Cannes, France-- CMO Keith Weed told the audience here today that Unilever aims to double its digital budgets this year. In some countries, the shift could mean interactive channels will command 25 to 30 percent of spending.
In an on-stage interview with WPP Group CEO Martin Sorrell, Weed argued the transition to digital is even more important than the buzz warrants. And the company is backing up that view with actions. Earlier this spring, numerous top executives from the company toured the West Coast, meeting with leaders at Yahoo, MSN, Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Apple, among others.
Asked by Sorrell what role data and insights play in his marketing approach, Weed couldn't emphasize their role enough.
"Consumer insight is everything," he said. "The only way I can get a differentiated product to the consumer is understanding the market better. Consumer insight is the starting point. Then an agency can get the creativity, build the brands."
Unilever is among the more visible clients at this year's festival. In addition to being awarded Advertiser of the Year, its agencies have won numerous Lions for work on Unilever's brands. Campaigns for Axe and Hellman's Ketchup were among those honored.
Unilever is also behind a unique smile-activated vending machine prototype that's been set up on the lower level of the Palais des Festivals. The machine recognizes facial expressions and gives passersby a "smile-o-meter" rating before spitting out the ice cream treat of their choosing. A photo is taken of the ice cream eater's mug and is uploaded, with permission, to Facebook. Some 6,000 attendees have interacted with the machine, which was conceived by SapientNitro.
Other notable digital work from Unilever includes a consumer-generated media campaign created in partnership with Mofilm; a wiki experiment with Hellman's at Recipedia.com; and a hugely successful Facebook Page for Ben and Jerry's with more than 1.2 million followers.
The Cannes Festival has published video highlights from the session. Watch here.
Follow Zachary Rodgers on Twitter at @zachrodgers.
Until March 2012, Zach Rodgers was managing editor of ClickZ's award-winning coverage of news and trends in digital marketing. He reported on the rise of web companies, data markets, ad technologies, and government Internet policy, among other subjects.
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