Unilever’s Marc Mathieu on the benefits of bringing creative and media teams closer together | M&M Global

Unilever’s Marc Mathieu on the benefits of bringing creative and media teams closer together

Unilever is looking to forge a “much closer relationship” between creative and media teams, to ensure message and medium become more complementary in brand campaigns.

Marc Mathieu

Speaking to M&M Global at last week’s ISBA Annual Conference in London, Unilever’s senior vice president of global marketing Marc Mathieu said a new approach was needed to ensure relevance with consumers.

“In a world where the medium is the message, and the message is the medium, we are creating a much closer relationship between creative teams and media, and bringing channel planning earlier into the process,” said Mathieu.

He used the example of All Things Hair, a cross-brand YouTube platform featuring styling advice videos which mention Unilever products, as an instance of harmonious bond between creative and media.

“The job to be done was very clearly identified,” he said. “People search for ‘hair’, so how do we make our brands more relevant in people’s searches? We could have created an ad, and we would have been very happy about it, and then put it on YouTube, but that is not what people would have seen.”

Pervasive media

Although Mathieu admitted media partnerships remained “critical” in helping Unilever to scale its messages, he said the FMCG company must revise its marketing approach from one based on interruption to a system where consumers communicate with brands as and when they please.

“The reality is that the marketing model we have built using pervasive media and a captive audience completely ready for advertising has fundamentally changed. We need to move to letting people pull our brands into their lives in a way that is on their terms,” he said.

To help instigate this change, Unilever recently launched a new global training programme for its marketers. The initiative, called ‘ART’, aims to help brand marketers create “authentic”, “relevant” and “talkable” communications that consumers find useful and wish to share.

It marks the latest phase of the firm’s global brand-building strategy, ‘Crafting Brands for Life’. Developed and launched by former Coca-Cola and Danone marketer Mathieu following his arrival at Unilever in 2011, he said the platform remains “alive” and “absolutely relevant”, helping the company to “consistently train people” and internally communicate its marketing philosophy.

More recently, Mathieu led the launch of the Unilever Foundry, a venture to connect the company’s brands with technology start-up. The scheme, which kicked off in May last year, has led to 55 briefs so far, each worth a maximum of $50,000. Over $2m has been invested through the Foundry to date.

It has also helped Unilever to move quicker with its marketing plans, he claims: “We like that the briefs are brief, more like a tweet than a multi-page document. We can go from pitch to pilot in six weeks, which is another benefit, rather than complex briefs needing approval and budget.

“The idea is not about doing a demo and then deciding what you are going to do. You deploy something and see if it work.”

Skills pressure

The desire to work with a wide range of start-ups is creating a greater pressure on Unilever marketers to expand their skill-set, but Mathieu insists this is nothing to fear. Just as brand marketers do not need to know how to create a TV ad or buy media, nor must they understand the intricacies of new technology.

“The reason we say young marketers should learn coding and data science is not to become proficient in it, but to lower their fear, and raise their ability to have intelligent conversations with those whose job it is,” he said.

Mathieu cites a Knorr campaign using artificial intelligence (AI). It allowed busy home cooks to SMS the brand with a list of the ingredients in their fridge and pantry, and subsequently receive a recipe idea based not only on those items, but also on conversational style and previous requests.

“It has made AI relevant and interesting for several of our marketers. AI is complex, much like big data. It is so big that people don’t even get started. But when it is about helping housewives to find a recipe at 4pm, then you understand that it is not rocket science,” said Mathieu.

“Sometimes it’s easy for a marketer to be mechanical, as opposed to really falling in love with a brand. It is about the balance of logic and magic, art and science, and giving people the permission to pursue great creative ambitions.”

Unilever is in the midst of a review of its global media planning and buying agency arrangements.

The incumbents include Omnicom’s PHD in parts of Asia and Europe, Mindshare in North America, parts of Europe and Africa and Initiative for LatAm, Europe and Russia.

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