Unilever to Review Massive Global Media Account

Package-Goods Giant's Measured Spending Totaled $755 Million in the U.S. Alone

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- One of the world's largest advertisers, Unilever, is launching a massive review of its media planning and buying later this month encompassing 13 countries around the globe. The payoff for the winning agencies will be huge, considering that Unilever spent $755 million in measured media in the U.S. alone last year; Ad Age's annual Leading National Advertisers report found that the consumer-package-goods giant laid out $2.4 billion overall on advertising in the U.S. in 2008.

In a statement, the company said the majority of its media duties are handled by "aligned, leading agencies from within the WPP, Omnicom and Interpublic marketing-services groups," and all three agency groups are invited to take part. A Unilever spokeswoman said the company was not "discarding the possibility of inviting another," non-roster agency to take part in the review.

The statement went on to say that it's Unilever's policy to periodically review its media-agency relationships. Omnicom's PHD works with Unilever in Canada and Central Europe, and Interpublic Group of Cos.' Initiative also has a relationship with the marketer.

A spokesman for WPP's MindShare, which handles the U.S. business, along with the important U.K., India and China markets, said the agency had no official statement but was planning to participate in the review. An Omnicom Media Group spokesperson referred calls to the client, as did a spokesman for Initiative.

Opportunity for Initiative, PHD
A high-ranking industry executive told Ad Age the review is an opportunity for the Omnicom and Interpublic agencies to significantly expand on their current relationships with Unilever. "If the reports are right about the regions up for review, this is a huge opportunity for Initiative and PHD," the executive said. "When you think about Unilever, given their footprint, you think about the U.S., U.K., India and China. Those are huge opportunities, and they are all in review." Other regions included in the review are Argentina, Mexico, North America, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Russia.

MindShare's work for Unilever includes the webisode series "In the Motherhood," which was eventually turned into a sitcom for ABC in the U.S., and an award-winning product-integration effort for Unilever's Dove with "Ugly Betty" in China.

A Unilever spokeswoman said the review is "long overdue" because of all the changes in the past couple of years both internally at Unilever and within the larger media landscape. She said the company is trying to find ways of working that are "even better for our business," and stressed: "It's not to say we want to end up with one agency for all countries. That is not the aim."

Laura Klauberg, Unilever VP-global media said a statement: "As we drive media innovation and improved value for Unilever, and as dramatic changes in the media landscape reshape our communication needs, we are continuing to evaluate the service and capabilities of our media agency partners across all disciplines. Unilever has undergone significant change in the past four or five years, and this review gives us the opportunity to find the optimum solutions for our business."

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Rupal Parekh and Emma Hall contributed to this report.

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