Frédéric Colas
Apr 5, 2012

Opinion: CMO World Tour interview with Olivier Faujour, General Mills

As part of the CMO World Tour series, Frédéric Colas is the Chief Strategic Officer of Fullsix speaks with Olivier Faujour, President of General Mills in France, Benelux and Italy on digital media's global reach.

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It’s the cross-border, global reach that has the most potential to leverage digital media as a marketing tool, claims Olivier Faujour, president of General Mills in France, Benelux and Italy.

If digital can lure Japanese travellers to a Häagen-Dazs shop on the Champs Elysées—and likewise send French consumers to a hyped Tokyo Häagen-Dazs shop in Japan—then the two countries will value the activity, Faujour says.

“I think for global brands,” he says, “Where we should be looking at is cross-border events through digital to really make the brand global in the most efficient way.”

Global also characterises the personal digital life of Faujour, who likes to carry an iPad on his countless travels. “I’ve lived abroad, I’ve worked in eight countries in the American, European and Asian continents, and Facebook was a way and it is a way to stay in touch with my friends,” Faujour says.

He is active on LinkedIn, where he connects only with his professional circle of contacts. Surviving one day without his mobile phone just isn’t an option. “I immediately call my assistant and I ask her to send a courier to my home to pick up the phone and bring it to the office in the next hour,” Faujour says.

Digital, according to Faujour, brings a multi-dimension connection with the consumer. 

For the 50th anniversary of its Häagen-Dazs brand, General Mills created a Facebook profile where the first 200 of the 100,000 fans were granted to go to the brand’s birthday party.

“It changed the way I do business because I would have never imagined organizing a birthday party for a brand in a shop on the Champs Elysées, and we got those fans thanks to Facebook,” he says.

General Mills customers were also asked to shoot videos on how they would portray the character of the Green Giant, a brand of frozen and canned vegetables. “I think consumers have the best authority to say how they live the brand,” Faujour says. “Digital is the right channel to do that, obviously, because I’m not going to shoot a commercial with a consumer asking him to tell me what he thinks of Green Giant. That would be old fashioned and not engaging at all.”

But don’t expect miracles from digital if you’re not a creative and imaginative marketer, Faujour warns. You need to find the right story with the consumer. “In the end, digital media carries a message,” he says. “If your message is boring, even if your brand is iconic, it will not get through.”

On the other hand if you have a great idea, it could deliver an instant transformation to your brand’s fortunes. As chief Portuguese marketer for P&G in 1998 he promoted a dishwashing liquid brand by arranging Sunday lunch for 15,000 on the Vasco da Gama Bridge in Lisbon and proving that just one litre of product could clean all the dishes.

The event was monitored by the Guinness Book of Records, attracted massive media coverage and was also used as a commercial but it took six months for the brand to become market leader.

“This was in 1998, imagine if this event would happen now, it’s probably not six months that it would take for the brand to become market leader but six hours or six days,” he says.

Frédéric Colas: Does the digital age bring a revolution to marketing or is it an evolution?

Oliver Faujour: I think it’s both. It’s an evolution in the context of the media scene because, as a fact, the digital age has not eliminated the traditional media. I mean the bulk of our investment remains in traditional media namely television. But I would say the digital age has revolutionised the way we interact with consumers. We are able to make them feel special. We are able to even track what they are telling us. We are able to answer them personally, and no other media was really able to do it in a very efficient and professional way.                      

FC: Are you personally following up what consumers say about your brands online?

OF: I’m a marketer as a background, and there is something that I have noticed in my career is that the biggest successes I’ve had in leading brands are when I was in very close connection to the consumer. I noticed that in every country I went to, whether it is in France, Portugal, Brazil or South Korea.

Today, the frustration in my new role as a president is obviously I don’t have the time to go and do in-home visits or attend focus groups. That’s why the digital tools like Facebook are a great way to stay connected with the consumer and look, by myself, at what they are telling you about the brand.

