CII Marketing Summit ’06: HLL CEO Douglas Baillie on Global-Local dichotomy

Douglas A. Baillie began his keynore address with an icebreaker – ‘teaching my grandmother to suck eggs’ is an idiom most at this summit might not understand, because it’s not used in India. That is the problem with global branding.

For branding one has to focus on value, not price, and there just isn’t enough investment in value ( no one reminded him of the time P&G and HLL both slashed detergent prices). Brands need to be useful, consistent, coherent and easily identifiable. Imagine a newspaper without a title – people would have to read each article to understand its slant. Brands belong to consumers, and their image is their reputation. Brands are about relationships – they’re complicated, slippery, half real and half virtual.

The issue is not with making global brands local is not of global or local, but of both; one needs to strike the right balance. For detergents, one needs to understand the consumer and their washing needs and address them. To emphasise that point, he showed various images of people washing clothes from various countries – in rivers, buckets, huge vessels (cambodia). One also needs to take cognisance of the fact that often the poorest consumers are the most discerning. He also showed various pictures of the Rexona brand which once was hopelessly local – with different packaging for different countries. He said that was killing the brand, and HLL had to unify the packaging to make it a stronger brand, which has helped.

He also showed a series of advertisements featuring the global “Dirt is Good” campaign, to explain the theory of adding value to brands. The advertisements focused on the fact that one need not be afraid of getting dirty. That they were essentially targeting the LSM 5+ category. In India, the focus was on children learning through experience, being independent, sociable and achieving. He also elaborated on the origins of the campaign, and the first ad in this series, in Brazil. In Asia they had a problem with the translation of ‘Dirt is Good’ to local themes. (In India they used ‘Daag Acche Hain’, or ‘Stains Are Good’). They positioned “The Brand as an enabler that allows consumers to live the Dirt is Good idea”.

HLL also used below the line activities in India, like setting up recreational areas for children, and linking up with educational institutions. He said that they broke ground by not focusing on the functionality of the product. Did it work? In 2005, they had a growth of 18% after 5 years of negligible growth.

Two themes that he repeated often throughout the presentation:

  1. Strong Brand Idea <--> Innovation through the prism of the brand <--> Brilliant Brand Advertising <--> Brilliant Brand Activation <--> Strong Brand Idea
  2. Awake –> Inspire –> Provoke –> Engage

During the Q&A he was asked about brand extension vs brand dilution (wrt different brand names that their detergent has in various countries). Ballie said that it’s a part of localisation. He said that one of the brand names for the detergents, if used in South Africa would be a cuss word in in colloquial. So, Handy Andy it remains. So, it’s about choosing a name that is right for that country.
Another question on celebrity endorsers – Javed Habib who is their brand ambassador has his own competitive line, and yet endorses one of HLL’s brands. Baillie said that that decision was taken before he joined, so he cant comment on it. On the face of it, he doesn’t agree with the strategy.
S.D Saxena from BSNL asked about Nirma vs HLL, and Baillie responsed that as prices go down, the market share of the discount sector reduces and people prefer aspirational brands.

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