Unilever’s Canvas of Content

Unilever is a European global giant that markets some 400 brands in 14 different categories to consumers. Its brands include Axe, Dove, Pond’s, and Vaseline in the personal care market; Comfort, Sunlight, and Surf in the home care market; and Bertoli, Hellman’s, Knorr, and Lipton in the foods market.

Unilever is also a company that has an enlightened view of the use of media for advertising – and it’s worth paying attention to what they have to say. In the current issue of Technology Review, Unilever’s North American Media Director, Rob Master, offers some insight into Unilever’s digital media strategy.

Master says “consumers are going through a radical transformation” in the way they utilize media and the manner in which they interact with advertising and brands. He says consumers don’t think about which medium they’re using, they just “view the world in a certain way.”

As a result, Unilever believes that the quality of the content makes all the difference to the consumer. The Unilever strategy, says Master, is “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.” The company is more interested in having a smaller number of “engaged and passionate” fans on Facebook rather than just getting a lot of fans to sign up.

Master says Unilever doesn’t produce videos with the intent of going viral; rather, “consumers decide what’s viral,” says Master. The company focuses on compelling content and hopes the consumer thinks it’s good enough to pass along.

Unilever uses what Master calls a “superdistribution” strategy – taking a great piece of content and syndicating it. He says every brand has its own website, but “our real focus is to go where consumers are.” For example, in the case of the brand Axe, a body spray for men, the company wants to “disseminate the ad to where the guys who like Axe are already going. We’re not spending money to drive guys to a certain place, but to connect where they already are.”

As for measurement, Master says the company tags “every piece of digital creative” and determines what the objective of the creative is before trying to measure its impact. Unilever uses the Nielsen Marketing Mix model for measurement because it is “more focused on better capturing the impact of digital.”

Unilever was one of the earliest iPad advertisers; Master says the device has the potential to be very engaging and keep consumers hooked into a brand experience for a longer period of time. The company also uses mobile ads on the iPhone, finding that 20 percent of an audience who engages with an iPhone ad comes back for a second experience.

When it comes to the challenge of creating ads for the “multiple screens” consumers interact with during a typical day, Master uses a wonderful phrase: “We’re trying to create what we call a canvas of content,” he says. “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.”

Other advertisers would do well to think about that “canvas of content.” They should learn how to create the best content and then apply it across multiple media to turn consumers into engaged, passionate brand advocates, as Unilever is doing. This is the kind of thinking it takes to differentiate a brand in a media-saturated, me-too world – and it’s one of the reasons Unilever is so successful at promoting its brands.

About Barry Silverstein

Barry Silverstein is a freelance writer/marketing consultant. In addition to writing for ReveNews, he is a contributing writer to Brandchannel.com, the world’s leading online branding forum. He is the author of three marketing books, The Breakaway Brand (co-author, McGraw-Hill, 2005), Business-to-Business Internet Marketing (Maximum Press, 2003) and Internet Marketing for Technology Companies (Maximum Press, 2003). Barry ran his own Internet and direct marketing agency for twenty years. You can find Barry on Twitter @bdsilv.

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