Unilever adapts US approach

25 October 2010

NEW YORK: Unilever, the FMCG giant, is responding to the "radical transformation" in US media habits by creating a "canvas of content".

"Consumers are going through a radical transformation in how they interact with media and how they connect with brands and advertising," said Rob Master, the company's North American media director, in Technology Review.

"The consumer doesn't think about having a viewing strategy for traditional, offline media and a viewing strategy for online media. They view the world in a certain way, and what we're trying to do is mirror that."

Reacting to such a seismic shift in popular behaviour, the owner of Knorr and Hellmann's has modified its approach, covering all devices and channels.

"We're trying to create what we call a canvas of content," Master said.

"It's not just about 30-second spots or home page takeover ads, but about taking your idea and rolling it out to the multiple screens that exist now."

Dove's "Evolution" was a pioneering, not to mention award-winning, early viral campaign.

But the brand currently only has 200,000 Facebook fans, after emphasising quality, not quantity.

"We don't have eight million fans on Dove's Facebook page. What we do have is really engaged and passionate fans, and that's really the focus of our strategy in the social space," Master argued.

"It's about providing an enriching experience with our content, not about getting as many people as possible to sign up so we can give away coupons."

Elsewhere, male grooming range Axe has attracted over 518,000 supporters on Facebook, adopting an irreverent tone suiting a comparatively youthful demographic.

"Each brand has its own audience," said Master. "Axe is all about helping guys in the mating game, bringing that vitality to life with a wink and a smile."

An ad for Axe, featuring a man made of chocolate who was irresistible to women, constituted another online hit, but Master suggested success cannot be pre-determined.

"We use the word 'viral' very carefully around here. Consumers decide what's viral," he said. "We brief our agencies for a great piece of content that's engaging and delivers our brand message."

A key aspect of Unilever's model is "superdistribution", moving beyond corporate websites to place material in locations where targeted netizens will visit.

"Our real focus is to go where consumers are," said Master. "Superdistribution is taking a great piece of content and syndicating it. You can see our video on the Yahoo home page and never leave that site."

Smartphones and tablets also now exert a substantial influence, and Unilever was one of the first marketers to buy iPad advertising, through Time magazine.

"The difference is that part of the experience is your finger interacting with the screen. We talk about how long consumers are engaging with our brands, and the iPad is a much more engaging device," said Master.

"With the iPhone, our Dove+Men campaign created a rich experience around baseball stars such as Andy Pettitte and Albert Pujols. We showed their homes, we showed their playlist on iTunes."

Indeed, 20% of individuals interacting with these ads returned to do so again, indicating how going further than mere promotion generates results.

Unilever uses Nielsen's Marketing Mix system when monitoring digital impact, and media agency Mindshare tags all relevant output, tracking metrics like video views, voucher downloads and sample requests.

"We go in with a clear understanding of the objective," said Master. "We can optimise in real time as we go."

Data sourced from Technology Review; additional content by Warc staff