Keith Weed: ‘There is a lost generation of 40-year-olds leading brands’

Cannes 2014: Many marketers are struggling to keep up with the rapid rate of digital development because they are not “digital natives”, according to Unilever’s Keith Weed. 

Keith Weed

Responding to a question about whether brands should be using native advertising given regulatory scrutiny over the blurring of the lines between advertising and editorial, the FMCG’s chief marketing and customer officer replied:

“Clearly, like all these things, innovation is going on in the market. The very people engaging and trying to shape this and in a very well meaning way are the very people that are not digital natives, we have an extraordinary situation where we have a lost generation of people from 35 to early 40s who lead a lot of our brands. 

“The people who are not natives are trying hard to make sense of the changing world.”

Weed added when these “natives” mature, confusion over new digital formats will cease.

“As the digital natives grow up and are in their 30s, 40s and 50s these conversations will stop,” he added.

Weed was talking following his keynote speech at Cannes where the subject of digital transformation was again a key theme. Marketing Week caught up with him afterwards to discuss channel-led marketing, the future of social and not cutting media spend.

Marketing Week: You talked in your speech about doing more with less, what does that mean in terms of strategy? 

Keith Weed: One example is how we penetrate into media dark areas in India. The villages have no TV, radio and no entertainment at all. Using their mobile phone they can give us a missed call for free and we call them back and give them free entertainment. It’s a value exchange as we have some ads within that. 

We effectively set up a media channel on the back of mobile. We won three golds for that work. I was keen for the team to make a step change in mobile this year and out of four Gold Lions in mobile we have three of them. 

MW: You talk about leading by brand and not by channel in your keynote, can you give any examples of this at Unilever? 

KW: What we used to do is to have a brand manager and one big agency and the whole programme was around the brand and the assets to build it. Now we have specialist agencies, on mobile and social. They strive to optimise their particular channel, of course it’s their job. They are driving a 110 per cent solution for mobile but might not be 110 per cent solution for the brand. I want the brand to be the hero and the centre of what we do, that means we need to orchestrate this in a different way. 

The combination of different companies is led by our team and what I’m suggesting is our marketers are not necessarily best placed to lead, they are not communication experts, they have many other things they do other than communication. I call to the industry that we need an advertising communication expert, IE someone from an agency to lead and integrate. If not we are going to end up fragmenting brands and pulling them apart. 

MW: In terms of media planning, where is the budget going?

KW: I know people use the comment about ‘we are reducing our budget because digital is more effective’ but I view that as they are just reducing their budget. We have increased our budgets over the years by hundreds of millions. TV has gone up and digital has gone up so I don’t think it’s an either or, you get the best ROI when you have a multimedia approach. 

MW: What are your plans in social media?

KW: We are investing in an approach around paid, owned and earned. Paid is buying TV and search, owned are our Facebook and dot com pages, earned is then how we engage with people at scale to share things. 

What has changed over the past few years is that we have gone from something that is a tool that’s great at targeting, but now it’s about reach at scale. We will continue to build friends recommending to friends, that is what we want to be able to do. Social media is word of mouth on steroids, you can do so much at scale. Having said that it has to be done with the right tone of voice and value exchange. From a lot of brands there is still a lot of questionable quality from social. 

MW: What are some of the key changes you have seen in the business during your time as CMO?

KW: It’s easier to say what hasn’t changed than what has changed. 

By far the biggest changes has been the impact if the internet and everything that followed. Everything is possible but that is a huge challenge. The first wave enabled us to create real utility to people; it is the time to be in advertising. 

The next wave is mobile, social and data. We are now no more than a meter away from our mobile, it’s the bridge between the virtual and real world. You used to sit in front of a desktop and go online, it was an activity and now it’s a seamless thing. The way mobile and brands will engage on a one by one basis will be a big change. 

Big data is talked about huge amounts and as an industry we haven’t leveraged it to its capabilities. We have closed the loop on the fact that marketing and advertising is an art and a science. It’s creative and effective and digital makes that happen and now makes it happen at scale.