There is a very telling quote displayed in large letters in the
reception area of Unilever's Blackfriars office. The words, attributed
to the Anglo-Dutch FMCG giant's charismatic co-chairman, Niall
FitzGerald, describe Unilever as "a truly multi-local multinational",
and in so doing neatly encapsulate a dilemma confronting the company and
its main rivals.
On the one hand, leading consumer product manufacturers must make their
brands appeal at a local level. On the other, they are under pressure
from investors to create global brands because these are seen as
offering the greatest scope for growth and the most potential for big
"The mega brands have the ability of being much more profitable and
vibrant than the regional ones. This is a great incentive for firms such
as Unilever to create global properties," says Investec Henderson
Crosthwaite financial analyst David Lang.
But creating global properties isn't easy. There are relatively few
brands with truly global reach and the investment required to develop
and sustain them is enormous. Manufacturers have to make sure they
commit resources to the brands that offer the greatest likelihood of
success on the global stage, or else risk throwing their money away.
Part of the problem is that most of the big manufacturers have grown as
much by acquisition as they have organically. This has left them with
diverse brand portfolios, often containing numerous, comparatively small
local brands for each of their global power brands.
Many top executives in the FMCG sector have spent long hours agonising
over how to reconcile the global with the local in a manner that ensures
harmony and balance between the two.
Unilever, as has been well documented, has begun culling some of its
smaller, less profitable brands with the aim of reducing its portfolio
from 1600 to 400. Yet for large manufacturers, the decisions on which
brands should stay and which should go are often far from
At a time when economic and cultural imperialism is under the spotlight
and 'globalisation' is a dirty word for an impassioned minority, brand
owners must be careful not to offend local sensibilities.
Economies of scale
One person's sensible economies of scale and consistency, is another's
cultural homogenisation. In dec-iding what will stay and what must go,
brand owners need to tread very carefully.
"In my organisation, there just isn't enough depth of expertise to
service hundreds of local brands in such a way that they will survive in
a jungle populated by the biggest and the best," says Simon Clift,
Unilever president of marketing for home and personal care. "The brands
that will survive and prosper will be the ones that are really
differentiated and that have the scale and scope to meet fundamental and
enduring consumer needs."
He adds that the issue is not so much whether to globalise or localise,
rather that both are imperative. The hard part is in striking the right
"We have a concept that is best of global, best of local," says Nick
Shepherd, Kraft Foods vice-president category development
cheese/grocery, Europe. "We do not look to get rid of, sell or destroy
local brands for the sake of it. Just because it is a brand in only one
country, it does not mean it is for the chop. What we try to do is look
for scale in our brands and the way we market them, and that's
irrespective of whether they cross borders."
Scale is obviously essential in the case of a multinational
Where is the financial benefit in having just a collection of local
brands scattered across territories?
All of these will bear head office costs. This is an unattractive
business proposition unless there are internationally shared
technologies and marketing synergies that make them worthwhile
"A lot of the focus here is to make sure we are not managing any
non-relevant costs," says Procter & Gamble household marketing director
Mark Brickhill. "If a business is not strong enough to survive in its
own right, we are better off divesting it."
By way of example, Brickhill picks German men's shower gel brand Cliff,
which was offloaded by P&G because it had little scope for international
expansion. Moreover, it did not fit in with the group's core
competencies or offer anything special in terms of product or packaging
development that could be applied to other brands.
By contrast, German toothpaste brand Blend-a-Med is being retained by
P&G. Although there is little likelihood of this ever becoming a global
power brand, Brickhill and his colleagues see international development
potential. This is because its formula development may lead to new
combinations that could be used in other P&G dental products.
Blend-a-Med is an example of a 'local jewel'. In the UK, HP Sauce,
Marmite, Irn Bru, Dairylea, Daz and Terry's Chocolate Orange qualify in
One of the interesting things about FMCG brands is many that are
international are often perceived as local by consumers. Shampoo brand
Head & Shoulders was brought to the UK from the US in the 60s by P&G.
