Unilever: Surf Detergent Happiness Operator


Client: Unilever
Product: Surf detergent
Category: Consumer Packaged Goods
Agency: Havas Media Vietnam
Country: Vietnam
Year: 2015


Campaign Summary

The business challenge for Unilever’s Surf detergent came from its intense competition with washing powder brands of local manufacturers. Taking advantage of low price and heavy promotion, local brands aggressively gained sales and market share across rural areas nationwide, especially in the Mekong Delta where consumers could easily switch brands. With the mission of putting people first, Surf came up with a new game plan to differentiate itself: Surf Happiness Operator, which was built from from insights and the media habits of rural consumers.


Objective and Context

Driving market share for Surf in rural areas was at the top of Surf’s agenda, given the fact that 70 percent of  consumers live in rural areas. The Surf Happiness Operator worked in the same way as the “Missed Call” campaign for Active Wheel detergent in India, using Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technology. What Surf did differently had to do with content development and in using mobile to leverage local context. With feature phone penetration of more than 90 percent, this was the perfect channel to deliver the brand message and drive consumption via a holistic experience that consumers had never had before.

The target consumers for Surf were housewives living in rural areas of Vietnam,  ages 25 to 40 years old, in classes C and D. Most of their time is spent doing household chores such as cooking and taking care of families. Some go to the rice fields and raise cattle. Despite their hardship, the Surf customer is very optimistic. Daily happy moments mean a lot to her. She is totally happy with her simple and peaceful life, with the thinking that: “Tomorrow will be better.”


Creative Strategy

The creative idea came from understanding Surf consumers. Happiness to them is as simple as fresh and delightful moments in daily life. Surf helped lift up those moments by offering them fun, yet engaging and insightful stories told by the most-loved rural comedian: Hoai Linh. The campaign was activated when consumers bought Surf, because then they would receive a Lucky Code with their purchase. When a consumer would call or text and input the code, Surf was able to identify the area based on the code, and then collect data via a quick survey. Then, each participating consumer would get a call back, “from” Hoai Linh, who would tell a funny story, based on their local area. All calls were free.

His playing with different accents could be leveraged for stories about the North, Central and South of Vietnam. His charm and talent allowed him to really “act” by voicing more than just one single character. Selecting the right talent and inspiring him with the right content was the key to the success of the project.

With this campaign, 70 percent of the marketing investment was in mobile, 15 percent was spent on the talent fee and just 15 percent was spent on activation on the ground. There were four factors in the success of the campaign: the celebrity of Hoai Linh, the content, the reward and the mechanic.

Surf used the top adorable celebrity in Vietnam as a natural hook and set up the awareness about campaign for consumers. That’s why there didn’t need to be much investment in TV and  activation.

The majority of investment was for top-up mobile and calling fees paid to telco companies.

IVR technology was tailor-made for Surf to not only drive sales abut also build up its consumer database. The system could allow for real-time tracking and flexible change in the algorithm. Daily tracking helped Surf monitor consumer actions and adjust the system.



Below are the results from the campaign:

  • Market share gained 100 bps across regions.
  • Sales volume increased 18 percent in comparison with the prior period.
  • Nearly 220,000 unique participants helped Surf to increase its database to 700,000.
  • Total activated codes were 320,000 – equal to OMO detergent’s “Text to Win in Tet” campaign. (The OMO brand, also produced by Unilever, is 10 times bigger than Surf).


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