Unilever VP Takes an Axe to Old Broadcasting Theories

Q&A: Music Video for Body Spray Among Kevin George's Adventures in Interactivity

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Now that the broadcast ad model is essentially broken, marketers, content providers and TV operators alike are scrambling to come up with ways to make it more efficient.
Unilever's Kevin George: 'We're seeing pretty good engagement.'
Unilever's Kevin George: 'We're seeing pretty good engagement.'

Leading the charge is Unilever's Kevin George, VP-general manager of the company's antiperspirant, deodorant and hair-care brands. Mr. George has been instrumental in identifying interactive, customized opportunities for brands such as Axe, Degree, Suave, Dove and Sunsilk over the last three years. Interactive TV has become an increasingly larger part of Unilever's corporate strategy, too, with more than 30 brands currently testing the technology. Now that the footprint is larger -- more than 70 million cable households have interactive capabilities -- marketers like Mr. George are finding the engagement metrics behind a clickable TV ad are far more compelling than rerunning the same 30-second spot.

Unilever's "Advanced" TV ads, as they're occasionally called, have appeared in a variety of forms, from interactive overlays during on-demand programming to text-message opt-in requests to clickable pre-roll ads. And sometimes don't appear in the form of ads at all. Earlier this year, the company created a full-length music video for Axe that aired on on-demand network Music Choice, featuring the fictional band the Bom Chicka Wah Wah's. The music video became one of the top 10 most requested for Music Choice and has already garnered more than 1 million hits on YouTube.

Mr. George recently spoke with Madison & Vine to share some of his biggest insights from three years of interactive-TV ad experiments and his views on why the 30-second ad model will still be important to reinforcing all of Unilever's new-media investments.

Madison & Vine: What are some of the main objectives you're looking to achieve through i-TV campaigns?

Kevin George: Advanced television, i-TV, really gives us the opportunity to get a lot more value from our traditional TV ad spend. We're talking about a medium that is pretty restrictive and passive. What i-TV lets us do is get much more advanced in terms of accountability in the space, which is really important in today's environment of [return on investment]. We want to expand our digital strategy to the living room, rather than having people get off the couch and get to the computer. It increases the reach of something longer than the 30-second spot. It's a way of communicating with TV audiences that we can't otherwise.

M&V: How do you measure interactive TV differently from traditional TV advertising?

Mr. George: It depends on what you set up in terms of objectives, whether it's television, online or print. Frankly, we have different objectives we look for with each campaign. But we're seeing viewers spend between two minutes and 14 minutes engaging with advanced TV. It all depends on what the objective is ... but we're seeing pretty good engagement.
Axe continued to push comically exaggerated sexuality in a campaign for its Dark Temptation body spray.
Axe continued to push comically exaggerated sexuality in a campaign for its Dark Temptation body spray.

M&V: You scored a huge viral success with your fake music video for Axe on Music Choice. What made you decide to choose video-on-demand rather than just throwing it up on YouTube like everyone else these days?

Mr. George: Music Choice is really the on-demand music-video channel, so by putting it in there, and using Brightline's [Brightline Partners, an interactive TV company, has helped Mr. George and his team create interactive campaigns for the past three years] understanding of the space, we were actually able to see it viewed a lot more often than just putting it out there. ... While Music Choice works for that demographic, we're seeing other demographics starting to get involved with video-on-demand and advanced television because it's an easy medium.

M&V: The other interesting thing about your investment in i-TV is it kind of goes counter to the traditional package-goods marketing model, which is all about scale and fast reach. Is it OK that i-TV advertising gives you targetability at the expense of scale?

Mr. George: The thing about targeting is, this thing's in 70 million homes. If we wanted scale we could get it. But it is about ROI at the end of the day, and you can get scale in this. That's why more and more of our brands are getting involved in it. For us, targeting is always important -- why waste your message on people who aren't interested in it? While targeting is important, we don't want to indicate that's at any expense of scale. If the bigger cable operators start to play, we'd love to see what they can each deliver.

M&V: So does this signify the death of the 30-second spot for you?

Mr. George: The 30-second spot plays a role in the mix for anything. But now it's about how it works together with the other thing you're creating. If there's an Axe ad running, we take the generation that's the target for Axe and imagine taking them to a place where they can watch the making of that ad. Or watching a 30-second "Rookie" ad [for Degree], and having them push a button takes them into extra footage. We use the 30-second spot as an efficiency play, as a way to link people and get them interested in the other platform. The goal is to create something people want to seek out rather than trying to stick it in front of them.
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