Unilever’s Keith Weed: ‘A lost generation of marketers are bluffing about digital’

Festival of Marketing 2016: Unilever’s marketing boss is urging “a lost generation” of marketing leaders to tool up for digital or risk getting left behind. 


A generation of marketers leading businesses today are bluffing about their knowledge of the digital landscape, according to Unilever chief marketing and communications officer Keith Weed.

Headlining the first day of the Festival of Marketing 2016, Weed argued that a generation of marketers are slipping through the net and need to act fast to ‘tool up’ for the disruptive digital world or risk being left behind.

“We have three versions of people. On one side we have the digital natives who have been born and bred in a digital world. On the other side we have people like myself in my 50s who have children in their 20s and if I didn’t engage with them on digital platforms I wouldn’t have a relationship with my children.

“In the middle we have what I call the ‘lost generation’, people in their late 30s and early 40s who don’t yet have grown up children who are digital natives and weren’t digital natives themselves. These are the very people who are leading so many of our brands and businesses, and they’re bluffing too much about digital from what they read in the Financial Times or Marketing Week.”

Weed urged marketers to ensure they are fit to lead by embracing training and shaking off the association that taking part in training is “admitting I’m not as good as I probably should be”.

Unilever has increased its training budget and the number of days employees are given to train, introducing mandatory e-modules and workshops that start with basics programmes on search, programmatic and websites, and then layer up.

“Force-feeding is the best way to build capabilities in this fast changing world.”

Keith Weed, chief marketing an communications officer, Unilever

“Recently I found out 92% of my team had done the training and I couldn’t believe it because we should be leading from the front. So I said I want the pictures of the 8% who haven’t done it and their names, so I can put them on the wall in my office and see who the people are who are choosing not to be part of the future.”

Weed reiterated his opinion that rather than digital marketing, it is about marketing in a digital world, the main reason why he has never appointed a chief digital officer.

“To me it comes down to the same issue as CSR. If those people are out there saving the planet then the rest of us can carry on business as usual. It means they’re doing digital, so the rest of us don’t have to, it’s their job,” he explained.

“We need to mainstream it more. And never put digital or data into someone’s job title as that’s the surest way to get them headhunted.”