Here's how Unilever thinks about digital marketing. Source: Shutterstock

Here’s how Unilever thinks about digital marketing. Source: Shutterstock

Why Unilever said advertisers must stop contributing to ‘noise’

WHEN IT COMES to sound outlays and commentary on the state of digital advertising and how businesses should spend on it, FMCG giants are some of the best-positioned to deliver advice.

That’s because they spend tens of billions on it every year across hundreds of brands that rely on massive sales volume to drive viable profit. And that means they’re biblically well-versed to comment on what’s working efficiently, what’s not, what’s worth spending on, and what’s falling flat. 

More than two years ago, Procter & Gamble’s Chief Brand Officer, Marc Pritchard, urged the online advertising industry to clean up its act. He called the digital ecosystem “murky, at best, fraudulent, at worst,” demanding the industry swap its walled gardens for transparent media supply chains. 

In 2018, meanwhile, Unilever’s Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, Keith Weed, said customer trust in advertising was deteriorating, with brands inadvertently funding terrorism and child exploitation through ad placements on platforms like YouTube.

At the Technology for Marketing conference, Wednesday (September 25), co-located with E-commerce Expo at London’s Olympia, Unilever’s Data and Innovation Manager, Charlie Clinton, warned that— bar a handful of global names who are “leading the way”— brands are not doing enough to improve their perception and provide any real value to customers.  

While this perception problem has contributed to rulings such as GDPR, he told the advertising industry to brace for yet tighter, more complex regulation in the coming years as a matter of inevitability, which will restrict members’ use of consumer data further. 

Citing stats from advertising think-tank Credos, Clinton said that from 48 percent public favorability in 1992, the advertising industry has fallen to just 25 percent. In a rank of ‘least trusted professionals’, meanwhile, advertisers came at the bottom, he said, below politicians and government ministers. 

Real value

While we have been talking about it for the “last ten years”, he laughed, brands must do more to provide value to consumers, who are more concerned about their data use by the day; who are now using ad blockers or have simply become banner blind; and who are faced with a barrage of retargeting, pre-roll, et al, everyday. 

“We need to focus on producing meaningful content, at every touchpoint, every time,” Clinton said. “[Consumers] are not engaging with us, they are engaging with content that inspires them, entertains them, educates them, maybe informs, helps or rewards. 

“The bottom line is content engages […] We create great content but we’re also spending a lot of money behind a banner ad, or five-second facebook ad— we’re not adding value, we’re just contributing to the noise.”

All this ‘noise’ is ultimately a waste of our advertising budgets if we’re not providing value to the customer at the same time. 

Clinton pointed to Netflix, Uber, Amazon, and Nike as brands that are currently “showing the way” in providing value. These companies have each taken an existing business model and have changed it, taking what have been transactional ‘one-by-one’ engagement models and turning them into services. 

They ensure ongoing success by fostering long-term relationships with customers by providing convenience; “If you make things easy for people they’re likely to stick around longer. This is the premise of Amazon Prime, Uber and Netflix— you don’t have a reason to change, so you stick.”

At the same time, however, while collection and use of consumer data is a large part of what’s brought advertising’s perception to its lowest ebb in recent years, Clinton said that while the future of marketing is “driven by data”, brands much rethink their approach to how they use it. 

“From a consumer perspective, if you are gathering that data and you are not improving your services for them through personalization, through upgrading your service, through functionality, then you are missing a trick and will probably fall behind your competitors,” Clinton said.

Rather than using customer data to guide programmatic campaigns, precision marketing, or “manipulative” advertising online to that specific customer, with the right consent, it can be used to generate new insights, where companies would have previously been dependent on research or focus groups. 

To cite Uber as an example; while adding local bus and rail timetables gave users another transport option away from its own business, it let the firm gather valuable circumstantial data as to why their customers might choose other options in the first place, allowing it to optimize its service and provide a better, real-time service as a result. 

In order for brands to win the kind of success seen by these disruptor brands, defined by long-term customer engagement, Clinton urged businesses to “start thinking about how you can step outside your category.” 

“The future of marketing is complicated, it is driven by data, but it’s about providing value to consumers,” said Clinton. 

On the impetus to tackle the perception problem around digital advertising, the Unilever manager asked marketers at Olympia, if they were asked by a stranger in a bar what their job was, what would they like the reaction to be?

“We’re not salesman, we’re entertainers, inspirers or assistants,” Clinton said.  


TechHQ is a media partner of E-Commerce Expo 2019 and published this story first.