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Is Unilever Looking to Challenge TV Dominance in Media Mix?

Sources say new review is not just about better pricing
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When Luis Di Como was promoted to svp of Unilever global media earlier this year, he said he was looking forward to making the marketer's advertising and promotion budget “work harder for us in different and exciting ways.”

So fast-forward, and Di Como has called a global media review, just two years after his predecessor concluded a previous global media buying rethink. The new initiative, which covers both planning and buying, begins next month. Incumbents are WPP’s Mindshare, which handles the business in North America and Western Europe; Omnicom’s PHD unit, which works for the marketer in China and Central Europe; and Interpublic’s Initiative, Unilever’s media agency in Latin America. The company said those agencies will participate in the review as well as a “few other carefully selected ones.” A Unilever representative declined to identify those media agencies.

Unilever has said publicly it spends about $7.8 billion ( €6 billion) on global advertising and promotion, with the split about two-thirds ad spending and one-third promotions. In the U.S. alone, the company’s media spending totaled nearly $720 million in 2010, down from more than $800 million in 2009, according to Nielsen. In the first nine months of 2011, spending exceeded $520 million. Those figures don’t include online outlays.

The review includes media services for four Unilever categories: foods, refreshment, home care, and personal care. Prior to the last agency evaluation, Mindshare handled the bulk of Unilever’s global media buying but ended up ceding key territory like Greater China (China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong) as a result of  the review. That process was procurement driven, with Unilever receiving more favorable rates from its agencies. This time around is somewhat different: “This review is Unilever wanting to challenge the dominance of TV in their media mix,” said one source.

In a statement, Di Como explained the rationale behind the evaluation of the company’s media partners: “We want to make sure that we continue to have the best-in-class agency partners to deliver Unilever’s vision: to double the size of our business while reducing our environmental impact. . . . Our new marketing strategy, Crafting Brands for Life, and our determination to continue leading in the digital marketing space also drive us to ensure that we are working with the best agencies to deliver our ambitions. The exercise is also in line with company policy to review media agency arrangements periodically.”

Di Como, formerly vp, media, Americas, took on his new role in April. He replaced Laura Klauberg, a 20-year Unilever veteran promoted to the top media job in 2007, who left the company. Unilever also named its first CMO since the last review, Keith Weed (to whom Di Como reports), who assumed that job in April 2010.