Unilever’s Marc Mathieu: People think too much about digital marketing

Cannes 2014: Unilever’s senior vice president of marketing believes the marketing industry is still putting too much emphasis on digital as a separate category, rather than integrating it across the business and ‘marketing to people in a digital world’. 

Marc Mathieu says initiatives such as sustainable living platform Project Sunlight should be an essential part of a brand’s positioning.

Speaking on a panel discussion about how brands are built in the digital age, Marc Mathieu says marketers must start thinking about digital in a different way so that it becomes another part of the media mix.

He adds the industry must move beyond the banner ad to find new ways of engaging with customers.

“We need to start thinking about marketing in a digital world, a world gone digital. We think too much about digital marketing, which is applying thinking we have learnt to marketing digitally, as opposed to marketing in a digital world in which people will eventually get rid of banner ads. I don’t see them and I guess most people will find a way to eliminate them. It’s a lot about embracing this multitude of sources of relevance of message otherwise people will just get rid of it,” he adds.

His comments come as new research from YouTube and TNS unveiled at Cannes shows that digital branded content is now having an impact “all the way down the funnel”, not just in awareness but also in purchasing behaviour. The study found that to tap into this, brands need to be creating content that has purpose and focuses on the experience, with brands such as Dove, Evian and Procter & Gamble showcasing how to build brands in the digital world. 

The research found that customers are 1.5 times more likely to purchase if a brand focuses on consumers’ interests, not just the transaction, and on the brand’s principles. Mathieu says this is part of the reason why Unilever a year ago integrated its Sustainable Living Plan into its brand positioning.

“From an environmental standpoint or a social footprint, it is now mandatory in all our brands. It is not yet perfect; we are working at it to get it perfect and working on iterations with our key global brands. But it is a choice we made consciously to put purpose and sustainable living at the heart of our brand positioning statement,” he says.

Despite the importance of “purpose” in Unilever’s marketing, Mathieu believes that the future will be all about data and how that helps marketers to build brands and relationships with customers.

“I would never have said this two years ago but the future is, data is changing everything – how we build brands and the relationships we have with people in a profound way. We spend a lot of time in understanding people at scale,” he says.

That extends to the formats Unilever uses, although Mathieu admits that Unilever is one of the brands that is guilty of still seeing TV as the main format and other media as supporting it, whereas it should be about consistent messages across formats.

“We have trained ourselves to think TV first as a format – both creatively and in media . We need to stop putting it at the centre but as one of the key elements of the whole mix. We say it every year, but I promise we all still make that mistake regularly,” he adds.  

Latest from Marketing Week


Access Marketing Week’s wealth of insight, analysis and opinion that will help you do your job better.

Register and receive the best content from the only UK title 100% dedicated to serving marketers' needs.

We’ll ask you just a few questions about what you do and where you work. The more we know about our visitors, the better and more relevant content we can provide for them. And, yes, knowing our audience better helps us find commercial partners too. Don't worry, we won't share your information with other parties, unless you give us permission to do so.

Register now


Our award winning editorial team (PPA Digital Brand of the Year) ask the big questions about the biggest issues on everything from strategy through to execution to help you navigate the fast moving modern marketing landscape.


From the opportunities and challenges of emerging technology to the need for greater effectiveness, from the challenge of measurement to building a marketing team fit for the future, we are your guide.


Information, inspiration and advice from the marketing world and beyond that will help you develop as a marketer and as a leader.

Having problems?

Contact us on +44 (0)20 7292 3703 or email customerservices@marketingweek.com

If you are looking for our Jobs site, please click here