Recently, says Brickhill, P&G tested some US Head & Shoulders
advertising on a British focus group to see whether it would work over
here. One consumer in the group said: "Isn't it nice to see a British
product doing so well in America."
For this reason, renaming of brands in an effort to achieve
international consistency can be a dangerous option. While Olay, Cif and
Snickers - previously Oil of Ulay, Jif and Marathon - show it can be
accomplished without alienating consumers at a local level, it is not a
step to be undertaken lightly.
In the case of Olay, says Brickhill, P&G saw an opportunity "to
eliminate a lot of complexity from the brand with no downside." But
there must be a compelling cost saving and marketing proposition to make
it worthwhile, he adds. Brickhill says there is no business he is
currently managing where he would want to do that.
Unilever's Clift adopts a similar stance. While he argues that the Cif
name change made sense, he would not re-name Lynx, which is called Axe
or Ego in other markets.
"It's important to show respect to consumers," he says. "Packaging will
tend to converge. But we don't need to change the Lynx brand name. The
real synergies come in shrewd equity management and real understand-ing
of the brand - not in changing the label."
The case of Coco Pops serves as a warning to many brand owners. As part
of a European alignment, Kellogg changed the name of its cereal brand to
Choco Krispies. Sales plummeted, consumers felt excluded and Kellogg had
With the support of ad agency Leo Burnett, Kellogg tried to make a
virtue out of its faux pas, staging a poll allowing consumers to vote on
whether or not they wanted the old name back, which they did.
Brand Finance chief executive David Haigh says he has worked with a lot
of companies that have been considering whether to scrap brands. These
companies tend to be driven by the perception that it will save
One of the factors in this, he feels, is that City analysts support the
argument that global brands offer higher margins and greater growth
potential. But there can be dangers in swallowing this line without
"I don't think there is enough rigour going into looking at which brands
to kill and which ones to keep," says Haigh. "No one dares to say 'What
the City said to you is not true', that you may spend £1m
re-branding and lose 2% market share in the process."
Investec's Lang realises the appeal that global brands have for the
investment community. "I don't think global branding per se is the
critical factor. What's critical is value creation: margin, asset
turnover and growth. Global brands tend to be better able to deliver
that and may be more sustainable. But just because you have a global
brand doesn't mean you are a market darling."
The Value Engineers chairman Paul Walton feels that while large
companies are sometimes perceived to be more interested in well-edited
portfolios than looking at consumer need, the pendulum is swinging back
the other way.
Maintaining a balance
Interbrand director Andy Milligan agrees: "A lot of organisations often
have global and local strategies within the same company,"he says.
"Coca-Cola is a great example of that. There is Coke the brand, which is
specifically promoted as a worldwide product, but then in Japan Coke
owns a whole range of canned tea products that are very popular in that
market, but which it would not want to build globally."
Yet clearly the big-brand owners are becoming more global in their
They either export best practice from local jewels to brands in other
markets, leverage technology or work to create global brands that either
trumpet their international status or cloak themselves in local
characteristics in each of their main territories.
Unilever's Seda shampoo brand has been a big success in South America.
This is positioned in the same way as Sunsilk in other markets. It makes
use of Unilever's global technology platform, even though the product
formulation of Seda in Brazil differs from that of Sunsilk in Thailand
because the standard hair types of these countries differ markedly.
"In the past it would have been pure coincidence if Sunsilk in Thailand
had had the same pack-aging as Seda in Brazil," says Clift.
"Now it is not. We have been working to leverage best practice across
This is what lies at the heart of globalisation. And it is why
multinationals will continue to treasure their local jewels as well as
nurture their global brands.
GLOBALISATION OF INVESTMENT
The push toward global brands is arguably being driven by international
investment in the major listed FMCG companies.
We have used Nestle as an example. It has about 200,000
No single shareholder owns more than 3% of the total share capital. The
following table provides a breakdown by nationality, showing percentage
of shareholders in Nestle by country (figures as of March 16, 2001).