How Hydralyte made the case to shift to digital and social media

Care Pharmaceuticals head of marketing shares the steps taken to switch from traditional TV and ABL to a digital-first media strategy and the results


It’s a business objective many FCMG and B2C brands will be all-too- familiar with: How to increase sales and household penetration of products.

For Care Pharmaceuticals head of marketing A/NZ, Daniela Fra, this was the catalyst for what became an ambitious shift of Hydralyte’s advertising away from TV and above-the-line to a digital-first media strategy and approach. And it’s one that’s delivered dividends, from 24 per cent year-on-year sales uplift to significant engagement and household penetration improvements.

Catalyst for change

Hydralyte is a rehydration product and the largest brand among 20 owned by Care Pharmeuticals. Fra told CMO the portfolio approach has meant her team is always looking to balance priorities and find efficiencies across marketing activity. The decision to embark on a new digital-first campaign was partly about such efficiency of media spend.

In the past, Hydralyte advertising was done via traditional media, such as TV and above-the-line activities. But these were no longer delivering the brand the reach it hoped for, Fra said.

“Traditionally, if we invested in a TV spot for several weeks, we’d see a spike in sales. Over time, as media has changed and the way consumers consume media changed, we’re not getting the same lift from those traditional forms or as much reach,” Fra said.   

Limited budget to reach, engage and talk to correct audiences as often as the brand would like was another consideration. What’s more, the target consumer for Hydralyte was changing.

While Hydralyte’s core audience has always and remains the main grocery buyer, research identified a number of subset opportunities to drive further penetration. These included a key audience Fra’s team calls the ‘wellness mum’, a 35-40-year old female with 6-10 year-old kids; and the ‘active boomer’, 65 years of age, who engages in travel, socialising and is focused on their wellbeing.

“We also recognised we need to talk to audiences more frequently,” Fra said. “With ABL, Hydralyte would commonly be on air three times per year for a few weeks. So there were big gaps. The product can be seasonal and used throughout the year, and we have seasonal triggers. Yet we needed consistency in messaging and sales.”  

Enter digital. “We had toyed with digital marketing through things like social media posts, a bit of search, but no set campaign,” Fra said.

Working with lead media and digital agency partner, Flow, with True Sydney contracted to execute the campaign, Hydralyte’s brand team built a 10-month digital program aimed at reaching unique audiences, taking advantage of interest types, demographics and individual messaging.

“Here we could have 7-8 creative messages served to relevant audiences depending on what was most suitable to them,” Fra said. “We also worked out we could have digital activity every week of the year. That allowed us the frequency we were after. We could understand our reach numbers in more detail, which were significantly more, and we could measure more accurately as we could gauge engagement rates, view-through rates and clickthroughs.  

“All this gave us a measurable way to provide the business confidence on what we were setting out to achieve and the impact we’d have.”  

Broader brand case

Then there was the desire to open out the Hydralyte brand’s traditional use cases: Diarrhoea and gastro.

“The great thing about our product is it can be used by everyone and has many usage occasions,” Fra said. “It could be dehydration caused by a very hot day, a clinical issue, a fever due to cold or flu, travelling on a plane, after a big night, pregnancy and morning sickness, or the elderly suffering from dehydration. So it was important to open up and educate audiences on the different uses and needs.”  

To do this, Hydralyte’s digital campaign centred around a vlogging couple, key characters telling the stories of all use cases via multimedia content. At one point, the brand integrated the couple’s mums into creative, brought in a child, and grew the family unit storyline. Over the 10-month campaign, Fra said the brand and agency flexed different messages depending on season or commercial objectives.

“We would serve one creative around heat, for instance, given the time of year. If people engaged, they’d be retargeted with a different usage occasion within a few days or week. We had up to seven messages going out to the same audience throughout that period,” Fra explained.  

Creatively, this required a new approach. Previously used to one TV shoot, Fra and her Care team conducted detailed planning with True Sydney around creative assets, both in terms of formats and volume.

“We talked about the best formats, what are the usage occasions upfront to shoot content across all of those, so the planning piece took a fair amount of time. But that is what made it a success,” Fra said.

On the community building side, Hydralyte had a community manager and sequence of responses ready reflecting the brand’s language and tone. Anything built post-launch was then done via product imagery or animation.

The first-person approach, and shooting ‘through the eyes’ of its vlogging characters, meant Hydralyte transitioned from shooting with specific talent experiencing things firsthand, to more generic footage of products and those use cases.

Hydralyte is now building content 3-6 months ahead of time with True Sydney for its next campaign iterations, then will modify, tweak and adjust as required, Fra said.

Measures of success

For Fra, the proof of the campaign’s impact is in the metrics pudding.

Consumers saw an average of 4.2 user occasions, and unique campaign reach exceeded 4 million, with 4 million video views achieving a 100 per cent viewing rate. There were 5.2 million engagements in total and 1736 comments, 80 per cent of which were positive or neutral, while 1137 people tagged friends on creative assets in social platforms. Hydralyte also saw an 84.2 per cent lift in ad recall.

All of this helped sales increase by 24 per cent year-on-year and importantly, lifted Fra’s key metric of household penetration. Hydralyte now sits at 93 per cent marketshare in its category, which is unheard of for most brands, she claimed.

“We have 64 per cent brand awareness, which is OK, but at the time we only had 5 per cent household penetration. That was incredibly low given a brand that was well recognised and has a complete share of the market in this space,” she continued. “It’s partly the nature of the category, but for us, the biggest measure was about driving household penetration to get more new users into the category, which grew the opportunity for us to drive brand growth.

“The other key was increasing the reach and frequency of the campaign. Our reach was significant and we got efficiency in the budget. We had always-on ability across the campaign.”

During what’s been nearly two years of solid digital and social as the main driver of activities, Hydralyte has also been testing out-of-home advertising to see what impact it could have.

“We did see some improvement in sales using that combination of media. We took that insight, modified the strategy from April this year, and we’ll start to add a layer of out-of-home in addition to digital. We can link creative and messaging and it’ll enable us to drive traffic into stores,” Fra said.

Meanwhile, in terms of TV, Hydralyte has decided to put the emphasis on retail partners. With pharmacies and grocery stories accessing better TV buying deals, Fra saw benefit in tapping these partnerships to keep TV ticking over while digital/social remain the core activities going forward.

“Digital allows us to adapt messaging, talk to specific audiences, gain great insights and get feedback firsthand, while building community,” Fra said.  

Business buy-in

It’s not always easy to get a business to embrace such a shift, but Fra cited strong support for this new way of approaching media for Care.

“As long as we can show success through these measures and ultimately sales, the business put its trust in us to lead the way. We are privileged we have autonomy on campaigns in the A/NZ market,” she said.  

One step helping firm up executive buy-in was taking Care’s senior leadership and regulatory executives to each agency meeting, followed by the head of sales at a later stage.

“There was some lack of understanding of how it worked and what it would deliver to us,” Fra said. “That [agency initiative] gave a level of confidence on the knowledge the agency had, the way they worked and style, and we all had a clear understanding of the expectations we were trying to achieve.”

Arguably, the bigger challenge in shifting to a digital-first approach has been getting retailers on-board.

“When we present concepts and plans, many were stuck in a traditional way and didn’t think digital did anything for them,” Fra said. “They were probably the hardest to get over the line… we have had to spend the time educating and upskilling them in why digital works so well and how we can tailor it to their group for example, and direct to their sites or store.”

More brands on their digital marketing strategies:

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