Nestlé’s Anneliesse Douglass: Social Cause Marketing Should Be “Relevant, Tap Into Culture… Not Tell Customers What To Do”

Nestlé’s Anneliesse Douglass: Social Cause Marketing Should Be “Relevant, Tap Into Culture… Not Tell Customers What To Do”

One of Australia’s top CMOs says that brands need to toe a careful line when wading into political and societal issues; with a razor sharp focus on relevancy and cultural zeitgeist in their messaging.

Anneliesse Douglass knows a thing or two about brand purpose and societal issues. The Nestlé Oceania director of marketing and communications worked at Unilever for more than eight years in senior marketing and communications roles.

Unilever – branded the ‘most woke’ company in 2023 by Newsweek, which it might argue is a badge of honour – is well known for its brands taking strong positions on social causes. Dove’s award-winning Campaign for Real Beauty has helped generations of women feel more comfortable about their image, while Ben & Jerry’s positions on climate change and D&I won the ice cream brand many fans, and some detractors. 

In the Nestle CMO hot seat since 2021, Douglass said that brands should take a cautious approach to wading into social causes such as The Voice referendum and Black Lives Matters. 

Nestlé uses a two-pronged approach between internal and external communications.

“Internally, Nestlé believes in giving our teams information and facts for them to make a choice. So with The Voice, we had an internal speaker come in and dispel some myths around The Voice, but we understood it’s a democratic process and everyone has a right to make a choice,” she told B&T during an interview for this year’s B&T CMO Power List

“At the heart of that it’s about respecting our people and one another’s opinions, and giving them the information they need to make an informed decision. Another example of action behind a social issue was during COVID, where we promoted and supported vaccinations to help keep our people safe and our factories open in order to make products for all Australians.”

“Externally with consumers we choose to focus on our brands and what they care about – so it needs to be relevant to our business and our brands. I am not convinced consumers want to hear brands telling them what to do – especially outside of their remit on social issues.”

A couple of brands that take a targeted approach to social cause messaging are Allens Red Frogs and Maggi.

Allens positions its Red Frogs brand as a ‘passionately supporting young people’ and during Schoolies organises 1,500 Red Frog volunteers to provide direct relief, safety and support to young people across 14 locations. It also provides similar support at music festivals, sports and other events.

Maggi is a founding partner of the Saveful app, which is designed to help Australians reduce food waste through thousands of simple, budget friendly recipes with ingredients that are on hand in the kitchen. 

A sweet spot, added Douglass is when Nestlé’s brands “zero in” on what is currently talked about in culture. An example is KitKat’s work with advertising agency VML for its Have a Break campaign. 

Last year, the chocolate bar brand called on Gen AI, during peak Gen AI hype, to create its ‘Have a Break’ creative so that its marketing team could ‘have a break’.

“Trends are so fluid and quick that they need to be focused about what trends to use and they ultimately need to strategically ladder back to your brand and consumer benefit,” Douglass said.

“Kit Kat is a great example with Have a Break. Fantastic open brief to their agency – Wunderman Thompson or VML now. The purpose was that any creative team could work on it and could tap into the cultural zeitgeist.”

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