If you’re ever stuck in a quandary, ask yourself: “What would Unilever do?”
I should say I have no vested interest in upholding the multinational conglomerate as any pillar of morality or innovation, although I probably do owe much of my transcendence from boy to man to a can of Lynx Africa.
However, earlier this year, and following last year’s partnership with Guardian Labs, Unilever completely overhauled its approach to relationship building and engagement, turning its ear to heed the advice of inspired creative agencies, innovative start-ups and, most importantly, the consumer.
Brands need to be upfront in creative ways and listen to those cutting-edge agencies doing it best
Reaching all-time highs
Basically it made the decision to do this digital thing right. And rather than implement some half-arsed attempt at appearing to care for its customers’ needs, it actually started listening to those agencies in the know about the sort of messaging that creates true brand ambassadors – ones that genuinely believe the company is doing right by them.
Major brands don’t want to hide behind advertising ploys and marketing gimmicks
With this shift-change, Unilever has raised the corporate bar. Quite literally so; Unilever shares have continued to climb this year and are trading close to an all-time high right now.
Principle to the success thus far is in the consumer experience. Modern digital agencies like our good selves bang on about creating excellent user experience and this is no different. It’s about who your audience is and what they want. Unilever, impressively, heeded that advice.
A world where content creation and its promotion need to be coming from the same brain
Creatives embracing media choice
Primarily, the audience wants some sort of transparency from what they might perceive as a faceless corporation. Customers want to see faces, to hear humans voice their own stories and to hear that the company cares about their needs.
Unilever realised that its vast web of creative agencies, ad agencies, social media agencies, mobile tech agencies, and other distribution partners brought with it a fragmented ‘Jack of all trades’ kind of foundation, when actually they operate in a world where content creation and its promotion need to be coming from the same brain and the same mouth.
Unilever CMO Keith Weed told Campaign earlier this year: “These experts want to get a 110% solution for social or mobile when I really want 110% for the brand. So the challenge is orchestrating multiple agencies to create a single minded, customer-centric model.”
He went on to explain that the focus of this agency model shake-up was to embrace this new age of media choice, where brands need to be upfront in creative ways and listen to those cutting-edge agencies doing it best.
The level of value that customers and investors want to see won’t come from a telly ad for Dove soap; TV’s on a completely different wavelength (which, by the way, is a very decent pun about ultra-high frequency electromagnetic fields).
With that in mind – and I’ve remarked before about digital marketing directly encroaching on TV advertising budgets in big corporates – it’s interesting how this new model of across-the-board transparency has impacted TV. Much like P&G and Coca-Cola, for example, Unilever began reviewing its ad accounts: ad agency and production costs dropped from 24% of its overall media spending in 2012 to 20% this year. Meanwhile, digital spending increased by a fifth last year and now, similarly, commands 20% of the overall media spend. One door closes, another opens, so to speak.
Demonstrating investable sustainability
But transparency as a goal is still only half the arse. Unilever realised that for a full moon, transparency needs to come with real value, and investable value at that. And so they made sure their message was a very clear one about Unilever’s sustainability profile – the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan. Which makes sense. I mean, it’s all well and good being transparent, but if you’re just being transparent about your evil plans to destroy the world, then unfortunately all you are is an incompetent super-villain.
Boston Consulting Group, for example, predicts that responsible consumer products will account for nearly three-quarters of grocery growth in the US and Europe in the next five years. Now, one could say that promoting sustainability for the benefits of gaining new investors isn’t really a genuine reason for being sustainable. I’d argue that if the primary motivation is showing those (now, numerous) investors that you care about doing the right thing, and the net result is that the thing is done right, then what’s the problem? It’s not an altruistic ideal, but at least they’re being honest, and if it means that more companies hear the message and follow the example, then bully for all.
This level of openness is being displayed by a number of major corporations, and fantastic creative content strategies are the driving force
The great sustainable ideas giveaway
Indeed, that seemed the next bit of advice that Unilever took on board. In supporting its newfound efforts, Unilever is quite open about not always patenting its sustainable innovations, such as environmentally sustainable packaging. OK sure, this might be a vanity thing – a way to win thought leadership points with investors and customers alike – but on the other hand it’s clear to see this could spark industry-wide adoption.
It’s not just Unilever. I’m seeing this level of commitment and openness to consumer needs, especially over sustainability, being displayed from a number of major corporations, and fantastic creative content strategies are the driving force.
Big companies are wearing their hearts on their sleeves because it’s a good business model and we should welcome it. The tides have turned. Major brands don’t want to hide behind advertising ploys and marketing gimmicks. For whatever reason, they genuinely want to use marketing for good, to be more human, to promote innovation, mindfulness, and to honestly tell their stories. That’s why they’re asking the most creative storytellers to tell them.
Now, let me tell you about the night I once had after a few squirts of Lynx Africa…