The Force Behind Digital at Unilever

Caroline Slootweg Knows the Challenge of Repeating the Success of 'Evolution'

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Unilever's creative success with Dove's "Evolution" viral may give the impression it has mastered digital media, but Chief Marketing Officer Simon Clift knows better.

"We're not all there," Mr. Clift said. "There are some fantastic examples of best practice, and there are some other brands where we're not as good yet."

And so Unilever recently appointed Caroline Slootweg, of Dutch ancestry, South African origins and a former exec at Ogilvy & Mather, New York, as its director–digital marketing and new media. Her crisp suburban-New York accent and confidence belie that she knows she occupies a post that's on its second life.

"It's a mandate that brands have to start thinking about this area," she said. "If I sense a huge amount of hesitation [from Unilever marketers], I keep saying, 'Don't worry; if you screw up, I'll be fired, not you.'"

Challenges
Ms. Slootweg survived the dot-com bubble and made the morph into relationship marketing at Ogilvy as Unilever was dismantling its old interactive marketing unit about five years ago. So she's realistic about the challenges of getting Unilever marketers behind digital media, or curing them of the widespread quaint notion that it's synonymous with having a brand website.

Repeating the success of "Evolution," or even reapplying it, won't be easy. "It will be difficult to repeat," she said. "People need to understand that viral needs a seeding strategy. You need to have a certain number of people see it to start spreading the word. With Dove, you didn't have to do that because it was first of its kind [and got boatloads of free publicity as a result]."

Unilever's global trek into digital media is hampered by so many of its brands being so heavily developed in emerging markets, where digital media is relatively underdeveloped and TV is relatively cheap, Mr. Clift said. For that reason alone, TV will remain vital to Unilever for years to come.
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