Champing at the bit

Dennis DeYonker, marketing director at Macleans, meets Trish Lorenz and discusses his motivation to go client-side with the top-three toothpaste brand

Glaxo SmithKline’s gleaming west London headquarters loom large, neatly dissecting the M4 and A4 in west London suburbia. The pristine, corporate and contained world of a global multinational, with its own restaurant, coffee shops in a covered mall-style street, seems the perfect place to meet Dennis DeYonker, marketing director for Macleans.

Although he is American, and sports that country’s famous perfect white smile, DeYonker is a committed Europhile. He joined ad agency D’Arcy, Masius, Benton & Bowles in Moscow the year after he graduated with a languages degree. Stints in Paris and Germany followed before a move to London four years ago.

DeYonker says he enjoyed his agency experience, but he was tempted to move client-side by the fact that key business decisions remained outside his control.

‘I had broader concerns than just advertising – is this the right product, is the packaging working hard enough? And only the marketing director gets to influence the outcome of these questions,’ he says.

He moved to Macleans because he could see real opportunities to make an impact. It’s his view that the broad consumer goods market – from toothpaste to paper goods and cleaning products – has ‘a long way to go’ in design terms.

‘I personally feel that design is not being taken seriously enough in the consumer goods market. It’s a low engagement category,’ he says. ‘The whole [supermarket] aisle is missing the opportunity to talk up close and personal with customers. Why not seek to improve the experience?’

DeYonker says packaging, in particular, ‘is very under-utilised as a tool. To really make the most of the brand you need to improve on the experience in any way you can,’ he asserts.

At DMBB, DeYonker worked on the relaunch of feminine care brand Always. It prepared him for the move to Macleans, he says, giving him experience of ‘working on a dusty brand and relaunching it to move it closer to consumers. Macleans was a challenge that I could look at from all angles’.

Macleans and its GSK stablemate Aquafresh compete for second and third places in the oral care sector, behind long-time market leader Colgate. The sector as a whole has been struggling, with sales growth declining.

DeYonker likens the situation to that of ‘bar soap’ ten years ago, before the explosion of ‘shower gels of every smell and texture’ generated growth within the sector.

‘The [toothpaste] market is flat, but there has to be more to it. The health and beauty sector is exploding, oral care is the only area that isn’t growing.’

He blames a homogenous style across the sector that fails to generate loyalty among consumers and creates ‘apathy in the offering’.

‘The whole market is sitting in the same area, with red, white and blue [colourways], stars and foil. The challenge is to re-engage with the consumer,’ says DeYonker.

The company decided the way forward was to focus on the beauty aspects of toothpaste, moving away from purely functional messages. The brand was already a market leader with its whitening product so the decision was taken to ‘create a brand rooted in cosmetic values’.

DeYonker worked with Coley Porter Bell and ad agency Ogilvy & Mather on the relaunch (DW 6 November). The new look is ‘driven by simplicity’, he says.

It features a colour palette of metallic shades, including a black tube for the brand’s premium whitening variant. Copy has been updated to bring the brand back to ‘beauty and cosmetic values’, with the category’s ‘reliance on mint’ ignored in favour of words such as ‘pristine, powerful and precision’.

The revamp targets those ’25- to 35-year-olds that believe what you have in your bathroom is a reflection of your style’, says DeYonker, citing products such as Aveda and Molton Brown, which people are proud to display. It’s his hope that the Macleans revamp will mean it will also be on display in bathrooms, rather than ‘shoved away in a drawer’.

He accepts the change is likely to be polarising. ‘Not everybody is going to like it, we accept that. But to gain loyalty you need to make a statement,’ he maintains.

The new look wasn’t pushed through without some internal wrangling. DeYonker admits there was resistance – senior managers asking ‘is the market ready for this’ – but says his team argued ‘the consumer won’t notice a tweak, won’t re-engage with the brand unless there’s a radical change’.

It’s clear that behind DeYonker’s film star smile lies a core of steel and a real belief in the value of design to power a brand. It will be interesting to see what other ‘category busting’ approaches he can drive through behind the walls of GSK’s west London HQ.

Dennis DeYonker’s CV

1994 BA languages (Russian & French), Michigan State University

1995-2002 D’Arcy, Masius, Benton & Bowles (started as account manager, Moscow, moving to Germany and Paris before becoming board director, EMEA, at DMBB in London)

July 2002 Glaxo SmithKline – marketing director, Macleans

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