Apr 7, 2014

China's digital drivers: Striking up sexy conversations for Reckitt Benckiser

PROMOTIONAL FEATURE: China’s ban on ads for intimate products prompted Reckitt Benckiser marketing director Ben Wilson to move to the forefront of social media and video usage.

Wilson: "How do we get people talking about sex toys [when] people don’t talk about sex?”

Online is at the centre of everything Reckitt Benckiser (RB) does in China. Thanks to rules that ban TV ads for certain products, that’s part happy accident as well as strategy.

“In some ways we are lucky with our core brands like Durex, where we can’t use the traditional touch points. That forces us to think very differently,” says marketing director Ben Wilson.

As a result, RB has become one of the first brands to do online videos and get into social media, enabling the group to take its key learnings and apply them to other portfolio brands.

The British healthcare and home products firm owns lines such as Clearasil, Dettol, Harpic and Nurofen, and has just acquired the K-Y brand from Johnson & Johnson.

Wilson joined RB’s China operation from its head office in Slough four years ago. He describes it as an opportunity he “grabbed with both hands”.

Since that time, China’s digital world has “exploded”, as he puts it. When Wilson arrived, Sina Weibo was only just getting started and for a couple of years it was China’s prime digital platform, but now WeChat is moving and eclipsing the microblog with chat.

“I see my job as building brand love in China,” says Wilson. “By that I mean what we are tying to do is build a brand which makes a real difference to people’s lives.”

Condoms cannot be advertised on Chinese TV, forcing RB to experiment with digital platforms. It launched a social campaign called ‘Travel with love’, in which a couple travel through 15 cities. The catch was they had no cash and had to barter Durex sex toys for food, accommodation and travel.

“The question was ‘how do we get people in China talking about sex toys in a society where people don’t talk about sex?’ It was a combination of online social media and offline to engage people who could help them along their journey and to start a lot of conversations.”

Another recent project was a behind-the-scenes video for Dettol using a celebrity mother and daughter. It went viral, garnering 16 million views.

Wilson believes online video allows brands to be more targeted and to drive engagement through interactivity or linking it through to brand or campaign sites.

Of course, a key part of the digital strategy is simply listening in to social platforms to find what people are saying about RB and competitor brands, as well as health and home issues.


  • 2010 China marketing director, Reckitt Benckiser
  • 2007 Global marketing manager, Reckitt Benckiser
  • 1997 Marketing and sales, Clean & Clear, Neutrogena, Johnson & Johnson

Another part is tracking responses to campaigns and content, and another is equity awareness tracking. “But overall, our philosophy is not that it has to be transactional,” Wilson stresses.

“If you look at what we are doing in social media  with Durex for example, the majority of our contacts have nothing to do with the brand or product;  it’s about engaging consumers in the area.”

Whether the brand itself is the focus or not is not the point. “We are encouraging people to have great sex,” Wilson says.

His biggest headache is how to balance between priorities. “There are more touch points, more platforms and more options than any country I know. The US and the UK have Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, but here we have a multiple of those.”

He is also mindful of keeping focused on his core target, while at the same time being innovative and at the forefront of what is emerging.

“The biggest opportunity I really see is that we have a real opportunity to build long-term relationships with people,” Wilson says. “They may be consumers, or they may just be people who are interested in our brands.

“There has never been a better opportunity for brands to do that.” 

Industry viewpoint

Sophia Ong, national planning GM, Tencent Online Media Group

Successful video marketing should be about using appealing content that is touching, humorous and easy to remember. Good results rely on good planning and execution. Approachable content that resonates with consumers’ lives is the easiest way to impress them.

With social-video tools, such as Weishi, celebrities and the general public self-create content that prompts spontaneous sharing due to its ‘sociability’. Brands should take note that mobile devices play a connector role that provides consumers motivation to participate.



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