In this exclusive “Masters of Media” series, Integral Ad Science (IAS) speaks to the Movers and Shakers of the Southeast Asia advertising industry, on all matters digital.
We speak with Alessandro Felicani, the Category Lead Luxury SEA & India of Coty. Alessandro is a global marketer with a passion for strategy and design. He’s deft in converting strategy to actual sales and is a firm believer that execution is the only strategy that consumers see.
Integral Ad Science (IAS): Hello Alessandro, thank you for sharing your story with us. Tell us about your digital advertising journey and what prompted you to join Coty?
Alessandro Felicani, Coty (Alessandro): My digital journey started quite young as for all the Millennials out there. It started with the chain mails, those bothering spam take over ads and those request for cookies which I didn’t know what it meant but sounded cute. Those long minutes before the connection could start, that weird sound and finally once ready your mum asking to close it as she had to make a phone call. A journey that continued of course in the classrooms at university getting more oriented to the social media as it was starting to conquer the world, and finally at work with P&G at the time and now Coty.
It was really interesting to observe a big company moving from the classical media to the new digital advertising era. A great opportunity for us, the “new generation”, as “older” management involved us much more to get ideas and understand what would work or not in this new digital reality. Furthermore, I had the great opportunity to play on both the design and execution sides of digital advertising. On the Design side of things while working for HUGO BOSS fragrance at P&G, starting to adapt concepts and advertising to new formats and realities (e.g. At the time to do the TV ad in a vertical format to fit the phone screen was kind of “forward thinking” while today is common practice), and now on the execution side, taking care of all Luxury brands advertising in South East Asia and India for Coty. Now I see why all those design efforts are so important to ensure we can execute our campaign fast and in an optimized way, but there are all the channels, consumer journey learning etc. every day which makes this side very fast paced, fascinating and incredibly enriching.
Joining COTY was a decision of passion and potential. I realized with time I simply love the industry and when the merger of 41 P&G brands with COTY was announced, the passion for what I was doing clearly indicate me that I should continue. Why not to move to a competitor company then? Well here came the “potential factor”. The idea to build a new Beauty company with all our great brands and passionate people was ambitious and inspiring, and I like that. Like digital advertising, it is a journey and it will take time, but I am sure one day we will look back and be proud of what we have achieved. While on the journey I remind my team and myself that we have the honor to work every day on such prestigious, creative, inspiring and modern thinking brands, so we can only enjoy the ride.
IAS: Coty’s purpose is to Celebrate and Liberate the Diversity of Your Beauty, how do you see this come to life in the APAC region and are they very different from other markets?
Alessandro: Codes of Beauty in the past have been pretty strict around the whole world. They had some very defined, strict and limiting rules which often generated lack of confidence, feeling of not belonging and ultimately leaving consumers unsatisfied and unhappy. I find it to be partially still true around the world and here in APAC. But at Coty our purpose is clearly not supporting this vision of Beauty. We believe in the fundamental truth that beauty is here to ultimately make us happier. We, as a company, should be here to liberate the diversity of our consumers’ beauty and celebrate it. Beauty is not a standard and companies should not be there to create rules to follow. We are simply here to provide the tools and maybe just an inspiration, to finally give confidence to the consumers to unleash their own best self, to enhance their unique traits, showcase their character or their many characters, to uplift their mood and ultimately to make them feel happier.
One of the recent campaigns that totally reflects our purpose is the one for Gucci Make-up. The whole mantra is that “Beauty lies in imperfection”. It created some controversy when it came out especially here in Asia as the visuals were uncommon for our category. But the early shock rapidly turned into a conversation and ultimately to a resounding success. Consumers liked the luxurious products, the formula and the brand of course, but they also loved this new expression of freedom from norms which I am sure made them feel happy and liberated. This is only one example but there are more and most importantly more to come on our beautiful brands.
IAS: What are the upcoming beauty industry developments you’re excited about and how will the industry change, if at all, post COVID-19?
Alessandro: Beauty, like all industries, is facing some big evolution in retail. The so-called “new retail” linking experience instore with purchase, pre-visit information online is becoming a reality. Beauty and luxury brands are already advanced on the “experience” part of the consumer journey compared to other categories, but I am sure this will go even further. We will need to ensure every visit leaves a memorable impact on our shopper, via entertainment, “instagrammable opportunities” and rituals. Our Beauty Advisors will play an even more important role becoming brand ambassadors and I would almost say “gurus”.
Virtual and especially augmented reality will play a growing role in the way we shop. They will enable us to transform our shelf and even packaging via our phones, into lively and informative experiences. This technology of course exists but is not yet fully embraced and adopted. Once it will happen, no shop will look static anymore, our phones will reveal a whole new world. When we will have wearable glasses with virtual technologies, then sky is the limit, our stores will be like a “green screen” in movies today and allow for all the most wonderful special effects we can imagine. I am looking forward to seeing how this will come to life!