Last year, we launched Secret Sensation—a dessert product from Häagen-Dazs) nationally—and there were a lot of questions from our fans on the product. So I visited the Facebook page of Häagen-Dazs regularly to just check what people were saying about it, and I learned some interesting things about the product acceptance, the curiosity that the people had around the product… This gave us an idea to make some informative leaflets in the store to explain what the technology was about. So it was very productive in that respect.

FC: Would you say that digital has a central place in your overall marketing?

OF: It’s changing brand by brand. For instance, on Häagen-Dazs, marketers think immediately of digital because the brand has a lot of stature and it attracts a lot of comments and word-of-mouth. That is very obvious, so we strongly started our digital activities on Häagen-Dazs.

And when we saw the success of Häagen-Dazs, we challenged ourselves on less obvious brands like Green Giant. We did a video experiment, in which we wanted to give a fresh look and a more genuine appreciation from the consumers of who this Green Giant was. So we posted a message on some blogs saying that we wanted consumers to shoot a video on how they were imagining or how they would portray Green Giant as a character. We got videos that after were seen by more 370,000 people, and that is very strong evidence that digital can help brands who are in less engaging markets but with very, very powerful iconic characters

FC: Let’s play the devil’s advocate, 370,000 views, compared with what you get on TV, it’s nothing, no? What difference does it make to your business?

OF: What matters here is the quality aspect because the strength of those videos was that they were coming from the consumer and not from us. They were also posted on sites that were not General Mills or Green Giant sites and that from a credibility standpoint and relevance and genuinely standpoint authenticity has, is very, very valuable obviously.

Also, you cannot isolate digital from the rest, it’s part of a mix. A brand is made of a great product, great benefit, a great positioning and some great visibility wherever the consumer goes. Of course, TV advertising is going to deliver the mainstream message of what the brand is about. But the way the brand is going to be lived by consumers, I think consumers have the best authority to say how they live the brand and digital is the right channel to do that.

FC: What conclusions do you draw from this example?

OF: We were the first to be very surprised to see that we were able to trigger an incredibly high number of visits on videos created by consumers around our Giant. I mean that was a surprise, and it is something that has given us a lot of encouragement to put even more dedicated resources behind digital to be even more demanding with our digital agencies. Because digital indeed requires an expertise, I personally believe that it has to be partially outsourced. And I think that like TV advertising, you need fresh blood, you need people who are not afraid of telling you that you are wrong or that they have a new idea to propose on the basis that they are your subordinate.

FC: What are the barriers that you and your organization are still facing when it comes to using or to be effective marketers in the digital age?

OF: One is the risk adversity because everything is new, everything new creates more objection obviously, airing a commercial 3000GRPs is much easier sell internally than creating a new digital events even if the cost of the digital events is one tenth or one hundredth of [TV]

…so we need new leaders, we need to make the change happen by experimenting and that’s why we‘re doing on Häagen-Dazs with this birthday party or on Green Giant on the video contest to try to do new things and show results and there is a reason if it shows results, that barrier will break for sure. So I would say risk adversity is probably the biggest one, on top of the fact that lack of knowledge because most things we’re trying, it’s the first time so by definition there is a lot of uncertainty leading to that.

FC: How do you see your job changing in the next ten years due to the digital age?

OF: I think up to now we’ve leveraged the digital tool with the consumer more than with any other stakeholder and we’ve used it to promote the awareness and image of our brands with the people that we want to buy our brands.

I think with time the importance of the digital age will go much beyond marketing. It will go to the area of public affairs. For instance if we want to build a new factory in a new country, I’m sure that the government officials will go to the internet, and they will try to find out what people think of the brand: if it’s a good quality, if it’s a brand who respects its consumers, who is acting responsibly with the environment. So that’s for public affairs. Take customers, retail customers… If the brand is new, they would like to know how the brand is performing and what does the brand stand for. So I think the digital age is going to play a very, very central role in the area of corporate affairs, in the area of production, in the area of government and in the area of customers.


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