Unilever Adjusts To World Of Expanding Choice
Rahul Welde, the executive stewarding media for Unilever in some of the world’s largest growth markets, oversees a world of rapidly expanding choice – both for him and the people he wants to reach.
“The landscape is changing very, very rapidly,” says Welde, VP of media for Unilever in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Turkey and Russia, in an interview with Asia Media Journal.
“Traditional media is fragmenting fast, specifically television, while simultaneously new media is growing rapidly.
“While TV is a growing medium in many markets, it is now coupled with many more options for consumers. That’s both a challenge and an opportunity.”
Fragmentation and competition
Economic growth may be good news for media owners, driving up both ad budgets as well as the number of brands competing for consumer attention.
At the same time however, this highly competitive environment of rising costs and competition is challenging the advertisers themselves to think up different ways to use media to get their message through.
“Fragmentation means it’s much more difficult and expensive to reach a set of audiences, but one can target much more narrowly than before,” Welde explains. “The same is true of digital. It’s one large medium but there are so many vehicles within that.
“The marketing task has become much more challenging, because coupled with the fragmentation there is also a much higher level of clutter, with more advertisers and advertised brands than ever before. Ideas and creative communication become very, very important.”
This raises the importance of making messages not just sharp, powerful and compelling, but also delivered in a brilliant way, Welde adds.
“The big change is the creative idea or message has to reside in many different channels,” the Unilever veteran notes. "The message and content continue to be king – that’s the most important aspect by far, but the majority of the play is in how the idea is brought to life."
Media channels now allow a greater degree of freedom to deploy the idea, Welde notes. "In the good old days we couldn’t choose cities, we couldn’t choose market subsets, we couldn’t chose local-only for video on YouTube," he says. "Now, in many markets, you have multiple choices.”
Risk and reward
Asia’s whirring economic growth is putting more money in people’s pockets, swelling the size of an increasingly prosperous middle class as well as creating millions of new consumers, able to buy branded goods and services for the first time.
It’s a seductive yet challenging opportunity, in a region where media is changing at an unprecedented pace and scale, where innovative ideas can rise above the noise and clever use of data resets the balance between risk and reward.
“We live in a very paradoxical world,” Welde says. “On one hand, consumers want high-definition, high-quality content, but if an idea is engaging we are quite happy to look at video shot on handheld cameras by amateurs. From a marketer’s point of view, this presents us with very interesting possibilities.
“We need many more ideas than we did before yet simultaneously we need that one big idea. There is fragmentation of media; from an advertiser’s perspective, we have to make sure we don’t fragment our resource.
“Multiple ideas and multiple TVCs make it difficult to cut through – you need a certain degree of impact, a certain weight behind whatever you choose is a good idea.”
This means a combination of some of the big partnerships Unilever has struck with broadcasters and content owners in Asia, such as Thailand’s Got Talent, Unbeatable in China and Vietnam Idol as well as many smaller sponsorships and integrations.
Benefiting from big partnerships
Investments are still spread across a variety of traditional and emerging channels, but an increasing focus on tentpole properties raises the stakes, especially untested scripts such as Unbeatable
, a drama created in China for one of Unilever’s shampoo brands, Clear.
“We mounted a huge marketing program for Clear’s Unbeatable to make it fail-safe, linking it up through the entire value chain of the consumer journey,” Welde says.
“It was still a gamble. We are proud and fortunate it has become a big hit. It pays off bigger dividends because the reward-return ratios are pretty strong.”
Unilever’s approach to such higher-risk, higher-reward projects is becoming markedly bolder.
“We are embedding these with very strong measurement so we know what we are getting in return, and can learn from our experiences,” Welde says.
“We’ve got to do traditional advertising, and we will continue to do that, but we will overlay that with a lot of these innovations.”
This is an edited extract from content published in the Q3 2011 edition of The Asia Media Journal. The latest issue of The Asia Media Journal is available in full here.