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Unilever Inks Deals With Samsung, Sony as Its Digital Outlay Rises

Marketer Says Media Partners Benefit From Tough Love, Can Take Lessons to Other Advertisers

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Unilever has struck global partnerships with Samsung, Sony's Arcade Creative Group and EA Sports as the packaged-goods giant looks to expand its universe of deals on the heels of a nearly 40% increase in digital spending last year.

Programs are still in development, but the Samsung partnership will involve advertising and content creation for smart TVs, smart appliances and mobile applications. Initial projects will involve Axe and Hellmann's, said Gail Tifford, Unilever's senior director of media for North America.

A deal finalized last week with Sony is based on "understanding how central the role of music is for some of our brands and how we can work with Arcade," Ms. Tifford said.

Last year did Axe did a customizable graphic novel for iPad.
Last year did Axe did a customizable graphic novel for iPad.

The EA partnership, she said, stems from understanding that "whether it's the young mom or the young male, that gaming is a critical part of their lives," Ms. Tifford said.

Those pacts come in addition to alliances with Facebook, Twitter, Google and Apple, which last year included a customizable graphic novel for the iPad.

"A lot of these partners are coming to us so they can crack the code on how to communicate with the rest of the advertising community," Ms. Tifford said, "because they know we're incredibly tough [and] incredibly demanding, but that also helps them shape their offerings, so when they go to the next advertiser they're equipped to answer their questions."

To the toughness point, Rob Master, VP-media for Americas and Europe, pointed to Unilever's use of Nielsen's Online Campaign Ratings to ensure it's getting the demographics it pays for in digital media, and Adsafe to ensure its ads can be viewed and run in quality environments.

"While there was some push-back early on from some publishers," Mr. Master said, "we have found it's very limited, because we think these tools empower us and media companies."

The analytics pave the way for more digital deals, said Kathy O'Brien, VP-marketing at Unilever. "This kind of rigor and data has helped the internal Unilever higher-ups invest into the area, because not only have we proven it to the partners, but we've proven it to the company."

Unilever Chief Financial Officer Jean-Marc Huet joined the Unilever team at the Consumer Electronics Show last month, Ms. O'Brien said, "and left with a completely new understanding of where and how digital works and why it's such an important investment."

The rise in digital spending, she said, dovetails with growing investment in e-commerce, including establishment of a cross-functional digital and e-commerce team to work with Amazon, with which Unilever has been working to launch digital brand stores.

More broadly, Unilever has recently changed its marketing development process by prioritizing social and mobile in the communications-planning stage of its conversation, Ms. Tifford said. "It used to be we would say, "We're doing mobile,' and it was a tactical add-on to the media buy. But when you build brands in the digital age, you need to think about it before you're even developing your campaign."

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