GSK chief marketing officer talks COVID-19 priority shifts, content creation at Cannes Lions Live

Cannes Lions Health 2019
While the Cannes Lions Health 2020 festival was canceled, a Lions Live virtual conference brought marketing creativity content to desktops. (Beth Snyder Bulik)

GlaxoSmithKline had big growth plans for 2020 across its brands—and then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. So the company scrambled to rethink and prioritize “ruthlessly” to find a new way forward.

That meant leaning even harder into digital and e-commerce, as well as realigning brand categories to reflect COVID-19 consumer thinking, GSK Chief Marketing Officer Tamara Rogers told attendees of the recent virtual Cannes Lions Live conference.

Instead of two categories of international and local brands, GSK broke down its portfolio into four areas. Its group of treatment mainstays, for instance, includes brands such as Advil and Panadol that people use to help treat the symptoms of illness. Other new categorizations included premium discretionary (Chapstick, Abreva); supplements and vitamins (Emergen-C, Centrum); and everyday health (Sensodyne).

“Right now what people want most of all is for brands to be useful. They don’t really want to be advertised at, so how do you shift that relationship and make sure you’re engaging?” Rogers said.

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Some of the digital content GSK put into place to do just that included a "Get Moving" campaign for Voltaren in Germany, with online customizable training videos. Another effort, for Sensodyne, created mini videos with real dentists to talk about the importance of oral hygiene during lockdown.

In the U.S., GSK created work for Flonase that was meant to be lighthearted and show people how to bring fun inside—by playing sock baseball or building a tent in the living room, for instance—through a social media #OutsideIn campaign, while also reminding people to continue to take their allergy medicine.

“We’re just scratching the surface of the potential of our brands. Because I think, as many of you already know very well, the strength of a brand by having emotional benefits as well as functional benefits means for an even stronger brand,” Rogers said, adding, “there is a huge potential not to bring just the cold distant functional claims to life but a real opportunity to land some really big creative ideas.”

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Rogers’ detailing of the GSK course correction forced by COVID-19 across its brand portfolio was a part of the Cannes Lions Live CMO one-on-one sessions. The weeklong virtual event June 22-26 stood in for the annual creativity in advertising celebration usually held this same week in France.

Unlike the confab’s usual Cannes Lions Health, however, there was no health and pharma track and limited health-specific content, with Rogers the only pharma executive presenting.