Bucking a trend, Unilever boosted its upfront TV commitment. This year "the stars have aligned," as Brad Simmons, VP-North American media for Unilever, sees it. With a renewed commitment to marketing outlays, Unilever's business has been steady while the market has moderated.
Mr. Simmons, 49, is a relative newcomer in a company where many peers are career-long employees. He started in media with Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis, in 1979, moving on to posts at Miller Brewing and Helene Curtis before joining Unilever when it acquired the company in 1996.
By 2001, Mr. Simmons was helping implement a new communications channel planning process along with the global buying and planning shop MindShare. Belying this year's heavier upfront spending, the system was designed to make the giant marketer less dependent on TV. And Unilever has shifted funds in recent years to print and online. But Mr. Simmons acknowledges that the media market has an impact regardless of the planning process.
"We know [TV] is incredibly effective," he says. "But we also know that we're in very competitive markets where we can't pass costs onto consumers readily. ... I've been very vocal with the sales heads of the networks about linking television marketplace inflation more closely with the overall rate of inflation."
Computerized marketing-mix modeling has also become a growing force influencing budgets for Unilever and its competitors. When TV rates moderate, the medium naturally looks better in any model. But communications planning is what gave Unilever flexibility to adjust.
"A major role communications planning played was getting us out of the trap of starting with what the TV budget should be every year and how many [30-second spots] do we need to develop," Mr. Simmons says. "Instead, we're looking at what are the most cost-effective ways to reach our consumers."
As the models showed Unilever's food brands in particular could benefit from more print, Unilever beefed up spending there in 2004. "We help brands understand what we think is the minimum we need to spend in media," he says, "We know that a mix is more effective than just using a single medium."
Mr. Simmons has seen communications planning evolve. "Initially I think it was viewed as an add-on to the marketing planning process," he says. "And it became readily apparent that it really had to become the fully integrated marketing planning process" including input from all marketing services shops. That, in turn, has helped Unilever deliver stronger integrated programs, he believes, including Dove's "Campaign for Real Beauty."