Unilever in no rush to return to Facebook and Twitter as alternatives do just fine
Unilever has found plenty of ways to spend its U.S. media dollars since exiting Facebook platforms and Twitter in July, and is doing just fine without them—though it probably will return slowly next year, provided they live up to commitments to moderate content, says Rob Master, VP of media and digital engagement at Unilever.
Among the alternatives Master sees as promising are Peacock, which he’s very glad he picked over Quibi, whose prospects he always doubted. In general, Master believes ad-supported streaming has promise, particularly as he expects “subscription fatigue” to set in for cash-strapped consumers in a crowded space and inevitably drive a shakeout in streaming services well beyond Quibi.
Unilever’s decision to leave Facebook and Twitter in July, because of growing polarization in the U.S. sparked by social unrest and the election, has also led the company to move funds into Snapchat, Pinterest, YouTube, iHeart, Amazon and Walmart Media Group, as well as conventional publishers like Condé Nast and a bit on programmatic media, says Master.
COVID-19 and social unrest this year have tested Unilever’s multi-year effort to become more agile in its marketing. But Master says the business is doing just fine and Unilever is finding plenty of platforms to help drive sales, as North American organic growth of 9% in the third-quarter showed.
No hurry to go back
Most Unilever brands remain off Facebook and Twitter, with the exceptions of five smaller, largely direct-to-consumer prestige beauty brands and Ben & Jerry’s, which has returned for issue-focused ads. Leaving the platforms has “opened up a host of opportunities to deepen our partnerships with the likes of Pinterest and Snap, who I think have found enormous momentum over the course of the past six or seven months,” Master says.
Unilever also has been doing pilots with TikTok and talking with the platform about the company’s Responsibility Framework for media, Master says.
But the marketer also has been talking to Facebook and Twitter about returning, he says.
“Will it go back to normal? Not for us, certainly in 2021,” Master says. “We will be watching closely their ability to deliver on the commitments that have been made. We have spoken to Facebook and Twitter and said we are planning, based on your commitments, to come back in 2021. We are going to be working closely with you. But I think it’s going to be very much a managed return to both platforms.”
He adds that “Facebook and Twitter are important platforms, there’s no question. We look forward to them delivering on some of these key commitments, and we think they’re an important part of our media mix.”
Pleased with Peacock
In the meantime, one of the newer alternatives Master is most interested in is Peacock, where Unilever is a platinum partner. He did talk with Quibi, during CES in January, about advertising in 2021, though he always had doubts about the now-shuttered platform.
“We were cheering for them, because the concept of an ad-supported streaming model is something we feel is really important,” Master says. “We made a decision to go with Peacock, which we think was a great and sound decision for a host of reasons, from the library to the business imperative.”
By business imperative, he means that, unlike Amazon or Apple, which don’t have to win in streaming to have successful businesses, NBC has to win with Peacock, Master says, which he says is also the case for WarnerMedia with HBO Max or ViacomCBS with Paramount+.
Quibi also had to win, but the odds always looked worse, Master says. “They had no library. They had no brand. There was no clear distribution model.” Those factors made it an uphill battle in a crowded space facing the likelihood of subscription fatigue, even without the pandemic undermining the premise behind Quibi’s on-the-go “quick bite” content, he says.
While Master says he can’t guarantee Peacock will succeed either, it has turned out to be “a tremendous experience.”
That includes ads for Talenti gelato, tailored to binge watchers; ads that pop up when people pause shows; and on-command ads in which Unilever teams with fellow Peacock partner Target to offer a $5 gift card with a $5 purchase of Suave products when people make the transaction using voice commands. Several brands are also doing integrations in Peacock original programming, he says.
While some of Unilever’s Facebook and Twitter money simply went into programmatic buys of digital display and video, “it wasn’t a large portion,” Master says. “We looked at a host of channels.”
That also included digital out-of-home and “opportunities with our core partnerships where we could add more, and others we were not really spending with.” Beneficiaries also included Hulu, YouTube, linear TV and online publishers.
New projects have included making Knoor a title sponsor of a “Make It Up As You Go” iHeart podcast with Miranda Lambert and Billy Bob Thornton, and recent get-out-the-vote efforts in collaboration with IHeart featuring Billie Eilish and John Legend among others.
“Generally,” Master says, “it’s been an opportunity for us to go deeper and expand our wings.”