Why Unilever believes "consumers are dead"

Andrea Sophocleous

"Consumers were a bad idea to start with. Consumers are dead," Marc Mathieu, Unilever's worldwide senior vice president/marketing, told delegates at the World Federation of Advertisers' (WFA) Global Marketer Conference, held in Sydney in March 2014.

"You are not consumers. You are people. You are only consumers [for] a very short fraction of your day, and you don't want to be considered – or to be labelled – as a consumer."

Such a shift in emphasis by the FMCG giant reflects a profound failure of the vocabulary – and resultant practice – of marketing. "We call people 'target groups' as though we wanted to shoot them. It's important internally for our marketeers, it's important for the moral approach that we have when we market our brands, to really think about people as human beings," said Mathieu.

"It's all of us rediscovering the importance of humanity in the work we do, and then -very importantly – being that in the pursuit of our brands, because unless we understand the fundamental human insight at the very heart of the strategy of our brands, we won't unlock a purpose. We can do great work that actually has commercial reward, but does also provide something meaningful to the people we serve."