While we wait for all these exciting changes to happen, Beauty has a big opportunity which is still e.com. The fact that you cannot try a fragrance online has always been perceived as a big barrier, so focus has always been to win at retail first. This has of course changed with time and ecommerce has been growing year after year but if you think one thing the COVID-19 will do to the beauty industry is that it will accelerate its ecommerce shares in a big way. This push will go from tactical, as all retail is closed companies must push e.com to drive sales, to strategic as it will change the amount of people dedicated to it, the attention from management, the budget and importantly the time spent on generating new ideas. Also, the consumers’ behavior will evolve, they will with time, and thanks to the efforts from the brands, start to appreciate buying beauty online. Some Beauty brands today are fully digital (look at Kylie Beauty for example) showing that this consumer behavior is possible, but this situation will give a special push to the more traditional brands and those already playing on e.com will move even faster.
IAS: In the last decade, the beauty industry saw the influx of influencers, how has that changed the way consumers make their buying decisions?
Alessandro: Like in many other industries, the play an important role to drive consideration and to complete the efforts of media building awareness. There are some brands that are totally relying on them or even built by them (e.g. again Kylie Beauty). Their success has been started by showcasing expertise in the category or simply playing the average consumer testing products. They became very important via the strong power of “peer to peer recommendation” which is key to influence a consumer before his purchase, even stronger than a media ad (although it serves a different purpose). It has evolved now to inspiration (especially since the creation of Instagram) with more creative ways to present the products and in some cases evolved to simply “fame” which goes back to the traditional media usage of celebrities. So, depending on the influencer style, you will have a different impact on the consumer, but this is the whole purpose. It is why different consumers will follow different influencers although they might be presenting the same brand.
Now I believe consumers are still going to make decisions based on authenticity, which is why in the first place the whole thing started. Hence it is key for brands to choose carefully the KOLs, they should fit in terms of image, persona and message. Ultimately what is important is that there is an engagement (otherwise best way to get awareness is via media) so as they need to convey a message that is true to your brand, fits their persona, and which followers engage with.
IAS: What are the key innovations your team is spearheading at Coty to keep in pace with the discerning beauty enthusiasts in the region?
Alessandro: We have some really exciting innovations these days! As mentioned previously we recently launched our Gucci Make-up, from our Lips which have been an immediate success to our newest launch Mascara L’ Obscur, which is receiving fantastic reviews! Another great launch is Boss Bottled Infinite with Chris Hemsworth surfing in a suit, a new masculine fresh fragrance which consumers are really enjoying. Then comes our new CK revolution with CK EVERYONE, the new gender-neutral fragrance which is conquering Gen-z and millennials alike today as CK ONE did in the 90s. And then the new Burberry HER, Tiffany &LOVE or Chloe Atelier des Fleurs private collection are just few of our proudest achievement this year. There are more special projects and surprises we are preparing these days and I can’t wait for them to come to live!
IAS: What do you do in your free time? Any books or podcasts you’d like to recommend to our readers?
Alessandro: Well, I love to travel, discover and immerse in new cultures, this is also why I came to live in this beautiful part of the world. Nowadays, my main hobby is on hold, but I can spend time on my other passions. One of them is cooking. As probably any Italian, I love to eat and hence these days more than ever I spend time in the kitchen learning new recipes. I miss that part of sharing my dishes with my friends and family all together, but I am getting better every day so when this dark period will be over, I will be prepared to surprise them. And you still have of course all the video chats and pics sharing to keep some of that alive in the meanwhile.
These days are also perfect to go back to reading and one book I enjoyed was Culture Map. In a snapshot, a study on the difference of cultures and the impact it can have at work. A very enjoyable read especially for managers working in different countries or with multi-cultural teams. I am an Italian that went to a French school, studied in 4 different countries, worked in multi-national companies with multi-cultural teams and married a French woman, but oh man there is still so much to learn. This book will give a quick edge, and some useful tips, to all managers who want to have a successful international career without having to learn it all the hard way through experience.
IAS: What is your advice to the fresh talent entering the industry
Alessandro: First of all, great choice. An industry that is growing, that is honestly fun and that can be a great platform for future moves in other related industries (e.g. Luxury, Fashion) or less related (e.g. food, beverages, Pharma). Now in terms of advice I can just give some few points based on my honest experience.
First bring up your ideas. This industry is built on newness, fresh point of views, disruptiveness and this must come from the new talents before any agency. So, don’t be afraid to bring up your ideas in this industry but then execute them as good and as close to your vision as you can. A good idea without any execution is just a concept.
Then I would suggest being curious of the past, study it to best reinterpret the future. Most of the time you will work on brand or category with a long history. Read about the founders, what moved them to start their companies’? The hero product, what was its purpose and what made its success? A new category, why did it start what made consumers love it? Answering all these questions first is fun, it is enriching but most importantly it is inspiring. When joining a brand, any new creative director starts by reading the archives. He does so to find what is true, authentic, deeply rooted in the brand, but also what was maybe forgotten and could bring a new twist with the new designer equity. So, it is important to have fresh ideas but also know the heritage of a brand, what its stand for, to ensure the ideas can be adapted and fit. This will drive your success.
Also of course always look for mentors to help you learn about the category, the business and why not get coached on few things you feel you could improve.