"This is a huge boost for online advertising-an enormous vote of confidence," said Jim Nail, online advertising analyst at Forrester Research.
Spending estimates break out at about $20 million for AOL and about $10 million for Microsoft.
OLD QUESTION ANSWERED
"I think the answer to that tedious old question of when are consumer goods advertisers going to come to the Web [en masse] has pretty much been answered," said Jupiter Communications analyst Evan Neufeld.
Details about specific advertising and promotions on AOL and Microsoft Network of Online Services are still being hammered out, but neither deal is exclusive.
AOL does have some ad relationships with Procter & Gamble Co., a key rival of Unilever, but MSN does not.
Unilever's move follows P&G's recent announcement to dedicate more money to online advertising and a commitment to host an August summit to discuss the future of Internet advertising.
"I think this is a harbinger of things to come," said Myer Berlow, AOL senior VP-interactive marketing. While marketers are talking about online advertising and strategies, "This is a case of a major marketer putting their money where their mouth is," he said.
He compared the current online advertising environment to the early '50s, when large package-goods advertisers went to TV and helped push the business forward.
Unilever plans to establish an Interactive Brand Center to handle the partnerships. The marketer also will work with both Microsoft and AOL to develop new next-generation interactive advertising methods for consumer goods.
DUAL GOALS ONLINE
A Unilever spokesman said the company sees the deals as a way to generate impressions online and drive consumers to the individual brand Web sites.
Not everyone at Unilever was in on the early details of the deals. One executive said the media department learned about the deals at the same time as the rest of the world.
Under the AOL deal, Unilever products will go onto AOL services in Canada, the U.K., Germany, France, Japan and, later in the year, Australia.
Contributing: Jack Neff.