Interpublic Group of Cos.' Initiative Media Worldwide, WPP Group's MindShare and Omnicom Group's Optimum Media Direction are competing in the review, which is being conducted by Brad Simmons, VP-media services, Unilever U.S., and Alan Rutherford, the Anglo-Dutch company's London-based global media director. Second-round pitches will be heard in mid-October, with a final announcement possible as early as November.
The projected increase in media spending is thought to take into account the company's pending acquisition of Bestfoods by next year, though no one at the company will confirm that. Unilever's proposed $20.3 billion purchase of Bestfoods, marketer of Skippy peanut butter and Knorr soups, has yet to be concluded.
The U.S. media review was originally set in motion in October 1999 but put on hold in December. In an unusual move, participating agencies from the Botway Group (now part of Initiative), along with Interpublic, WPP and Omnicom, were asked whether the review should take place, and if Unilever should pool its accounts or keep them separate. The agencies felt the need to clarify their own organizational structures before they could answer. Now Unilever is clear in its brief to consolidate its planning and buying business.
In a separate move, Unilever this month appointed its first interactive media buying agency of record for North America. OgilvyOne and digital@jwt will combine resources as "the Unilever Alliance" for the new assignment. Budget figures were not available. The alliance's brief is to identify emerging interactive opportunities, maximize cost-effectiveness across Unilever brands and assist the company in development of best practices for online media.
Unilever said it will continue to work with multiple interactive agencies for both creative and media online strategies. "The decision to appoint an AOR for interactive media signals the growing importance of interactivity as part of Unilever's core media strategy," Mr. Simmons said.
Unilever posted U.S. revenue of approximately $8 billion in 1999.
The decision to consolidate, part of a process Unilever has been undertaking around the world since 1998, is in line with a growing trend. In the past 16 months, U.S. marketers that have or are consolidating media planning and/or buying include ConAgra, General Motors Corp., Kraft Foods, Levi Strauss & Co., Pfizer, Morgan Stanley Dean Witter and Pharmacia Corp.