Go figure - gender equity is not just good politics and good business, but good for your sinuses, as well. According to the Claritin brand’s new public education/marketing DiversiTree project, male dominance in the tree population spikes the pollen count.
DiversiTree is the kind of marketing work that raises a lot of interesting questions around the value of educational campaigns aligning with larger social environmental issues, and how a household name brand comes to market each year. Interestingly, this idea germinated from a unique twice-annual “Creative Unleashed” gathering, in which Bayer’s many creative and media agencies offer rapid fire pitches of ideas without specific briefs. Sounds cool. We explored all of this with Reese Fitzpatrick, SVP and Marketing Head at Bayer. He is a veteran of OTC Marketing at Bayer and a 20-year veteran at the company. You can listen to the entire podcast at this link.
MediaPost: Give us the thumbnail about the DiversiTree project and this male/female tree business.
Reese Fitzpatrick: So, let me start with a little bit about Claritin. Our brand purpose is to help people really appreciate the simple joys of being alive. And a big part of that is to enjoy being outdoors, which comes with significant mental and physical health benefits. So, in that sense, pollen is a bit of our enemy. As we progressed down this road, we found an interesting insight that tree pollen is the leading cause of seasonal allergies and impacts over 30% of Americans. And one of the biggest reasons why that's the case is male trees.
So, for decades city planners have been planting male trees instead of female trees because they're easier to maintain. And this is based on a USDA recommendation back from 1949, which led to male trees being planted for the last several decades.
Male trees don't bear fruit, so they don't litter the ground, hence they're easier for cities to maintain cleanliness of their roads and their streets and their sidewalks. However, they produce a significant amount of pollen whereas female trees do not. Female trees actually absorb the pollen produced by male trees and turn it into fruit of flower seeds.
As a result, what we have now is vastly male trees, and almost every city, every park in the country, which is part of the reason that pollen levels in the US are expected to double by 2040. We call it a botanical imbalance. That was really the start and the insight that led to the DiversiTree project.
MP: When you were fielding a lot of these ideas, was there something in particular that appealed to you about tree gender?
Fitzpatrick: It came from a program we have internally called “Creative Unleashed” We do it a couple of times a year, where all of our creative agencies and media agencies can come in. We give them a list of projects that we're interested in learning about, are interested in doing some creative against. But we do it in an unbriefed way. They can bring whatever they want, whatever they find interesting, on any of our brands. That's pretty cool. As a marketer you get to see maybe 30 to 40 ideas in a very short amount of time from our key agencies, and it's hard to discern between them. And you really choose based on your instinct and your gut. I think for the few of us that are involved, when we saw DiversiTree project presented the first time it struck a real chord with us. It just hit us in an emotional way, in an engaging way, and it felt like the right thing to do for Claritin and for our consumers. It was not a long debate or discussion when we saw the idea. Sometimes you get that creative idea and maybe it's 80% good, but you're just not sure about the last 20%, and you have endless meetings discussing whether the idea has merit. This was not one of those. It's like, we walked out of the meeting we were like, wow, this is a rockstar idea that will engage consumers, it will also help us live our purpose, and it's going to help allergy sufferers hopefully in the US. But eventually, we do think this has global scalability to it as well.
MP: What is the media plan here? And in particular, how's it being integrated with what I'm sure is a much larger existing plan for Claritin in the spring?
Fitzpatrick: This is a three-pronged approach for DiversiTree. The first was actually doing the planting events. This Spring it was important to us to make female trees more accessible and give everyone the chance to order their own on Claritin's website. In partnership with the Arbor Day Foundation, which is an organization that's committed to planting 500 million trees in the next five years, we planted female trees in cities with the highest pollen count. We planted in Richmond and New Orleans. Then spreading the word and making female trees available to everyone in the US through the website. And we did ship trees to 46 states in the United States.
The second piece was really policy. We partnered with Cornell on a study to arm policymakers with data that the USDA did not have before. The study is the first of its kind that has evidence to show that planting female trees will actually lower the effect of pollen in cities. And then the piece that you asked about, from a media perspective. We had launched video assets that covered the planting events, that covered a bit of what we were doing with Cornell. We launched those on YouTube and on our website. We had organic and paid social campaigns, and we had influencer campaigns to also spread the word. The only thing we didn't do was broadcast. So, we kept it very digitally focused, but a very well-rounded campaign from broad-based video to our own website, our own social channels, organic and paid and influencers.
MP: When you have a high-recognition brand like Claritin come into each season, what is the marketing plan? What are you trying to do? You mentioned that it's a more competitive landscape, especially as other former prescription brands go OTC. So what marketing work is Claritin trying to do? Remind? Explain? Differentiate?
Fitzpatrick: I think it's really important for us, and I'm assuming for our competitors coming into the Spring that you try to win the season. That for us is sort of a mantra that has long been part of Claritin's business strategy is to win the season. And there's really two allergy seasons. Spring is the lion's share of the volume. And then there's Fall, which tends to coincide with back-to-school season.
MP: How do you “win a season,” and how have you been doing at it?
Fitzpatrick: Market share. I mean, we are obsessed at Bayer with market share. It is the number one KPI to track success, much more so than internal sales or beating our internal sales targets. So, from a market share perspective, that's how we evaluate it.
But, as I said, it's a competitive one with Zyrtec, Allegra, and Flonase. We have long had the number one brand in the category. We faced some challenges the last few years. So, it's our hope and it's our strategy and plan to get back to the number one in the US, and to the number one position globally, which we've also held for many years, and get to that in the next year or two.
MP: If you're moving back into and growing market share again, are there particular aspects of the strategy that you attribute that to? Do you look back and say, these are clearly the levers that we're pulling that are working especially well?
Fitzpatrick: I do think that our broad creative campaigns have been best in class for the last several years. And we do monitor, obviously, how we're doing versus competition from a messaging standpoint. I'm sure they're doing the same thing. But we've had best in class creative work the last several years. We have really good in-store activation. As I've said, we're expanding a bit of our profile out of season as well to attract the sufferers that are not suffering just outdoor, but they're also suffering the indoor. So, I would say, there's elements of all those pieces that have helped us. Some of the things that we've done in the precision camp have been really good, and the KPIs that we track have been positive. They’re finding the right audiences with the right message, the right customized message at the right time, when the season is peaking for them. That has certainly helped us as well.
MP: Is there a way of measuring the impact of something like the DiversiTree project in this mix?
Fitzpatrick: Yes, we definitely had KPIs established in terms of levels of engagement that we expected to see from the consumer. We had benchmarks for our Instagram, our Twitter, our Facebook engagements. We beat the benchmarks that we had set for those in terms of level of engagement. We had KPIs established for the number of impressions that we were trying to get, and we were able to generate 16 million impressions which exceeded our expectations. We are looking at average CPM. We are looking at a total level of engagements. We're looking at our social highlights. How many new followers are we adding on our social channels? So, there's a variety of KPIs that we set in advance to determine how we're doing. And then obviously we monitor our brand health through brand power very rigorously. So, seeing if this moves the needle on just brand affinity and connection, which we do a couple of times a year. From a discrete campaign perspective for sure we've got the KPIs, and we feel really good about what we've done so far.