Word-of-mouth is key to digital for Unilever

22 December 2009

LONDON: Digital campaigns benefit brands by encouraging "pass along" and word-of-mouth among consumers, Babs Rangaiah, vp of global communications planning at Unilever, has argued.

Simon Clift, the FMCG giant's chief marketing officer, has previously championed the use of social media as a means of connecting with consumers.

According to Rangaiah, one of the disadvantages of utilising digital platforms is that they are "much more labor-intensive with a lot more front-end money put into development of the campaigns."

More positively, he suggested, "because of the whole concept of pass along and word-of-mouth and building tools that allow you to share, you can generate more impressions that cost less."

The Anglo-Dutch corporation has recently appointed a number of agencies to handle global new media duties for brands like Axe and Dove.

Razorfish, Euro RSCGAKQA and Lean MeanFighting Machine are all among this group, with further shops set to be added in the near future.

Until now, Unilever has mostly relied on its creative partners to spearhead its communications in this area, such as with the award-winning Evolution, a viral film produced for Dove by Ogilvy & Mather, which boasts its own in-house digital expertise.

"We've been shifting from an over-reliance on traditional advertising into digital," said Rangaiah, who took on his worldwide role having previously solely focused on the US.

"One of the reasons I moved was to infuse media sensibilities generally into the creative development process. We've made significant strides in the US over the past few years, and now we're trying to infuse that across the globe."

Having considered between 20 and 30 agencies as part of this process, the company chose a "nice mix of extensions of some traditional agencies, some pure plays and some nimble, really creative agencies," Rangaiah continued.

These "best of breed" firms will enable the owner of Knorr and Hellmann's to develop an overarching digital strategy across the various markets in which it operates, but the London-based firm also intends to remain pragmatic.

In one example of this, Suave, its haircare and bodywash brand mainly sold in North America and Mexico, has handed Droga5 digital chores, rather than opting for one of the members of Unilever's global roster.

"We're trying to center things with these agencies, but there are a few additional local shops with strong abilities for that market that work closely with our company in those areas, and they'll be part of our roster as well," Rangaiah stated.

As such, while its top agencies are likely to handle the majority of localised activity, "if there are others we're working with, they'll probably be on the roster as well if they're good," he added. "We'll see what happens and adjust accordingly over the next three to five years."

Data sourced from AdAge; additional content by Warc staff