Online All Star, Marketers: Rob Master, Vice President, Media, Unilever

Rob Master

The Model Marketer

The great marketing Web rush left many prospectors panning for impressions that just were not there, but Rob Master and Unilever struck gold again and again. Campaigns such as Suave's "In the Motherhood," "Evolution" (the viral behemoth that set the bar), and "The Campaign for Real Beauty" for Dove, as well as "The Axe Effect" and other Web-based hits for men's body spray, Axe, found mass audiences utilizing fragmenting digital media.

Noting at a conference in 2008 that marketers had made a shift in their media budgets and were following consumers onto the Web, Master said, "You can't stop there. You have [to] follow consumers to where they are on the Web. Which isn't necessarily your brand Web site ... the idea that you just build it and they will come, simply does not apply." Master concentrated on telling his brands' stories not only on the Web, but across media in general.

Unilever continues to follow its audience wherever and whenever it shifts. This thinking led Unilever to become the first paying customer for Apple's iAd platform, bringing basketball greats Magic Johnson, John Thompson and Bobby Hurley to the iPad with Dove's "Journey to Comfort." But being first is not what's important; it's having the flexibility and confidence to take the leap. "The pace of change never slows down," says Master, "and it's vital to stay one step ahead of it if you want to be successful."

Integration and synergy among media brought Unilever some of its biggest recent marketing successes, effectively passing the same messaging across channels, going to consumers wherever they were, not just wherever they were on the Web (in fact, "In the Motherhood" even made it to tv as a full-fledged sitcom, which ran briefly on abc).

"Consumers don't appear to distinguish which  device or format provides their content," Master tells OMMA. "But as marketers, I think we have an amazing opportunity to better leverage the  unique attributes of each platform to better engage consumers and connect them with our brands. For us, as marketers, we'll always want our brands to be where their consumer is, regardless of the medium."

According to Master, it all comes down to one of the basic tenets of marketing - one to which everyone from Don Draper to the latest viral virtuoso would adhere: "Even though we're living in an infinitely more complex, networked, sophisticated and technologically advanced time, nothing will ever replace the power of a great idea."

Being at Unilever - the second-largest consumer packaged goods marketer in the world - since 2002 has afforded Master a very large sandbox in which to play. "It's been a fantastic experience working with Unilever," says Master. "Working with so many great brands every day gives us endless opportunities to be innovative and develop compelling ways to connect with consumers. That's really the beauty of working with a large consumer products company that is willing to invest in continuing to build a world-class portfolio of brands that consumers know and love."   The CPG giant has doubled down on digital in recent years, making big investments in 2010 and 2012, while at the same time streamlining its relationship with digital agencies, with a stated goal of creating deeper and longer lasting relationships with fewer agencies overall.

"Our leadership has embraced digital and led the way through the rapidly changing consumer and media landscape," says Master, adding, "What we do is a team sport... We're all looking forward to the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead."

Of the many accomplishments he's been a part of at Unilever it may be "The Campaign for Real Beauty" Master thinks of most fondly. The much-lauded campaign, launched in 2004, challenged the conventional advertising ideals of beauty, presenting real women of all sizes and ages in ads for Dove's body-care line. After a search for the real women who'd be featured, the photographer Rankin, known for his edgy work, shot the initial images for the campaign, which iterated across billboards, print ads, TV spots, Webisodes, and, of course, a mountain of media coverage. The approach, of featuring women that better reflect the bodies of 95 percent of the population rather than rail-thin models, has since been embraced by everyone from other marketers to the editors of the hip fashion magazine V.

But of the launch, Master says, "That was one of the really special moments of my career - working with such a great team and being a part of something so leading-edge at the time was an unforgettable experience." 

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