs we have worked on together,’ says Susan James, group account director at Capital C. ‘Margaret’s ability to stay fluid, open and flexible through the process empowered the team around her to make real-time decisions without having to lose critical time or significant impact to the consumer experience.’

Becel created to support the ‘Heart Truth’ campaign. It provides information on health and nutrition, as well as Becel products. The site also houses the One Small Thing community, a social network of women launched in February that allows them to log on to pledge and keep track of the small things they’ve done to love their hearts. ‘Beyond just a concert, what we really want to do is spark people, every day and ongoing, to start making small changes,’ says McKellar on why they entered the social networking foray. ‘Behaviours and habits change after 21 days, that’s how long it takes to make or break a habit, and what we’re really trying to do is break it down to something that’s achievable for people.’

Besides ‘Heart Truth,’ other recent Becel campaigns include ‘Satisfy your Crave Monster’ for Becel Buttery Taste by BBH New York, with TV creative featuring a woman ripping through her neighbour’s yard to get to her Becel-laden pancakes. In addition to the TV spots, the campaign included print, online and in-store sampling. And a campaign supporting Becel’s Omega 3+ variant is set to debut within the month.

While the Love Your Heart concert was the first of its kind, McKellar is no stranger to staging new events. Prior to her work on Becel, she was brand building manager for Dove, during which time she led the charge on

Body & Soul, the Dove-commissioned play featuring the stories of real women that debuted in Toronto last summer and is returning this month for a second run. ‘Margaret has always kept an eye to ensuring every Canadian woman can experience and participate in the message of the brand,’ says James.

Among her other accomplishments was the relaunch of Vaseline under the ‘Skin is Amazing’ global positioning. ‘The brand was kind of old and staid and thought of as ‘my mother’s [or] grandmother’s brand,” explains McKellar. To ‘move it to a more aspirational and inspirational place,’ McKellar developed

a Canadian cinema campaign with Toronto-based Zig in late 2006, after local consumer media insights found that their average target (39-year-old women) loved to go to the movies.

Based on the idea that your skin can show you how you feel, the film spots showed close-ups of skin reacting to movie dialogue (such as a scream in a horror film) with goosebumps, sweat, etc. The spots were complemented with ads on theatre cups, in Famous magazine, and a direct mail-driven contest to win free movies for a year.

The following year, McKellar led another ‘Skin is Amazing’ campaign that focused on the diversity of Canadians and the different issues they may have with their skin (touting Vaseline as the solution). On top of radio and in-store sampling, McKellar and her team worked with climatologists, dermatologists and even the military to develop an online skin diagnostic tool at that takes into account the winter weather in your region, your personal background, skin tone, etc. to discover which product will work for you. The site garnered over 100,000 visitors in the first four weeks. And in the first year of the ‘Skin is Amazing’ campaign, the Vaseline brand grew by 26%.

Moving from skin care to margarine may not seem like it would be the smoothest transition, but McKellar says she’s been surprised by just how exciting marketing margarine could be…seriously. ‘I had no idea – it’s something consumers are really engaged with and feel quite passionately about,’ she explains. ‘This brand is such a large brand in Canada, it really forms part of people’s daily habits.’

When asked what her greatest challenges have been, McKellar chooses to speak about opportunities instead, explaining that while delving into first-time events and strategies can be daunting, the outcomes have been worth it. ‘The challenge is, this is new territory so there’s a big learning curve. I’ve certainly stretched myself and my team in these rather complex projects but it’s exciting to see people enthusiastically come on board.’


Born: Nov. 29, 1970, North York, ON

Raised in: Kars, ON, just outside of Ottawa

Hobbies: cooking, dance, photography and travel

Education: bachelor of commerce from the University of Toronto

Career: started at Unilever before university, working in the computer room. She was recruited by the company out of U of T in 1996 and became a trade marketing coordinator. She held several positions working on a variety of brands including Vaseline, Q-Tips and Sunlight. In 2006 she was named brand building manager for Dove and Vaseline lotions and worked on the Dove Pro Age business. She has worked on Becel as brand building manager since 2008


How do you stay heart healthy?

Every meal I try to make one little choice. And I bike to the office – I have a little folding bike. I use it all the time because it’s right beside my door as I leave the house.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I’m taking karate lessons with my four-year-old daughter. I also love my Mac and I’m learning to use iMovie and trying to get into Final Cut Express, which comes with being the mother of a small child and putting together memories and stories.

If you could talk to yourself 10 years ago, what would you say?

That’s easy: relax, slow down, let go, ask for help.