Coca-Cola, Unilever, Danone: 5 things that mattered this week and why

From Coca-Cola dialling down its Olympics activations and Unilever trying to calm the row surrounding Ben & Jerry’s, to the shortlist being revealed for the Marketing Week Masters awards, catch up on this week’s biggest marketing news.

Coke pulls back on Olympics, but ramps up overall marketing

Every day that goes by there seems to be a new headline to plague the seemingly doomed Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Adding to the event’s woes is one of its most prominent sponsors, Coca-Cola, which is pulling back marketing during the Games, specifically around physical activations.

But the upside is the beverage giant has pledged to take its marketing spend back to pre-pandemic levels after experiencing strong growth in the second quarter of 2021. This was due in large part to some countries coming out of Covid-19 restrictions and reopening their economies. However, chief executive James Quincey also says growth has come from “disciplined innovation” and “efficient marketing”.

“Value share today is higher than 2019 levels, confirming that effective brand building and innovation, along without advanced revenue growth management and market execution capabilities, are working,” says Quincey.

The beverage giant has also seen a slowdown in sales for its hard seltzer brand Topo Chico in the US. This was expected given the loosening of restrictions and the fact hard seltzers are considered more of an at-home occasion beverage.

Coca-Cola was also quick to dismiss rumblings the brand might dive deeper into alcoholic beverages, saying it is still in the “learning phase” when it comes to booze.

READ MORE: Coke dials back Olympics push as it targets return to pre-Covid spending

Unilever tries to cool Ben & Jerry’s backlash

UnileverUnilever was quick to distance itself from the fury of the Israeli government, which opposes the decision taken by Ben & Jerry’s to pull its products from the Israel-occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The ice cream brand says it has taken a stand against the Israeli policy of evicting Palestinians to make way for Jewish-only settlements, which it describes as being “inconsistent” with its values.

Speaking this week, Unilever chief executive Alan Jope said he was aware of the brand’s intentions, but it was out of the company’s control due to a stipulation, included during the acquisition process in 2000, allowing Ben & Jerry’s greater autonomy.

“We were aware of this decision by the brand and its independent board, but it’s certainly not our intention that every quarter we’ll have one quite as fiery as this one,” Jope added.

Apart from reacting to the international furore, Unilever confirmed it had boosted investment in brand and marketing during the first half of the year. The FMCG giant ramped up its brand and marketing spend by 80 basis points to the tune of €400m (£342m), after conserving investment in the first half of 2020 due to Covid.

READ MORE: Unilever looks to calm Ben & Jerry’s row as it ramps up marketing spend

Marketing Week Masters shortlist revealed

SpecsaversThe shortlist for this year’s Marketing Week Masters Awards has been announced, reflecting a year when the most successful brands and campaigns sought to address the needs of consumers living under lockdown.

Household names Tesco, KFC and Specsavers all feature heavily on the shortlist.

A standout in the supermarket sector over the past 12 months, Tesco has been praised for the way it communicated and assisted its customer base during the pandemic. The retailer has also been credited for its ongoing promotion of the benefits of localism, most recently seen in its ‘Pop To Your Local If You Can’ campaign, urging people to reconnect with the joys of their neighbourhood pubs.

KFC made good use of its delivery and takeout services during successive lockdowns, backed up by typically witty campaigning, such as its ‘The World’s Least Appropriate Slogan’ ads. The brand’s creativity and strategic thinking is rewarded with five nominations (Brand Innovation, Multichannel Marketing, PR and Brand Storytelling, and Retail and Ecommerce).

One of five nominations for Specsavers comes in the Health and Life Sciences category for its ‘Covid-19 Care Hub’. Other big names include Playstation (with five nominations) Weetabix, Aldi, Nationwide and Co-op (all with four nominations).

Aldi UK, Forest Holidays, KCOM, London North Eastern Railway, O2, Specsavers, The Open University and UKTV are all in the running for Marketing Team of the Year.

The shortlist for the Brand of the Year award will be revealed shortly.

READ MORE: Tesco, KFC and Specsavers top Marketing Week Masters awards shortlist

Danone champions power of social listening

There are a plethora of ways for marketers to keep on top of consumer attitudes, from surveys to ethnography to customer feedback.

But one method which has seen rising popularity over the last 18 months has been social listening, through which marketers track social media platforms for conversations related to their brand or category.

Danone, the multinational company behind food brands such as Alpro, Evian, Volvic and Activia, is one such business that has been using social listening as a key tool to keep on top of rapidly changing consumer attitudes and shape product innovation and marketing.

While Danone has been gathering social insight since 2018, CMO Valérie Hernando-Presse told Marketing Week that it has become even more crucial as the pandemic has dramatically shifted the consumer landscape.

In 2018, the brand was analysing 33 million messages across major social platforms. This has more than tripled to 107 million.

“Deep social listening allows us to take a near-to-immediate pulse check on what people are discussing when they talk about these changes online,” Hernando-Presse says.

“It’s a pulse on society’s wishes, and for us, it’s shifting the way we’re getting our data by moving from asking people to really listening to people.”

Danone has taken a number of learnings from its social listening, observing major shifts in the way people are talking about food, the environment and social progress. As a result, the brand overhauled elements of its marketing strategy.

Certainly social listening has its flaws and should never be the sole tool in a marketer’s customer insight toolkit. But for Danone, the practice has helped the business stay at the forefront of what is important to consumers, which is crucial for any brand’s long-term growth.

READ MORE: From asking to listening: How Danone is using social insight to stay relevant

Mentoring scheme smashes target to reach 500 young people

Virtual mentoringIt is a well-known fact that marketing can be a difficult industry for young people to break into, particularly those from diverse socio-economic backgrounds.

Then throw into the mix the greatest global health crisis in living memory and you’ve created the perfect storm preventing aspiring young marketers from entering the profession.

This is exactly the situation the School of Marketing’s Mentoring Gen Z initiative was created to address. In the space of just seven months the project has smashed all targets, with 500 16- to 28-year-olds taking part in the free weekly mentoring sessions with senior marketing leaders. The aim is to reach 5,000 mentees over the next 12 months.

On the mentoring side, high profile marketers are signed up to host the 90-minute sessions until as far out as February 2022. Recent mentors include the likes of ex-Unilever CMO Keith Weed, Boots CMO Pete Markey and Nando’s chief customer officer Sarah Warby.

The success of Mentoring Gen Z shows no signs of slowing down. The initiative is set to launch across the Middle East in October through a partnership with the Dubai World Trade Centre.

Meanwhile, an existing tie-up with the Great British Entrepreneurs Awards and Community is helping connect 16- to 24-year-olds previously on Universal Credit with senior marketing leaders, in the hope of kickstarting their careers.

The work being done by the School of Marketing is a playing a vital role in widening access to marketing for young people from diverse backgrounds. The initiative’s founder Ritchie Mehta describes the response from the industry as “nothing short of remarkable”, an encouraging sign of just how serious senior marketing leaders are about throwing the industry’s doors open to young talent.

READ MORE: Marketers hail ‘remarkable’ success of mentoring scheme



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