Unilever CEO Alan Jope is close to naming a chief marketing officer to replace Keith Weed--and his pick may come from outside the company.
But even before he signs on a new CMO, Jope has plenty of his own ideas about marketing, which include wanting holding companies WPP Group, Interpublic Group of Cos. and Omnicom Group to assign Unilever brands talent from throughout their organizations, rather than sticking with specific agency-brand pairing. And he acknowledged strict conflict rules need to go away to make that happen.
Jope retained recruiting firm Egon Zehnder to help with a CMO search that included internal and external candidates. He’s made some interesting outside hires in recent years, including bringing on former Amazon and Procter & Gamble Co. executive Sunny Jain to fill his old job heading global personal care.
The Unilever CMO job will include yet-unspecified additional duties beyond marketing, Jope said. Weed also oversaw communications and sustainability efforts.
Jope made those comments in a media briefing following his Wednesday presentation at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, where he bucked the wishes of festival organizers by talking about brand purpose and calling out companies for “woke-washing” by failing to act on their advertised beliefs.
“The Cannes Lions team asked me not to talk about purpose today, which is why we had to come up with this ridiculous title about Walruses,” Jope said from the Cannes stage. (The session was billed by festival organizers as "Creativity Can Help Save the Walruses.") “And that of course only strengthened our conviction to do so,” he said.
That’s not to say Jope doesn’t take purpose seriously. In fact, he says all Unilever brands eventually will have to find their purpose, a la Dove’s "Campaign for Real Beauty," or get divested. He declined to list afterward which brands were under the purpose gun, but said Marmite is safe, while U.S. personal-care brand Caress isn’t.
The company’s 28 Sustainable Living Brands, including Dove, Knorr, Persil/Omo and Rexona, grew 69 percent faster than the rest of the business last year.
“Just over half volume today comes from what we consider to be purpose-led brands,” Jope said. “I expect that to be up to 80 percent in a few years time.”
He’s not setting a firm cutoff date, and noted that it will be a gradual and often difficult process.
Besides Dove, Jope pointed to Ben & Jerry’s, whose founders still come to work at their old Burlington, Vermont, headquarters, as another clear purpose-led brand. The ice cream brand recently launched a campaign decrying the fact that legal cannabis operations are mostly run by white guys, while many black men continue to serve time for cannabis-related crimes.
“They are a pair of pot-smoking hippies,” Jope said, “and that’s what gives them legitimacy to talk about these issues.”
But he said marketing broadly is “at a crossroads, frankly, because there are too many brands that are undermining purposeful marketing by not backing up what the brand says with what the brand does.”
Unilever won’t work with agencies that make “false purpose” ads, either, but will work with people from a lot of agencies throughout its holding companies.
“I don’t want to have a relationship with just one narrow vertical at WPP,” Jope said, adding that Unilever is “about two-thirds of the way through shifting our relationships with our brands to the holding-company level.”
As a result, he acknowledged Unilever has to be less concerned than in the past about conflicts in which its agencies work with competitors. “We don’t want the same people working on [competitor] brands at the same time, but the holding companies will have to work with our competitors,” Jope said. "We do ask that the holding companies create some internal barriers to prevent the flow of sensitive information between teams.”
Jope said loosening the conflict rules for agencies was only fair in a world where their business partners have similar conflicts.
“Accenture, Microsoft, your tech partners,” he said, pointing to examples where competitor conflicts are tolerated. “We have a great relationship with Facebook. But they also have a relationship with Procter and L’Oreal, so get real.”