Unilever’s Weed: Brands Must Be Made Into ‘Media Properties’

When Unilever’s Keith Weed thinks about the future of brand building, he points to an Axe-branded phone sold in Latin America.
To Weed, the chief marketing and communication officer at Unilever, modern marketing embraces the convergence of entertainment, media and brands. He reiterated that point several times Tuesday during an interview at the 4A’s Transformation 2011 conference in Austin, Texas.
“We’re going to have to make our brands much more media properties in [their] own right,” said Weed, who was interviewed by MediaLink chairman Michael Kassan. “We . . . have to connect much more with content and make our brands more relevant.”
Unilever is the second largest advertiser globally (after rival packaged-goods giant Procter & Gamble), with annual marketing spending that exceeds $3 billion. What’s more, one in three people worldwide touch a Unilever brand each day, according to Kassan. As such, “we can’t afford to be niche in what we do,” Weed acknowledged. “I need to know what’s going on in the U.S., what’s going on in China, in Indonesia, in India, et cetera.”
While the infrastructure varies from country to country, consumers in those markets share a fascination with social media, video, gaming and the like. So, different cultures have more in common than in the past, thanks largely to the Web and new technology. The challenge for marketers and agencies, according to Weed, is to dive head first into that scrum.
“You’re not going to be a great prize fighter, a great boxer by watching people box and reading some boxing magazines. The only way you’re going to do it is to get into the ring and have a fight,” Weed said.
Accordingly, a group of some 20 Unilever executives traveled to Silicon Valley last spring in a “digital journey” that resulted in new deals with Facebook and Apple. Weed is heading back to Northern California this Friday to continue similar meetings.
At the same time, Unilever is meeting with content creators like Disney to create entertainment opportunities. Weed also mentioned gaming as a furtive ground for brand development.
Media fragmentation—and its resulting complexity of choices—remains the biggest challenge facing Unilever and its agencies. Brands can be part of the answer, by connecting media channels in an organized and compelling way, according to Weed. After all, as he sees it, brands simplify life and can simplify the media scene as well.
For more highlights from the 4A’s conference, check out Andrew McMains on Twitter.