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What caused this Nestlé executive’s marketing epiphany?

online and offline marketing online and offline marketing
Photo credit:

Jon Fingas

Google partnering with Nestlé to rebrand its Android OS proved the virtue of treating online and offline marketing as one and the same.

In an epiphany, you see the entire answer to a complex problem without realizing you were consciously thinking about it. For Tom Buday, Nestlé’s Global Head of Marketing and Consumer Communications, his occurred whilst standing ashore at the 2013 San Francisco America’s Cup, the annual race for sailing enthusiasts that sees two boats battle it out for the oldest international sporting trophy.

That year, New Zealand took on defending champions, USA, with Nespresso, a leading Nestlé brand co-sponsoring the challenging boat.

The race itself? Well, it wasn’t that tight. The winner was all but confirmed as Team USA rounded the final turn 30-seconds ahead of the Kiwis lagging behind. But this was none of Buday’s concern.

Instead, his attention was fixed firmly on the countless mobile phones and tablets aimed squarely at the boats hurtling toward the finishing line at speeds of up to 40mph.

Until then, mid-2013, Nestlé was doing a lot of digital marketing for its brands. The problem, Buday explains, was a defective organizational mode of thinking that viewed online and offline marketing as two entirely separate entities.

“Standing there watching this event, with basically everyone holding up their smartphones, taking pictures and then sharing them with branded impressions of Nespresso with their hundreds and thousands of friends and followers, it dawned on me that digital was anything but separate. Rather it was just about touching everything we do.”

Other FMCG execs have voiced concerns around treating the online and offline marketing mix as two separate entities. A PepsiCo executive, who recently spoke at the US Association of National Advertising’s Annual “Masters of Marketing” conference gave a brutal and unrestrained prose citing the term digital marketing as “the most ridiculous term I’ve ever heard,” adding:

“There is no such thing as digital marketing. There is marketing – most of which happens to be digital.”

He then went on to say that “We ‘ghettoize’ digital as though it’s the life raft tethered to the big ocean liner. And we have to move on from that.”

He has a point. The ship has sailed. To treat digital as some kind of separate entity suggests a fundamental lack of understanding of the impact of technology on society. Our offline lives, after all, whether we like it or not, are shaped by the digital sphere. Take Justine Sacco for example; Whilst Senior Director of Corporate Communications at IAC she tweeted a comment during a layover before boarding a flight to Cape Town that would turn her world upside down:

“Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”

Thinking nothing of it, she boarded the plane. Upon landing she switched on her phone and was flooded with messages from people she hadn’t spoken to in years:

“I’m so sorry to see what is going on.”

“You’re the number one trending thing on Twitter right now.”

Academic Mary Chayko also highlights the dangers of confusing the two spheres. Writing that one’s lived reality with technology is generally experienced as a “blending, a mixture of the online and offline, rather than one or the other.”

“To consider the online and offline wholly separate spheres and engage in digital dualism is also to ignore or minimize their high degree of interpenetration”

The same thing goes for marketers.

It is no surprise that later that year, after receiving a call from its advertising agency J. Walter Thompson (JWT), Nestlé decided to partner with Google in re-branding its new Android operating system, KitKat.

There was no exchange of money, but instead a significant promotional element to the campaign. 50 million bars of KitKat across 19 countries featured prominent Android branding, inclusive of offers to win a Nexus 7 tablet and Google Play gift cards. The whole saga was so secretive, that just a handful of Google’s employees knew about it prior.

“To be honest,” says Buday “we got a little lucky.”

“It was the first time they had ever given an OS a brand name, which led to a whole series of cross-promotional advertising opportunities which was fantastic.”

“It all came about because a gentleman at Google working on Android happened to be a big KitKat fan. Until then, Google was using generic dessert-type names for naming their operating system, and this guy had the idea of using Kit Kat.”

That “big fan” according to The Verge, happened to be Android engineering head Hiroshi Lockheimer. His favorite candy bar was Kit Kat, also adding to the air of intrigue were 500 specially produced Kit Kats in the shape of an Android logo.

This mixture of online and offline marketing in the case of Kit Kat was an incredible success.

Even when Tom Buday began his career selling condensed milk at Carnation Company in 1983, just a year before his future employer Nestlé acquired it, he held the same view about brand building as he does today; A strong belief in the basic fundamentals.

Consumers still want a clear brand promise and offerings they value. What has changed is when, and at what touch points they are most open to influence, and how you can interact with them at those points.

In the past, marketing strategies that put the lion’s share of resources into building brand awareness and then opening wallets at the point of purchase worked pretty well.

But touch points have changed in both number and nature, requiring a major adjustment to realign marketers’ strategy and budgets with where consumers are actually spending their time.

At times, this can be difficult to get right.

“Especially for younger millennial target groups who seem to be more resistant to traditional advertising and are more technically adept and therefore find it easier to simply avoid or block advertising.”

One such approach has been producing native branded content. An area Buday believes helps him reach consumers in a really authentic way, both offline and online.

“If the fit between the brand the branding content and message feels natural and authentic I think it can work very well.”

But as so many brands are now opting for a similar approach, Buday implores others to constantly remind their marketers using content to peddle products that they “aren’t in the publishing business.”

“Our content, for the most part, is an enabler to selling what is our core business which is coffee, cat food, cooking aids, chocolate, confectionary products. So as long as we keep that perspective in mind we don’t get too caught away with, you know, declaring victory over publisher metrics and realizing that the job is not done until we close the sale on one of our products, one of our food or beverage products.”