Unilever: Brands Must Move Past TV Spots

Unilever’s creative agencies need to “move past their reliance on the 30-second spot” and focus more on social media efforts to keep up with modern consumers. So said Unilever’s vp, personal care Kathy O’Brien today at the American Association of Advertising Agencies’ Transformation Conference in San Francisco.

“The world has moved on. I think consumers have moved on, and we need to get past [TV spots] to figure out what the next way of talking to consumers” will be, said O’Brien. “I also put the onus on us. We rely heavily on it as well as a company. We’ve done it well for so long [that] we assume it’s at the core of everything we do and it doesn’t always need to be.”

As for social media, O’Brien said: “It’s a great way of communicating. Now you can hear back from people. You can hear about how they feel about the brand. They talk to their friends. All of a sudden you have — for example, in the world of Dove — huge brand advocates.”

Of course, brand feedback can be negative as well. But on balance, O’Brien sees more positive than negative in the use of social media channels.

“It’s going to painful. I think we’ve learned when we’ve made some mistakes. But when you make those mistakes, you just get better at it,” O’Brien said. “Social media is going to become the fabric that goes through all our communication efforts.”

O’Brien, interviewed by MediaLink’s Wenda Harris Millard for the conference, also called on shops to become more well versed across all disciplines, noting that consumers don’t distinguish between say, public relations and promotions, and agencies need to shed that mentality to achieve true integration.

“What we look for strategically [are] people who can bridge all those areas and bring together the most important part of the work,” O’Brien said. “What real strategic partners will be in the future are agencies that can bring all of that to us.” She added that shops that “realize that they can bring the entire story are the ones that will win in the future.”

Despite the shifting sands of marketing, O’Brien remains a “big fan” of the lead agency model. Why? Because when changes occur on the client side, a long-standing lead agency provides continuity and a deep understanding of the brands they handle.

“It works for us. We kind of think of the [lead agency] being the keeper of the equity. And that partnership has been very strong for us,” O’Brien said.