Unilever Dines with Time

Unilever is taking a seat at the table with Time Inc.’s “Dinner Tonight.” The food giant will advertise seven of its brands across the publisher’s popular franchise which runs monthly in Cooking Light and daily at MyRecipes.com.

Under the agreement, Ragu, Hellmann’s, Country Crock, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!, Wish-Bone, Knorr and Bertolli pasta sauces will be promoted across Time Inc.’s “Dinner Tonight” print, online and mobile properties.

The strategy is indicative of Unilever’s new approach in dealing with media partners. Like many in the packaged goods arena, Unilever has been challenging key publishing partners to take campaigns beyond their magazines.

Publishers must offer advertising solutions that thrive beyond the print world, said Unilever’s North American media director, Rob Master. “We tell them, ‘Don’t just come back with a bunch of insert pages.’ They have terrific assets, whether it be mobile or digital, and we want to leverage those.”

Unilever, likewise, wants to capitalize on the eat-at-home trend. An advertorial in this month’s issue of Cooking Light, for instance, positions Ragu as a key ingredient in a recipe called “Mama’s best ever spaghetti & meatballs.” Opposite is a full-page ad for Ragu that reads: “Spaghetti and meatballs for less than two dollars a serving? With Ragu, your kids get more than a full serving of veggies that they’ll actually love to eat.”

Issues of Cooking Light also will include in-book, recipe-themed shopping lists.

Online, Cooking Light editors explain how to incorporate the brand into different recipes in a series of Web videos. Unilever products will be integrated into recipes on MyRecipes.com.

A mobile application launching this week allows consumers to browse more than 30,000 recipes across MyRecipes.com.

Meal solutions incorporating Ragu will be integrated into the mobile database later this month. For example, when a consumer searches for a dinner involving spaghetti, a related Ragu recipe may pop up. “It’s essentially a product placement, a perfect fit for consumers looking for recipes with sauce associated with them,” said Steve Zales, Time Inc.’s lifestyle group’s digital president.

Both companies say it’s the first time either of them has collaborated with an advertising partner to this extent. Zales calls it the “first fully integrated sponsorship of a [media] property” for his lifestyle division, which was formed last fall.

The concept, though, is hardly new. Suzanne Grimes, president of Reader’s Digest Association’s Food & Entertaining division, for instance, formed an in-house sales and marketing team specifically to create these kinds of integrated efforts. “Their sole purpose is to leverage multiplatform opportunities for clients, and we specialize in consumer packaged goods companies,” she said of the group’s function.

General Mills, for example, ran an integrated campaign across Reader’s Digest Association’s Every Day With Rachael Ray and Taste of Home food titles.

Following a 5.6 percent sales lift for Chex, General Mills has returned as a second-time sponsor, with a promotion timed for the June issue of Every Day With Rachael Ray and a digital campaign launching mid-May.

In this economy, Grimes said, “Smart marketers are demanding integrated solutions that meaningfully drive performance.”