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Marketing Matters

Unilever On Digital’s Unspoken Contract

David Porter, Vice President for Global Media at Unilever, says he realised the world was turning one lunchtime. “I started to see people sitting around having lunch, in an office, watching movies in groups on their mobile phones,” he told the All That Matters conference in Singapore.

The lesson from David’s lunchtime was that digital was no longer a novelty, but the way people – especially in the rapidly growing markets in Asia – lived their lives. This wasn’t just a story about devices but about the norms and unspoken contract that governed communication between companies and their customers.

Up to that point, the idea that underpinned such communication was that consumers would tolerate advertising as the price for TV access, allowing marketing messages to seep in over time, altering behaviour and buying choices. On digital devices that level of tolerance had changed.

“We built our businesses by trying to build brand love, but interrupting somebody on that machine does not build brand love,” rued David. “We can’t assume that we will be welcome on that device.”

The most obvious impact of this shift in norms is that people have much shorter attention spans. “We now have so much less time: just one or two seconds to convey the whole message. Thirty seconds is almost the director’s cut, and is a luxury in Asia now.”

This lightning-quick advert length has put a premium on both the production quality of the advert and the creative process behind it. The other premium is on the brand message itself. “Being relevant is far more important than it was five or ten years ago. For brands it’s now about having a real purpose behind what you’re doing,” said David.

Unilever, of course, has built a reputation for building brands with purpose. The digital revolution has made the communication of that even more important. “Brand love is everything,” David told his audience, and building up something like a sustainability agenda is only an advantage in building this if you communicate it well.

So how do brands stay fresh in this environment? David said it was all about the message, citing how Cornetto Ice Cream evolved its work over four years in China. Campaigns for teens were updated constantly, working with the most current stars, music, ad platforms and technology. What didn’t change was the core message. “It all came down to having consistency of purpose” he said. “Being really, really clear on what the brand stood for, because that trumps all”.

Perhaps that has always been the case, but it has never been as important to remember it as in this tricky digital age.

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