Commentary

Unilever Is Right, You're Already Running Your Best Ad

Do we need all this "stuff," couldn't we get by with less of this new "stuff" being created by so many people? For want of a better turn of phrase, this is the overriding question the global advertising giants are asking their ad agencies. It's the talk of London and new research shows they might just have a point.

Take a peak at the television tonight and you're quite likely to feel like you're back in your days of growing up or being a student. The Milk Tray man is back, so is the Andrex puppy, the singing opera star is still flogging insurance and the black horse is stirring the emotions once again as it gallops through the ages for Lloyds.

It sits perfectly with the opinion of advertising research firm, Communicus, which has found advertisers are best sticking with the campaigns they already have and when they are in need of a refresh, it's best to stick to the same overriding theme. A classic case of someone who is doing this well is Unilever's Dove, the research company concludes. The beauty brand has an ethos that all women of every shape and size are beautiful and so, although the campaign may change, the central core value is maintained.

The flip side of this, are advertisers who change everything up just because they feel it will be a new direction. According to Communicus, around a quarter of the campaigns it investigated needed to be changed because there was a new strategy or a new product to talk about that, by definition, meant an existing campaign had to be changed.

That means that three in four campaigns, in its tests, were replaced to refresh what a brand was saying, not to reflect a new product or service. Of these, though, just one in five resonated as well with its target audience as the campaign it replaced. That means that four times out of every five, according to Communicus research, the change is made to the overall detriment of the brand. The advertiser gets the worst of both worlds -- the expense of a new campaign which wasn't necessarily needed and doesn't perform as well as the previous incumbent.

So, the advice is pretty obvious. Don't think change is the only constant and that, by definition, in this world of disruption a brand needs to be constantly changing what it has to say and how it says it.

To the contrary, the research findings are that if an ad campaign works well, you're better off tweaking it rather than coming up with an entirely new concept.

Don't know about you, but with all the chopping and changing that's going on among London shops, particularly in creative, it makes you wonder whether brands are asking for problems and if agencies are making a rod for their own back. By either side insisting a good idea is replaced, so it's refreshed or a new agency gets the gig, there is a vicious circle. New agency, new idea, research shows it's not resonating well, so we begin again with a new agency and a new idea.

In fact, this is the part of Unilever's strategy that is not often discussed. We know it is working to achieve more with less by sweating assets and not replacing commercials for the sake of it. However, when its highly-respected CMO, Keith Weed spoke recently in London, he impressed on marketers that the key is to stop chopping and changing agencies because you'll just end up buying more idea and paying for new "stuff".

Instead, stick with a main agency but, this is the important thing, work closely with the company and find out who the bright sparks are and then insist they're on your team. That way you save the complications and expense of agency hopping and you get the best people working for you rather than a bunch of new people constantly pitching new forms of transformation you know will cost you dear.

1 comment about "Unilever Is Right, You're Already Running Your Best Ad".
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  1. Joe Mandese from MediaPost, July 12, 2017 at 9:02 a.m.

    Interesting insight, Sean.

    I'm not sure I know what the solution is, because the real problem has less to do with individual brands and agencies than the world. There are just too many brands, ideas (big and small) and information of all sorts assaulting people that it's hard to break through with anything. Unless you've got something that can break through.

    I think the safe bet is consistently and continuity, because, after all, that is fundamentally what a brand is, right? Something you can depend on being that brand over time.

    The problem is new brands are being created every day (more than 5 million worldwide by my estimate), and both new and old brands are constantly creating new messages, and sometimes new campaign positions.

    My recommendation would be close to the net finding of this report: That unless you have something truly new -- and importantly, meaningful and relevant to your target -- don't say it. Just keep reminding folks what you stand for. Keep awareness up, reinforce your brand.

    The downside, is other new ideas -- big and small -- will be marginalizing your share of voice. That's just a fact of the new life of brand marketing.

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