Unilever takes TV production in hand

04 April 2011

LONDON: Unilever, the consumer goods specialist, is attempting to consolidate its list of TV production partners, reflecting a more international outlook.

Speaking in an interview with Advertising Age, Jorgen Bartsch, Unilever's vice president, marketing services, argued there was an imperative to streamline the arrangements governing this area.

"Currently we work with hundreds and hundreds of production companies," he said. "That's far too much. We need to bring them down to a manageable number."

While the initiative may offer operational benefits, Bartsch suggested that its main objective is to achieve enhanced congruence between its output around the world.

"[This] is first and foremost about quality and consistency globally," he continued. "From that no doubt we would hope to get efficiencies, but that's not the primary result."

In 2009, Procter & Gamble and Reckitt Benckiser made similar moves regarding gaining tighter control of television production, pursuing strategies such as identifying "approved" vendors for creative shops to employ.

Kimberly-Clark, the manufacturer of Huggies and Kleenex, is also examining possible modernisations in this field, drawing on the opinions of agencies.

But Unilever is not seeking to replace the outgoing system, where agencies propose production houses for approval, solely with a predetermined set of providers.

"There are dangers in that, and we've certainly taken that into our sense of direction," said Bartsch.

Instead, once the refreshed guidelines come in to force, which could be at the end of this month, Unilever's agencies can submit estimates supplied by firms of their choosing, alongside at least two from officially-recognised alternatives.

"It leaves the opportunity that there are always new production companies that can be part of those best quotes," Bartsch said. "We'd like to stay fresh and in touch with what's developing in the world, so it's not a closed roster."

Equally, Unilever is not strengthening its grip on other elements of the process when it comes to delivering TV ads.

"The agency will still be responsible for the advertising and the output," said Bartsch.

"They will brief the production companies for treatments, come back with those and then present the quotes to the Unilever brand team, who then together with the agency and the internal production team make the decision on which is the production company we would use."

As such, although the technical side of production is coming under increased scrutiny, the finished article remains in the hands of the experts.

"As far as content, that's very much between the creative agency and the brand team to resolve what content they use," Bartsch said.

Unilever intends to reappraise its slate of production houses either quarterly or biannual basis, and could ultimately roll out a parallel model elsewhere.

"We want to remodel the way we are managing advertising and artwork production just to build greater internal capability and stronger relationships with external partners," Bartsch said.

"The big item we want to make sure we have buttoned down is TV production, and then naturally we should evolve that and look at how it moves through to other areas."

Data sourced from AdAge; additional content by Warc staff