FEATURE1 April 2010

The sweet smell of success

Job Muscroft, managing director of co-creation agency Face, explains how consumers were drafted in to help Lynx launch its latest brand variant, Twist

Unilever’s Lynx (or Axe if you’re outside the UK) is a global deodorant brand. The challenge it faces in product development and communications is to innovate constantly to keep its young consumers interested and engaged. The Lynx brand and insight team are always looking at ways of staying closer to their young consumers, in order to stay relevant.

A key strategy is to launch new variants of the product. Lynx has come up with some great products recently including the hugely popular Dark Temptation, promoted by ads featuring a man made of chocolate. For the launch of the 2010 variant it was going to be important to build on this and reinforce Lynx’s ‘quality fragrance’ credentials once more. Face was commissioned to develop the new variant and its fragrance using co-creation, in an effort to generate engaging product concepts and communications based on strong, well-articulated consumer insights.

The brief
The brief was challenging in its simplicity for a deodorant brand: How can Lynx talk about freshness in a new and engaging way?

The approach
Face took Unilever all the way from insight to innovation and visualisation of ideas. While the emphasis of this brief was on concept innovation, it was very clearly rooted in insight all the way through. The approach was based on a mix of online and face-to-face techniques, gaining inspiration from the social web as well as co-creating with a group of talented, creative Lynx consumers.

The whole project unfolded over six weeks in the summer of 2008, leading to a fully realised and consumer-validated product concept that challenged the way Lynx talked about fragrance to guys.

An intrinsic part of the brief was the need to involve consumers directly in the creation of the new variant, and to ensure that they remained equal partners with brand, agency and fragrance house in its development. As Lynx is a global brand those consumers needed to come from all over the world.

To do this, we adopted a three-stage methodology:

Stimulation:

This phase consisted of an online social media monitoring and semiotic audit based on ‘freshness’, using a mix of content analysis, client data mining and desk research. This helped us to identify different aspects of ‘freshness’ which were used to stimulate and inspire the innovation process.

Creation: The stimulation phase was followed by a three-day co-creation workshop held in New York and involving 16 target audience consumers (both sexes, aged 16-24 ) from UK, the USA and Latin America. Working alongside consumers were members of the Lynx global marketing team, the agency BBH New York and fragrance expert Ann Gottlieb.

The workshop was designed to be a planners’ playground, crammed full of insight gained from working directly with consumers generating disruptive ideas and uncovering motivating language. By working together in groups with consumers the Lynx team had a continuous stream of feedback that gave them a clear indication of which ideas were strong enough to be developed further.

The co-creation process was about much more than just getting consumers involved; with this kind of innovation it is crucial that key agencies are involved too. In this case BBH NY’s planners and creatives had a chance to get engaged and inspired much earlier in the process than normal. This ultimately leads to a better communications brief, grounded in consumer insight.

While facilitators were on hand to intervene strategically at certain points, the workshop was designed first and foremost to encourage open thinking, collaboration and play. Co-creation exercises enabled consumers to show the Lynx team their fears, tactics and success stories in the mating game in an intimate environment. Insights were pooled in a group from crowdsourcing sessions, enabling consumers and the Lynx team to identify fertile areas for idea generation.

The ideation process used on this project empowered the consumers to lead conversations and encouraged them to generate a huge number of ideas, then explore their potential in smaller groups. At this stage of the process the Lynx team were working as mentors in each of the consumer teams, bouncing ideas around and building on the stronger concepts together.

The breakthrough moment came from an unexpected source. The men got really excited by Ann Gottlieb’s ‘Fragrance 101’ presentation which described the science behind fragrance. One of the co-creation groups quickly picked up on the fact that fragrances can transform over time particularly when they touch and react with skin. This insight into fragrance was quickly matched with the male need to keep women interested and led directly to the development of Lynx Twist, the fragrance that changes over time (from fresh to smooth). What is so interesting about the co-creative approach in this case was the fact that this simple idea, so well known in the Unilever deodorant business, was given flight because of the confidence and immediacy of working directly with consumers. Not only that: consumers and agencies were able to see immediately how to bring to life the idea of a fragrance that changes, through a name and a marketing concept.

Development: A final phase of online qualitative concept development was conducted in Argentina, the UK, the US and the Philippines, in a series of online focus groups with target audience consumers. This phase was crucial in order for the brand team to feel confident that leading with such an explicit fragrance message was going to be effective outside the workshop environment and that it could be linked to insights into the mating game.

While this phase is necessary to give a final burst of confidence and reassurance to the idea in a global context, what was unusual here is that we only took one concept into the follow-up development. This was because the Lynx/BBH team felt so confident with the ideas generated, as they had come directly from co-creating with consumers.

“If you look at what’s happening online, the consumer has a voice as never before and brands need to listen more. Even if a brand doesn’t want to engage with consumers on that level, it will be forced to”

David Cousino, Unilever

Lynx developed a concept that had buy-in from agencies, consumers and stakeholders in just six weeks, including validation. It enabled them to talk about fragrance in a new way, and enabled teams working on the concept to visualise very clearly where they were going with the idea very early on. This saved them time and money by allowing them to avoid the more traditional process of going backwards and forwards between agencies and consumers.

The findings
If there was one insight that drove the whole process of concept development it was that men were motivated by the idea of a fragrance that changed, and that this could be linked to broader ideas about changes in personal display, confidence and self-image.

The outcome
The concept generated through co-creation achieved extremely good scores in testing and sailed through to market. The result of the project is the launch of Lynx Twist, the first Lynx variant to lead with a strong fragrance message. David Cousino, Unilever’s global consumer marketing insights director for the category, explains: “This is totally unique as a new variant initiative. Twist is a fragrance that changes to keep her interested and keep you interesting. It was born from the insight stressed to us by these co-creators that girls get bored easily and the real challenge is to keep them hooked. A major benefit of the methodology is the purity and depth of the insight that you get. Insight is often back-fitted from a proposition and so you can easily miss core opportunities to really engage with your target market in a deep-rooted way.”

Ann Gottlieb, the expert who was responsible for the fragrance brief, also explains why the approach was so different: “I don’t think that with all the Lynx variants I’ve worked on – which is probably now close to 25-30 of them – that I’ve ever been involved from the ground up, and with all of us starting with the project on equal footing we were all stakeholders in where the brand went. How right-on the guys were about a number of different things that I don’t think would have occurred to us. They saw information that I don’t think we would ever have gotten to.”

Lynx Twist was launched globally in January with a high profile above-the-line and social media campaign including Lynx’s first interactive film, starring model Keeley Hazell, Blake Harrison and Mike Fielding.

What next?
Co-creation is now an established innovation methodology at Unilever and has been used to develop a range of product concepts for Dove, Sure, Surf and Persil. We are now working with them on co-created brand planning in the food and beverage category. Cousino says: “If you look at what’s happening online, not just on the social networks, the consumer has a voice as never before and brands need to listen more. Even if a brand doesn’t want to engage with consumers on that level, it will be forced to.”

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