Fall '13 Agency

December 8-11, 2013 | Scottsdale, AZ

How Unilever reshaped marketing for the digital age

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With more than 400 brands, Unilever knows how to translate traditional advertising into modern marketing. Here's a look at the strategy that enables the company's award-winning work.

The media and consumer landscape is an extremely volatile place. Marketers have moved beyond their reliance on traditional advertising but have yet to truly embrace and harness the power of digital. Part of this is due to an inability to keep pace with emerging technology, part is due to failed integration and cooperation among industry parties, and some of it involves a resistance to change -- a stagnation that comes from doing something a certain way for so long. But this is not the case for all companies. In fact, many brands, agencies, and media providers are leading the way in the digital world by embracing change and forging unique partnerships to meet contemporary consumers' needs.

One company that has maintained its dominance over time is Unilever. At the iMedia Agency Summit in Scottsdale, Ariz., Babs Rangaiah, the VP of global media innovation for Unilever, explained how the company has reworked its marketing for the digital age by presenting case studies involving Dove, Axe, and Pureit, among others. In addition, Rangaiah provided a look at the structure and workflow of the partnerships that enabled Unilever's outstanding work.

First, a note on the speaker: As the VP of global media innovation for Unilever, Rangaiah leads the company's global vision and strategy. He works with Unilever's ventures team to explore new media opportunities and partnerships to help the company reach consumers today. In other words, Rangaiah is on the cusp of the new era of marketing.

To begin, Rangaiah underscored the transformative power of the internet, describing it as the "defining invention of our lifetime." In fact, Time Magazine recently released an issue that lists the wheel, electricity, and the internet as the most important inventions of all time. With this in mind, Rangaiah moved on to discuss how Unilever harnesses the power of digital in its marketing efforts. However, before a company can fully embrace emerging technology and change, it's important to get the C-Suite on board. To do so, Rangaiah took Unilever's top executives to Silicon Valley for a "week-long immersion." Out of this immersive trip, Rangaiah was able to create a digital strategy with support from top executives.

The strategy involved the establishment of crucial media partnerships. As Rangaiah explained, "For the first time, we partnered with truly global media companies" -- companies that consumers have experience with worldwide. In addition to establishing a strategy that involves partners from around the globe, it's important to put "enablers in place to ensure your company can follow through on its vision." As a result, Unilever reframed a number of its tactics. For instance, the company reframed spending by putting in place mandates according to country and shifting money toward creating digital assets. It reframed its agency roster to eliminate redundancies and create fluidity. Recognizing the power of data, Unilever hired a company to handle its data management. In addition, the company enhanced its global planning services and reframed its use of technology to ensure all of its brands were operating on the same platforms. And lastly, the company reframed its skills by creating a "rigorous digital training program," attending key events, and establishing a digital advisory board, among other initiatives.

A number of impressive campaigns were the result of this complete marketing overhaul. As Rangaiah explained, marketers must "create the right kind of marketing using the benefits of the internet." Proof that Unilever has done so is evident in the following campaigns.

Dove ad makeover

According to Rangaiah, only 4 percent of women in the world think they are beautiful, and a lot of negative stereotypes about women are perpetuated by advertising. As a result, Dove created an "app" on Facebook that allows individuals to replace negative ads with more positive advertising messages. Rangaiah showed the following video to demonstrate:

This campaign fundamentally challenges the way advertisers employ media and, as Rangaiah explained, it completely "reframes social media."

The Axe wake-up service

According to Rangaiah, males ages 17 to 23 "use their mobile phone as their alarm clock 80 percent of the time." Using this insight, the company created an app customized by country that wakes users up every day with the woman of their choice. What's so powerful about this service is that it provides "both utility and entertainment for consumers."

Pureit "Waterworks"

Rangaiah proceeded to discuss Unilever's commitment to driving social good and sustainability by detailing the water purification brand Pureit. According to Rangaiah, Pureit filters are very easy to use and cost-effective in developing markets, where one is able to purify extremely dirty water. According to Rangaiah, this effort brings together three important trends: living sustainably, the growing power of digital, and developing emerging markets. Using Facebook, users are able to donate money to help provide clean drinking water around the world. Here's a video detailing the initiative:

Rangaiah concluded by reiterating an emerging iMedia Summit theme: "This is the best time to be in advertising."

Kyle Montero is associate editor of iMedia Connection.

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