Unilever gets back to basics

11 September 2012

LONDON: Unilever, the consumer goods giant, is boosting its investment levels in copy testing and marketing training, as the company seeks to enhance the effectiveness of its communications.

Keith Weed, Unilever's chief marketing and communications officer, told Advertising Age in an interview that its attempts to mix "magic" and "logic" were progressing well.

"We've just about got the balance right," he said. "We could go further on the creativity." In seeming demonstration of its success, the firm's like-for-like sales rose by 7% in the first half of this year.

In a bid to ensure its creative work connects with the target audience, Unilever has raised its expenditure on copy testing, a strategy that has yielded positive results, according to Weed. 

"I've increased the spend on advertising pretesting quite significantly," he said. "I've certainly got enough evidence, real hard evidence, showing that ads we've pretested perform better in the marketplace than ads we don't. It's inarguable proof."

Despite this, Weed admitted that the organisation, which owns brands like Ben & Jerry's, Dove and Flora, had occasionally relied too heavily on copy-testing, rather than including it in a broader consideration set.

"If you use pretesting as a go/no-go gate, you're using it incorrectly," he said. "We have trends. We have marketing strategy. We have segmentation  ... We also have judgment and gut and all the other things. So to me, it's one of eight things you should be considering."

As part of a wider redefinition of its approach to marketing, Unilever is pursuing a policy called "Creating Brands For Life", instilling each product range in its portfolio with a clear purpose and mission.

"If you want to do magic, the first time you're not going to get it right," Marc Mathieu, Unilever's senior vice president of marketing, said. "You need to rehearse, repeat, learn and get it right

"That's why we used the imagery of craftsmanship, so people understand that magic doesn't happen by accident. We should do magic that works."

Unilever picked up 22 Lions at the 2012 Cannes Lions International Festival for Creativity. Axe deodorant took the top prize in the Creative Effectiveness Lions, which are supported by Warc. "The one I particularly covet," is how Weed described this award.

During Weed's tenure in his current role at Unilever, which began in 2010, the firm has also doubled its expenditure on marketing training, alongside taking an increasingly global approach to communications.

"We no longer live in a world where great marketing is going to be born in the West and exported to developing countries," said Mathieu.

Data sourced from Advertising Age; additional content by Warc staff