BATAVIA, Ohio (AdAge.com) -- Unilever has named its first global digital roster, pending some players to be named later, and has begun reviews for regional digital rosters in North and Latin America, Europe and Asia.
Publicis Groupe's Razorfish and Havas' Euro RSCG join independents AKQA and Lean Mean Fighting Machine on the roster. A fifth independent, Sapient, is likely to join soon, though some contractual details remain to be worked out with Sapient and with two other players that are extensions of major holding companies "that we still are in broader negotiations with," said Babs Rangaiah, Unilever's VP-global communications planning.
London offices of most of the players will take the lead, he said, but other offices will work on the sprawling global business as well. He said the global digital roster both reflects and facilitates a growing shift toward digital media, and it's being followed now with reviews to name formal regional digital rosters.
WPP and Mindshare
WPP, now likely Unilever's top advertising holding company, is notably un-represented on the list named so far, but appears likely to have a digital entry shortly. Its Mindshare media agency, which is involved in a separate global media review, has handled extensive creative duties on multimedia programs that include digital. (Traditional shop Ogilvy & Mather, Toronto, won Grand Prix and Titanium Lions at Cannes for Dove's 2006 "Evolution" viral.)
Mr. Rangaiah said the media review wasn't really a factor in delaying completion of the digital roster, though it may have factored in the delay in naming two of the holding-company players.
The fast-growing list of digital shops marks a significant change for Unilever, which until recently had much of the digital work for key global brands, such as Axe and Dove, handled by its lead creative agencies of record, such as Bartle Bogle Hegarty and Ogilvy & Mather, though the latter is always quick to note that it is also a digital agency.
The appointment of a global digital roster -- to be followed by formal regional digital rosters -- recognizes that Unilever's growing digital needs require more help from digital specialists, Mr. Rangaiah said.
"We've been shifting from an over-reliance on traditional advertising into digital," he said. "One of the reasons I moved [to the global job from the U.S. in 2007] was to infuse media sensibilities generally into the creative development process. ... We've made significant strides in the U.S. over the past few years, and now we're trying to infuse that across the globe."
The global digital roster is part of a program that includes establishing a global digital strategy and guidelines, "and part of that is looking at who's going to help us as the best of breed to help us in this area."
The review included looking at 20 to 30 agencies, he said. The final group he called a "nice mix of extensions of some traditional agencies, some pure plays and some nimble, really creative agencies."
Some regional brands may continue to work with other shops. Suave, for example, recently appointed Droga5 as its digital agency.
"We're trying to center things with these [global] agencies," he said, "but there are a few additional local shops with strong abilities for that market that work closely with our company in those areas, and they'll be part of our roster as well."
The regional rosters are expected to mostly be made up of extensions of the global shops, he said, "but if there are others we're [already] working with, they'll probably be on the roster as well if they're good."
Ultimately, Mr. Rangaiah said some of the digital shops may become lead creative agencies on the brands.
"We'll see what happens and adjust according over the next three to five years," he said, noting that agency models are fluid, with Unilever's small European Pepparami brand having ended its relationship with traditional agency Lowe earlier this year in favor of crowdsourced creative.
Third-party measurement services generally peg Unilever digital-media spending in low- to mid-single-digit percentages of its measured media spending, but such tallies don't include spending on mobile, search, video and much of the cost of behavioral targeting.
Mobile's growing presence
Mobile in particular is an area where Mr. Rangaiah expects a growing presence for Unilever brands, including in the U.S., where he said the rapid growth of smart phones is making programs far more effective.
But realistically, he said the cost of creative and technology development relative to media is significantly different in digital than traditional media.
Digital, he said, "is much more labor-intensive with a lot more front-end money put into development of the campaigns, and then because of the whole concept of pass along and word of mouth and building tools that allow you to share, you can generate more impressions that cost less."