How Unilever Topped The Awards Report Chart

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As part of Ad Age's latest annual Awards Report tabulating the most creatively celebrated companies and personalities of the year, we asked winning marketers and agencies about their campaigns.

When Keith Weed stepped into his job as Unilever's chief marketing and communications officer in 2010, the company had just been named Advertiser of the Year at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival. But within a year, Unilever's award tallies slipped and by 2012 Unilever came in eighth overall in our Award Report rankings for campaigns like Dove "Real Beauty Sketches" and Ragu's "Long Days of Childhood."

Mr. Weed was determined to do something about that fall. And he's clearly delivered; this year Unilever is sitting pretty at the top of our list. More surprisingly, Mr. Weed managed this feat while stepping up copy testing and restraining agency and production fees.

Part of the success, he said, stems from Unilever's goal of doubling sales and increasing positive social impact while halving its environmental impact, which has inspired and motivated its ranks. The company has also boosted internal creativity by training 80% of its 6,500 marketers on his "Crafting Brands for Life" strategy.

That includes "putting people first," or as Mr. Weed puts it, looking at a whole person rather than "a head of hair looking for hair benefits." It also means "building brand love" through campaigns like Lifebuoy's "Help a Child Reach 5" handwashing initiative.

Many agency creatives have little love for copy testing, which they see leading to bland ads. But Mr. Weed has pushed for more pre-testing based on data showing it helps boost sales.

The issue is how you use it, which he said shouldn't be as a go/no-go tool. "We've tried to be really clear how it's to be used—as just one thing in judging advertising."

Some agencies didn't feel the love when Unilever Chief Financial Officer Jean-Marc Huet talked publicly about cutting "non-working media" costs, such as agency and production fees, an initiative Mr. Weed said he's led. "I think this is exactly what a modern-day marketer does, which is create the funds to invest in their brands and spend efficiently," he said, adding that it's helped Unilever hike media spending by more than $1.5 billion in recent years.

That doesn't necessarily mean cheaper ads, Mr. Weed said, but making fewer of them better. Ones that win awards.

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