Editorial: Why Unilever is a smart client

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When a new brand disappoints, smart marketers know when the ads are not to blame. Ads for Unilever Bestfoods' Sizzle & Stir lived up to the brand's name. They sizzled with entertainment value and stirred consumers to buy the product-once. The quirky campaign featuring faded celebrities enticed consumers, but after sampling the product, many didn't return. Unilever Bestfoods put blame where it belonged: on its product.

This is not to say advertising can't flop-sometimes spectacularly-if it's off strategy, entertains but doesn't sell or is aimed more at winning creative awards than winning customers. That was not the case with Sizzle & Stir. The creative strategy behind its ads was solid: When you cook, you're family (a point made hilariously by showing disparate "family" members, from Mr. T to Loni Anderson and Mary Lou Retton). The message: The definition of family, and family cooking, has changed, and Sizzle & Stir can meet the needs of this new family dynamic.

As Unilever Bestfoods' Lipton unit learned, competing products were meeting this need, too. The category "is not getting bigger; we're just splitting the pie," said Senior Brand Manager Tom Ennis. The acknowledgement freed Unilever Bestfoods to pay attention to what went right in the Sizzle & Stir project: the ads from agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty, New York. The marketer has now charged the agency with devising a campaign for its larger side dish business. "We want them to focus on creating the same kind of breakthrough advertising for the bigger business in the hopes of seeing a much greater return," said Mr. Ennis.

Making the ads the villain in explaining a marketing flop is sometimes right, but sometimes too easy, as well. The Unilever Bestfoods decision not to do so is honest, refreshing-and stirring.

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