LONDON: The use of the term 'consumer' is declining at Unilever, the FMCG giant, as it seeks new ways of initiating a human conversation with the people who buy its products, a leading executive has said.

"People are real people – they are not heads of hair charging around looking for shampoo solutions, or a pair of armpits looking to be deodorised," chief marketing officer Keith Weed told Marketing Week.

"We talk about humanisation a lot internally," he said, adding that the word 'consumer' "puts a label or a badge on people who are actually you, your mum, your sister, and your friend".

He observed that television was the biggest and most powerful way to engage with people "but it isn't the way you chat to your friend and it certainly isn't the way you should talk to brands".

An understanding of how people connected through social media was necessary, Weed suggested, "because in the same way they are engaging with [other] people they are also engaging with brands".

Friends don't tell the same joke over and over again at a party, he remarked, and nor can brands simply repeat their product benefits. "If you want to engage people you have to be engaging and brands with a bit more depth do better," he said.

The Dirt Is Good campaign for Omo, the washing powder, was cited as example. "It's a great product and a great brand," said Weed, "but the fact that we go further to engage on the experience between families and the experience of going out and getting dirty under the Dirt is Good banner means we can go on to talk about child development and have a much deeper relationship [with the consumer]."

For the future, Weed regarded mobile as the company's biggest challenge and also its biggest opportunity. Currently, it was "barely leveraged", he said, but he expected it to have as great an impact on marketers as the internet had, by giving a direct connection to consumers.

Data sourced from Marketing Week; additional content by Warc staff