Live the brand, make the film, wear the T-shirt

Tolga Sezer has helped to turn Aujan into one of the cleverest brand marketers in the business. Richard Abbott meets him

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By  Richard Abbott Published  February 26, 2006

Live the brand, make the film, wear the T-shirt|~|Sezer,-Tolga200.jpg|~||~|There can’t be too many marketing directors who go to the lengths that Tolga Sezer does to promote his brands. From wearing branded Barbican T-shirts in billiards halls to making corporate sales videos, he is prepared to go to some lengths to make sure consumers are plucking his brands from the shelf. “I am very passionate about what we do in Aujan,” he says. “The Middle East is a fabulous challenge. “Usually the marketing director sits in their tower where no-one can access them. My approach is totally different. I am part of the team and I have to be the most active member of the team. I have to inspire my people day in, day out.” Sezer, who is of Turkish descent, is head of marketing for brands including fruit cordial Vimto, orange drink Rani Float and malt beverage Barbican. Aujan is the largest privately owned beverage company in the GCC. Its turnover exceeded US$300 million last year and is scheduled to hit US$500 million by 2009. But when Sezer joined Aujan in summer 2004 from Unilever — where he worked on the Lipton business — he admits that the brands were not realising their potential. “It was not buzzing in terms of communication. The brands were there but they were rough diamonds,” he says. “The consumer was saying that Rani was like an old friend wearing the same clothes for a long time — it was not that fresh. They had not touched the packaging for 24 years. It looked like something produced in the 1950s in the old Soviet block.” Sezer was in no mood to mess around. He came into Aujan and told his team that they would be that best FMCG marketing team in the Middle East by 2006. “I was lucky to be able to take all these brands and start with a clean sheet. I was able to steer the communication towards the youngsters,” he explains. He says it took him six months to realise his vision for the brands, which came to fruition in early 2005 with a major relaunch for Rani. Now the company is fully signed up to brand marketing — few could have missed the ‘Get Chunked’ campaign for Rani Float or the ‘This is Me’ campaign for Barbican, both created by Dubai ad agency Face to Face. The key, says Sezer, is connecting with young people. “Consumer connection — that is the secret,” he says. “We are dying for cutting edge communication. “Our profession as marketers is to build brands for the young generation, especially in this region. We saw it as a fabulous opportunity. But you have to be sharp and you have to communicate well to get hold of them.” He believes Aujan has capitalised on some of the mistakes that the big multi-nationals make with their marketing. And he is dismissive of the ‘one size fits all’ marketing approach of some global giants. “The multi-nationals talk about how passionate they are about the younger generation but do they really interact with them? Do they hang out in their favourite venues?” he says. “It has to be genuine. It can’t be like Pepsi where everyone holds the can with a cheesy grin on their face. I don’t think they [Pepsi] really connect with their consumers. Youngsters are much smarter than this. Sometimes the product is so dominant in the advertising, the consumer thinks that they are trying too hard. That kind of communication is so pushy.” Sezer admits that he works his agencies very hard, but says that the results were there for all to see at the recent Campaign Awards. Face to Face was named advertising agency of the year, while media agency Initiative was recognised for its clever work on Barbican. “The moment they received the award, Chris [Bell, Face to Face managing partner] called me. It was a great moment,” he says. Then last week work for Barbican and Rani won two further trophies at the Effectiveness in Marketing Awards. One agency that he is not so content with, however, is his PR agency. Sezer is a man who speaks his mind. He is frank and talks with an admirable spirit of openness. Which is why he caught Weber Shandwick unawares this month when he voiced his disappointment about the job they were doing. The agency declared itself surprised that Sezer had spoken to Campaign and not directly to them. To ensure that its brands are behaving as they should be, Aujan conducts a brand health check on its key products every six months. These tests look at how the consumer perception has changed since the last test. This enabled Sezer to measure the success of the relaunch campaign for its fizzy drink Rani Float last year. And Aujan also hosts consumer connection sessions, where it can talk to its consumers and see how they experience the brand. This is where the T-shirts come in. He argues that you can’t just place a mupi outside a venue like a billiards hall and hope that people see it on the way out — you have to get the consumer interacting with the brand, you have to “facilitate the ambience”. “To experience a brand it has to be out of home,” he says. As if to demonstrate the notion of consumer connection, Sezer has big plans for Rani Float this year. Don’t be surprised to see Rani ‘chunk mobiles’ cruising the streets of major Middle East cities this year. Aujan will be using such stunts to further embed the drink into the public consciousness. “We really want to bring it to life,” says Sezer. “I like the total communication of my brands.” He even wants to get broadcasters to mention Rani within their TV news bulletins. I suggest that most broadcasters will treat this as a gross intrusion of their editorial. “The first response is no,” he admits. “But if you are passionate, if you are creative, miracles do happen.” Agree with him or not, you’ve got to admire the verve and rigour with which he refuses to accept marketing conventions. He’s also got ambitions for brand agency JWT to transform Vimto — a Ramadan tradition — into a year-round treat. And he admits that he finds it difficult to step away from the brands that he has fostered so closely. “I can’t help getting involved. I always want to go to the shoots but I stop myself,” he says. Sezer also has a hidden talent as a film director. While at Unilever, he directed more than a dozen motivational movies. “I heard they have put together a compilation now,” he laughs. Looking back, Sezer says he felt constricted during his nine years at Unilever, although he didn’t realise it until he had thrown off the shackles of working within a multi-national. “Of course you should come up with best practice but if you lock yourself within boundaries, it is hard to produce breakthrough advertising,” he says. He is full of praise for Aujan CEO Alex Andarakis. “The worst thing is to have a CEO with a background in accounting or engineering but he gives me support because he is a marketing man himself.” This is what it boils down to with Sezer. He believes you must have a passion for your brands. How else could you pass on that passion to consumers? You have to do that little bit more. You have to wear the T-shirt.||**||

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