, the FMCG giant, plans to double its online adspend and heighten its presence on social media this year, as it seeks to respond to changes in behaviour among its target audience.
The rise of digital media, typified by sites like Facebook
, has posed major obstacles to brand owners as popular preferences are transformed.
"What is fascinating and scary is the nature of brands is changing," said Simon Clift
, Unilever's chief marketing officer, who will depart from the company
later this year.
"That requires a cultural change for companies like Unilever. We have to listen to genuine customer concerns. Companies aren't set up for that."
More specifically, adapting to the contemporary era will require matching the new activities favoured by its customers, who have migrated to emerging platforms at an extremely rapid speed.
"We are all learning. Unilever is ahead of much of the competition but behind consumers, which for marketers is not a comfortable place to be," Clift argued.
"We built our business on brilliant use of television. You can't immediately change your competence."
Unilever spent £4.7 billion ($7.2bn; €5.3bn) on marketing last year, and will double the share of its budget allocated to the web in 2010, as it did in 2009, as it focuses on "closing the gap" with consumers.
Looking to social media, Ben & Jerry's
, the company's ice cream brand, currently has 1.2 million fans on Facebook, a figure that stands at 120,000 for Dove
and 15,000 for its corporate page.
"We are finding social media the biggest challenge of all because there is a question to be raised about whether you have any right to be there," Clift said.
At present, the FMCG giant also has "no idea about the value of paid advertising on Facebook at the moment," he continued.
In reacting to all of these developments, many brand managers will have to educate themselves about the Web 2.0 revolution, Clift warned.
"There is a lost generation of marketeers. If you are 25 or 20, you know this stuff – you are brought up with Facebook and YouTube," he said.
"If you are 50, you see your kids do it. Most of our brands are managed by people who have had to learn it."
"The people who have most needed it are the people aged between 30 and 45, running global brands because they grew up after it and haven't seen their kids doing it."
Unilever is one of a number of advertisers, including Coca-Cola
and Procter & Gamble
, which have moved their agencies on to performance-based remuneration models
in the recent past.
Clift stated that its creative and media partners will have to play a key role in the "really rapid catch-up" with consumers, but also suggested that the public relations industry is best-placed going forward.
"PR used to be considered the poor relation of advertising. I think you could argue that word-of-mouth has always been the most effective form of communication. Digital PR is like word-of-mouth on steroids," he said.
Data sourced from Financial Times; additional content by Warc staff