Gary Osifchin

Chief Marketing Officer and GM US Hygiene
“My creative partners understand cultural differences and what resonates.”
In this special episode recorded at the Cannes Lions Festival Klaas and Adam talk to Gary Osifchin, Chief Marketing Officer and GM US Hygiene at Reckitt. He is ranked as one of Adweek’s Marketing Minds and valued for his open and authentic management style. Gary talks about building a diverse and inclusive marketing team where creativity thrives.
Do you enjoy being here in Cannes?
‘How can you not? It's a terrific opportunity for the industry to come together. The power of collaboration, new insights, and learning in person is amazing.’

Reckitt claims to be on a journey to positively impact communities everywhere for a healthier planet and a fairer society…
‘We exist to heal, protect, and nurture the world. We have very purpose-driven brands and they're tied to global sustainable and D&I commitments (diversity and inclusion, ed.). Beyond just the product efficacy, we're very much believers in our role in society to do some good.’

You were part of the World Federation of Advertisers panel here in Cannes. Please share some key findings of that panel.
‘The WFA does a terrific job in terms of diversity charter and initiative. We talked about the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion globally. And, from a societal standpoint, the impact the industry can have. The WFA recently published information on the progress that needs to be made within the overarching marketing advertising media industry. The turnover is real and diverse people in general have a tougher time in the industry. It’s important that we’re on a continued journey to actually do some things.’

Which initiatives are you really fond of?
‘About eight years ago I led Honey Maid, which is a wholesome after school snacking brand for kids in the U.S.. I led a diverse inclusion multi-cultural campaign which was all about 'this is wholesome.' It ran for several years and centered around the real authentic representation of the diverse families in America; from LGBT, to biracial, to Hispanic immigrants, to disabled families. Real people told their stories, we didn't use actors. In the industry, I helped set a bar for actually doing inclusive advertising. Fast-forward to Reckitt today, and tying back to the purpose of protect, heal, and nurture the world; with a large disinfectant like Lysol we’re on a mission to keep your loved ones illness-free. You can stay in that product role and layer in a D&I commitment to tell real stories. Our team in Turkey just won a bronze Lion for Finish auto dish detergent. It focused on a campaign around saving water, but it's also recognized because it's building the business, which is terrific.’
How does diversity and inclusion relate to creativity?
‘The more diverse work voices and perspectives you have around the table, the more you understand different people. As the CMO, I value creative partners who understand cultural differences and what will resonate. For instance, within the Hispanic or black communities in the U.S., music is vitally important. If you tap into those passion points, you are reaching everyone. And you're not just reaching them, they're driving the culture.’

Everyone loves music…
‘But who is driving it?’

Is Honey Maid where you think you really nailed D&I in a campaign?
‘Absolutely. But also, the work we're doing on Lysol. The tagline is: ‘Lysol, what it takes to protect.’ We're about protecting loved ones from becoming ill, cause when one person goes down in a household with cold and flu, everybody starts going down. Then, from a diversity standpoint, we've made a commitment to do more for underprivileged communities. In the U.S. we have Title I schools that support low-income students. Historically these don’t have the resources that they need. So, we partnered with various Title I schools in providing good health hygiene habits, and we donate product that will help keep the environment safe at the schools.’

Is a lot of it Covid-related?
‘A lot of it existed before but was then amped up with Covid and people coming back to school, and the need for kids to better understand the role of hygiene.’

Can you share any results?
‘Disinfection products played an important role in society during Covid. Going from pre-pandemic to pandemic to endemic, we've significantly gained households and usage. Dettol and Lysol are currently doing very well. But most importantly, our role in the world is just elevated and people understand it. In the U.S. Lysol was just named the number 2 most trusted brand in 2021, across any brand.’

Any upside in market shares or sales?
‘Yeah, people are absolutely increasing in share and increasing in penetration and frequency of usage. It’s also important from a business standpoint and the role of our products in the world, and usage across different categories and segments. With Lysol laundry sanitizer we're growing that segment.’
Getting back to D&I, are there any instances where you got it wrong? Can you share some learnings?
‘Absolutely. I'm a big believer in testing and learning. Around 2010, we were targeting teens and young adults with a gum brand called Stride. We thought we landed the insight around Hispanics. So, we spent lots of time and effort on getting the insight right, getting the creative hook. We shot all the advertising and I tested in the normal ad testing ways; the general market copy meant for everyone, and then the Hispanic copy. But it turned out the general market did better with the Hispanic audience. And they were seeing both because in the U.S., people are watching everything.’

