Unilever CMO cautions against brand fragmentation

It is crucial to build brands by marketing with people, not to people, Unilever CMO Keith Weed told an audience in Cannes.

Keith Weed
Keith Weed

To illustrate the rapid change in marketing, Unilever CMO Keith Weed showed attendees at the Cannes International Festival of Creativity an ad spot for one of the first brands he worked on at Unilever, Sure deodorant for men. The ad featured a Magnum PI-esque actor running through the dessert, climbing up rocks, almost slipping and falling, but eventually getting to the pretty blonde girl in the red convertible.

"Heat, exhaustion, nervous tension, reward…done," said Weed.

Fast forward to today, and "in the last four and a half years there have been more changes in how we market to people than in the last 25 years," Weed said.

And the noise has intensified. "You’re not just competing with other creatives, you are competing with a guy walking his dog," said Weed, referring to the "Dog chases deer in Richmond Park" video that went viral at the end of 2011.

A holistic, personal approach
It is crucial to build brands by marketing with people, not to people, Weed said.

He cited a number of Unilever initiatives including Project Sunlight and an effort in Bihar, India, a rural area out of the reach of media and prone to power outages. Bihar residents can call a number using their mobile phones and hang up, after which a mobile radio station operated by Unilever dials back and play songs, jokes, and ads for 15 minutes. In six months the service has garnered eight million unique users.

While mobile social data will transform the industry, this fragmented and chaotic media landscape could lead to fractured brands if companies and their agencies focus too much on specific channels rather than taking a holistic approach to brand marketing, Weed cautioned.

Weed advised using an ‘orchestrator’ marketing model similar to what Unilever did with its sustainability endeavor, Project Sunlight, which launched across five countries. About 12 agencies worked under a Unilever manager.

"They’re trying to deliver a 110% solution for mobile and 110% for social, but I want a 110% solution for the brand," he explained. "Too often channels are driving what we’re doing and it’s fragmenting brands."

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