Unilever CMO’s vision for the future of marketing

Keith Weed: put people first, create brand love and unlock the magic

Keith Weed has been a regular at Cannes the past few years. But as the articulate and forthright chief marketer of for one of the world’s biggest marketers, Unilever, Weed drew a sizeable crowd to the grand auditorium in the Palais des Festivals early Thursday afternoon, where he spent almost an hour sharing his vision for the future of the industry.

Weed started by first reflecting on how much the industry has changed from his days as a brand manager in the 80s when the focus was on “marketing to people”—traditional advertising with simple media plans delivering those ads to people.

Changes in recent years have “created chaos” for marketers but also opportunities for those who take advantage of the changes and Unilever is trying to bring order to the chaos, he said. A goal driven by the mantra “crafting brands for life” and which has three key pillars: putting people first—”I say people, not consumers”—by doing things like providing mobile content and entertainment for the most “media dark” part of India (see video below).

The second pillar is building brand love, here he cited the enormous popularity of Dove Sketches; and the third is unlocking the “creative magic” as Unilever did with the Axe “Make Love Not War” campaign that included a TV spot during the Super Bowl but came alive on Twitter with the #KissForPeace where people could tweet selfies of themselves kissing someone and have the pictures posted in Times Square.

“This is marketing with people,” he said.

From there, Weed turned to the future of marketing and key challenges that must be overcome for the industry to thrive. He started with mobile, social and data.

There’s been much discussion about those three forces but the impact hasn’t been felt fully, he said. “I believe the whole area of mobile, social and data will transform the industry every bit as much as the internet,” he said. The problem right now is that fast paced developments have produced even more complexity and chaos. He showed three different lumascapes for key players in each of those ecosystems, each enormously complex, and then superimposed them onto each other to reveal the true picture of the challenge for effective modern marketing in a mobile, social and data powered world.

“It’s going to get worse,” he said. “Think long and hard about how we are going to simplify this.”

To show how good marketing can be using data, Weed showed the case video for the 2013-launched “All Things Hair”—a partnership with Google to predict hair trends three months before they take off and producing a YouTube channel dedicated to hair tips.

“This is a really cool application of big data. We talk about big data, but it’s actually big insights,” he said. But it was only possible because Unilever was working with one partner, Google and one media channel, YouTube.

Weed then turned to a second key mission: unlocking creativity. “Here I have a genuine concern,” he said. “I think there has never been such a premium on creativity… Creativity is more and more important to break through the clutter,” he said, but the talent pool has been diluted because new players like Facebook and Google are stealing away the creative minds who naturally gravitated to advertising agencies and marketing in the past.

To draw more creative thinking and fresh ideas into Unilever the company just launched The Unilever Foundry ( to work with startups on a wide range or projects and initiatives. Unilever is providing funding to pilot new projects, connecting its marketers with young startups to provide mentoring and investing in others.

“We need to suck the best creativity into the industry,” he said.

Weed concluded his presentation by talking about the importance of scale using Unilever’s social good goals to illustrate his point.
Unilever has three core social and environmental commitments around zero net deforestation, sustainable farming and improving sanitation, water and hygiene. The best way to affect changes in those areas is by getting people to demand it, he said.

“The second that people start demanding better environment and social all manufacturers and brands will be scrambling to engage people. This is where Project Sunlight comes in.”
Unilever set out to engage people “at scale” on these issues; to get them thinking, engaging and acting by apply all of its marketing learning and expertise to create a movement to demand change.

Project Sunlight was produced with 12 different companies working together. “This is not repeatable at scale every single day,” he said, leading to his challenge to the advertising industry.

Too often today, marketers need multiple partners in a room to come up with a solution. “What I’m really concerned about is in that room, you have mobile specialists, social specialists—and we need to, it’s a specialist worlds. However, they are trying to deliver 110% solutions for mobile and 110% solutions for social, well I want a 110% solution for the brand, even if it is a 85% solution in mobile and a 90% solution in social,” he said. “And that is a real challenge. I think too much now our channels are driving what we are doing.”

“We need to find ways to lead with brands and not by channels,” he said. “We need to find ways to orchestrate an integrated approach.”

“If we do all that,” he said, referring to all of suggestions for improvements to the industry, “I think we’ll then be marketing for people.”

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