What did you learn from that?
‘That we needed to go deeper. We didn't get enough of a cultural insight and real understanding. We used some of the tropes of a big Hispanic family; they all are big, the grandmother is always involved and the kid has to listen to the grandmother…’

Did people find it patronizing?
‘They didn't, it was relatable, it just didn't resonate. They got it, but it was more like holding the mirror up versus actually understanding them, and then better understanding the role of our product for them. We didn't find something that resonated with that audience from within and have that be the hook.’

How would you do that differently now?
‘Much more ethnographic research and time spent on truly understanding cultural differences and nuances. And also assessing and understanding what is true. My team is currently working on a brand where we know the Hispanic family dynamic with that brand much better. We understand that our messaging has to be different because they use our brand and products very differently in their lives.’
What’s more important: diversity or inclusion?
‘Diversity and inclusion. They’re both super important to me. As an out-gay male in the industry I've had to deal with when to come out, when not to come out, etc. So, I have my own lived experience.’

Do you still have to deal with that?
‘Yeah. I had to make sure I was comfortable joining this company and they were comfortable with me being out. I founded the executive sponsor for LGBTQ+ employee resource group. I'm also helping others with problems they're having, and advance an agenda in that regard. It's ongoing. There are currently 300 statutes across the U.S. to exclude LGBTQ+ people. In Florida the governor passed legislation prohibiting the use of the word 'gay' in public schools. Then, when you think about the lived experiences of any ethnic group anywhere… the stigmas are real. I can hide being gay, but when you're of a different race you can't. And no one should have to hide. The industry needs to realize that diversity and inclusion isn't something that goes away. It’s critical that D&I commitment is on our brand footprint. I don't know many companies that are doing that.’

If you would give a rating to the creative industry on a scale of one to ten…
‘A six. I think there's a lot of very good effort underway. But we need to do a lot more and ensure that early career talent is diverse and brought in and coached and educated.’

How do you build a diverse and inclusive team?
‘It's hard. How can we tap into those folks? If you're in high school, you don't know what a career in marketing is. So, it's important to partner with communities, education, colleges, universities, but also arts programs in the creative industry; you don't need a traditional path to become a creative. With our intern program this year we went out to a lot of diverse schools. We didn't go to the traditional schools. I'm happy that the majority of my interns this summer are from a diverse background. You have to take action.’

Are there any pitfalls in building a diverse and inclusive team?
‘If you want to build the team and keep them in, then you have to enable them when they're there, enable their voices to be heard, and to be fully participatory in everything. You have to cultivate that or else they’re rejected by the system and they leave.’
How do you prevent rainbow-washing?
‘You can't just show up as a brand, slap logos on and participate in pride parades and Hispanic Heritage Month activities. Why are you there? Have you been there before? Do you understand the community? And are you now part of the community in a relevant way? Because you have to. I get asked all the time to participate with brands in various cultural festivals. But if I'm not already there, then why am I there? If I haven’t done the hard work of insight gathering and getting a cultural understanding, then I don't have the right to be there.’

Does it scare some companies off, being accused of rainbow-washing?
‘Some companies are afraid that they're going to offend people so they want to stay away. I won't go into specifics but years ago, on a brand where I was doing marketing, I was told: 'we shouldn't do that.' But I did it anyway, because it was right and I'd done the hard work to be there. I also knew that my audience from a consumer-base was there.’

What has inspired you here in Cannes?
‘My friends in the data world will not like it but I think creativity is back. Yay! Data is our friend and we can learn a ton from it; audience insight and testing and the ability that enables us to be more creative. But it all starts with powerful, creative ideas. And I really feel that it’s back.’
About Gary Osifchin
Gary Osifchin joined Reckitt in October 2021. As its Chief Marketing Officer, he is responsible for the U.S. business and the hygiene products. He has built an impressive career in the food industry working for brands like Mondelēz, Ferrara, and Kraft Heinz. Gary was ranked as one of AdWeek's marketing minds and is valued for his open and authentic management style.

About Reckitt
Reckitt Benckiser Group plc, trading as Reckitt, is a multinational consumer goods company with well-known brands in nutrition, hygiene, and the health industry, such as Dettol, Durex, and Nurofen. Headquartered in Slough, England, it had a net income of £21 million in 2021. The company was formed in March 1999 by the merger of British company Reckitt & Colman plc and Dutch company Benckiser N.V.
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