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Swisse Vitamin’s Radek Sali: The Natural

An Australian CEO shares his strategy for translating his marketing juggernaut’s success stateside.

Unlike its 36-year-old CEO, Radek Sali, Swisse Vitamins is no spring chicken. The Australian company’s origins can be traced back to founder Kevin Ring’s development of pollen tablets back in the 1960s. But while decades of steady innovation and expansion followed, it wasn’t until Sali took the helm as CEO in 2008 that Swisse began shaking up the Australian health and wellness market with a mega-spend approach to mass marketing.

Over the past three years, the company ratcheted up its above-the-line marketing—promotion of its products to broad-based audiences through television, print and other mass communications—to become “the biggest consumer brand spend in Australia,” according to Sali. A risky move at a time when many are questioning the effectiveness of broad consumer advertising, the strategy has paid off. Under Sali, Swisse’s sales have jumped 350 percent and it now commands 15 percent market share in its home country.

While Swisse’s marketing blitz gets a lot of play, Sali is quick to point out that the science behind the company’s line of 170 dietary supplements and skincare products is as critical a differentiator. Premium ingredients and proven efficacy are central to Swisse’s strategy of mass campaigns that seek to educate consumers about the benefits of supplements in an entertaining way. “For example, we use naturally derived Vitamin E as opposed to synthetic Vitamin E,” Sali says, noting that Swisse performs clinical trials on all of its products. “It’s more expensive, but it’s shown to be more effective. Krill oil is another great example. It’s more effective than fish oil but it was nonexistent in the [top 20 supplements]. It’s now the No. 1 category in Australia.”

Having dominated Australia’s wellness market, Sali is now bringing his marketing prowess to bear in the U.S., with plans to target Asia and Europe next. The U.S. launch was classic Sali—capitalizing on the celebrity power of television star Ellen DeGeneres and Hollywood heavyweight Nicole Kidman, who recently signed a three-year contract to serve as Swisse’s global ambassador. Kidman appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show in January, where she touted the company’s vitamin line and announced their U.S. debut in Walgreens stores, as well as Swisse’s plans to bring Ellen and her crew to Melbourne and Sidney—plus gave everyone in the audience a free round-trip flight to Australia on Qantas Airlines.

Next on the agenda are rollouts in Target and Rite Aid and the bestowal of additional brand ambassadorships appropriate for the U.S. market, says Sali, who offers these pointers on harnessing celebrity power to build market recognition.

Get globally known personalities involved.

“Engage the audience with people that they know, love and trust and also want as a part of their lifestyle,” urges Sali. Academy Award-winning actress Kidman, for example, is a proven entity, having previously endorsed Chanel No. 5 and Omega watches.

Excite your market—and your retailers.

“We created a whole lot of buzz and excitement with the Ellen package,” notes Sali, who says the segment received one million hits on YouTube in just a few weeks. “We leveraged both the Australian market and the U.S. market, and Walgreens loved the fact that a core group of consumers was told to go there to purchase our product.”

Diversify your message.

Swisse has more than 30 brand ambassadors in Australia, many of whom appeal to specific market segments. “Our first ambassador was a male cricket player at a time when guys weren’t traditionally seen as people who shop the vitamin category,” recounts Sali. “He had a massive impact, and now our men’s multivitamin is our No. 1 selling product.”

Respect your audience.

“Make sure your campaign is an entertaining journey for them, rather than just another advertisement,” says Sali, who plans to spend $50 million on U.S. consumer advertising in 2013—much of it earmarked for celebrity endorsements. “Everyone [in our industry] makes the scientific case instead of entertaining the viewer. Half of the audience is going to switch off when all they hear about is the science. You need a balance.”


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