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Ashley Friedlein, Econsultancy CEO, kicked off 2014 by pointing to six trends of note in advertising.

These were real-time bidding, native advertising, video advertising, targeting, localised and geo-targeting, and mobile advertising.

Unilever is a company that continues to innovate in advertising. Let’s look at how.

CSR: content, cause and product

Project Sunlight is the confluence of content, corporate social responsibility, emerging markets and Unilever products.

It’s owned content and indicative of the approach many brands are now taking. The site includes copy and video content for many issues, such as compressed deodorants, which reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

This isn't paid advertising, but it's indicative of Unilever's changing approach.

project sunlight

Video

Sticking with the owned content before we move on to ads, All Things Hair is a snazzy YouTube channel featuring many different Unilever brands. It’s much more engaging for the user and goes some way to competing against vloggers and other video content that features multiple products.

Unilever has had notorious successes with TV and online cross-over adverts, such as the real beauty sketches. 63m views in a year is top drawer and shows complete understanding of sharable (for whatever reason) content.

all things hair

Programmatic and mobile

In February Unilever was the first brand to launch on Konnect, a programmatic mobile advertising platform that’s part of BrandTone. Unilever calls the platform a ‘Bloomberg terminal for marketers’.

Unilever used the platform initially to target emerging markets where mobile penetration is many times more significant than desktop.

The company is driving efficiency in real-time with this approach, though it must be said that targeting ads based on purchase data is very difficult to do. The brand has been looking to improve the profiling of customer groups by gaining information from customers that take up promotions.

In India this has involved calling customers and questioning them about their buying habits.

Native

The Guardian and Upworthy are two noteworthy publications that Unilever is providing native advertising for.

On the Guardian the theme is another that pushes CSR.

native ads from unilever

Combining TV and online

In 2013 Unilever in the UK became one of the first brands to use Nielsen’s cross-platform campaign ratings service. The platform measures combined TV and online ad performance, allowing Unilever to gauge how many saw ads on one or both platforms.

Creative

I’ve touched on this with video. Unilever is creating innovative campaigns and is tipped at Cannes 2014 for Kan Khajura, an Indian radio station that calls users’ phones (when they place a free request) and delivers 15 minutes of free radio that presumably features ads for Unilever products.

This is brilliant innovation in an emerging market and again shows paid media isn’t everything. Content provided to emergng markets and subsidised by advertisers is a strategy set to continue (see the Aakash tablet).

It’s working

In 2013, spend on advertising and promotions grew 50% to €460 million as Unilever cited the need to “build brands for the long term”.

Sales in 2013 grew by 4.3% overall and 8.7% in emerging markets (responsible for more than half of sales).

However, it’s not all good news for marketers at Unilever. As part of €500m worth of cuts from marketing, the company has plans to reduce the number of marketers it employs by 12 per cent globally.

Behind this though there’s a commitment from Unilever to find smarter and cheaper ways of working in advertising. Look to the company to bring more functions in-house, a trend across digital. Spend on digital marketing at Unilever is likely to increase, even if overall spend comes down, reflecting the sense of proportionally better returns from digital channels.

A shift from paid media to a greater investment in earned and owned media is to be expected, even if these distinctions are breaking down slightly.

Ben Davis

Published 12 June, 2014 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is a senior writer at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester, England. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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