Unilever CEO says Keith Weed’s replacement will be a ‘CMO++’

Alan Jope says the top marketing role has taken a while to fill as the business has been refining what it means to be CMO at Unilever and looking at both internal and external candidates.

unileverUnilever CEO Alan Jope plans to replace former chief marketing and communications officer Keith Weed with what he describes as a “CMO++”.

“It won’t be an identical role – we’ll chop off 20% and add 20%. It will still be chief marketing officer at the core and then we’ll bolt on a few different things,” he said.

Jope – who was a marketer for 35 years before taking on the top job – confirmed Unilever will not be going down the same route as other FMCG giants like Coca-Cola and Mars by installing a chief growth officer as it’s not the right move for his business.

“There is no perfect organisation – there is no such thing. All organisations are a series of choices and trade-offs. I’m sure some companies are thoroughly enjoying having a chief growth officer, but we are going to have a CMO++,” he told Marketing Week during an exclusive roundtable event at Cannes Lions 2019.

It has taken longer to fill the top marketing position than some of the other roles left vacant following former CEO Paul Polman’s departure in January, Jope’s promotion and the subsequent reshuffle, as Unilever has been refining the CMO role and what it means to the business.

“This is not a very modest thing to say, but we moved very quickly to repopulate the Unilever executive. When Paul moved on and I moved up, and Nitin [Paranjpe] moved into the chief operating officer role and [another executive] decided to leave, it was Swiss cheese.

“We very quickly promoted some people and brought Sunny [Jain] in from Amazon [as president, beauty and personal care]. We very quickly populated that team, and the only role that has been open for a while is the CMO role – Keith’s role. The reason why it has been open for a while is because we have looked externally and internally to make sure we get really the very best candidate for that role.”

There has been much speculation about who will take over the role, with Aline Santos, Unilever’s executive vice-president of global marketing and chief diversity and inclusion officer, thought to be the front runner. But Jope said Unilever has been interviewing both internal and external candidates for the position.

Although the company has not yet made a decision, Jope said “stand by for news in this space”.

False purpose is ‘infecting’ advertising

Jope, who took over from Polman in January, is clear he will be continuing his predecessor’s mission to grow the business in a purposeful and sustainable way.

But he believes some brands are undermining its efforts by making empty promises to tackle social and cultural issues without taking action, which is beginning to “infect” the advertising industry and “further destroy” trust when it is already perilously low.

“We’re at a crossroads because there are too many examples of brands undermining purposeful marketing by launching campaigns that don’t back up what the brand says with what the brand does,” he said.

“Green-washing, purpose-washing, cause-washing, woke-washing – call it what you will – it’s bad for our industry. It is polluting purpose. We’ve all seen it and we know it when we see it. Fake purpose is dangerous. It threatens to further destroy trust in our industry when it is already in short supply.”

He has therefore issued a rallying cry for the industry to reject briefs from brands that undermine purpose and contribute to the fatigue many feel towards ‘brand purpose’.

“Please do not damage our industry by accepting briefs for brands which don’t want to walk the talk on purpose. Let’s hold each other to account. If there’s no substance behind what a brand has to say – including brands from Unilever – walk away. Refuse the brief.”

Unilever will ditch brands that don’t have purpose

Unilever’s top seven brands by turnover, which includes Dove, Knorr and Persil, are all purpose driven, and the business has committed that in future every brand in its portfolio will be a brand with purpose.

“We will dispose of brands that we feel are not able to stand for something more important than making your hair shinier, your skin softer, your clothes whiter or your food tastier,” he said.

“That’s the black and white answer, but this is not an easy thing to do so we will give our brands some time. It won’t be a case of ‘on midnight on 31 December 2021, if you’re not all with a purpose you’re getting axed’. It will be a gradual process.”

While Jope wouldn’t confirm the proportion of its existing brands that are able to define their purpose he said just over half of its turnover today comes from brands it considers to be purposeful. He expects this figure to jump to 80% in a few years time, in part because this area of the portfolio is growing fastest, but also because Unilever will be “disproportionately resourcing” these brands.

To help measure the performance of its purpose-led brands and the impact they have, Unilever has long had a check list, which looks at how much money needs to be spent on messaging, how much action needs to be taken on the ground and how many countries it has to show up in. But it has also recently started working with Kantar to ensure these actions are resonating with consumers, which is now a KPI marketers have to meet.

“Now, we are going to evaluate our brands, not by how we see them but by how consumers see them. In our tracking there is a question that says something like ‘some brands are trying to go beyond just selling a product and make the world a slightly better place – do you think this applies to brand x, y, z?’ That’s how the consumer will tell us if what we’re doing is reaching them,” he said.

He used Dove and Ben & Jerry’s as examples of brands that differentiate themselves against the rest of the category on these types of dimensions.

“Many other brands in our portfolio still need to land that message with consumers, and it takes years. Volvo is associated with safety. Why? Because they didn’t talk about anything else for decades,” he added.

“Marketers all underestimate how quickly you can land something with the general population. It takes ages of brutal consistency before you can land a thought.”

To date, Unilever has acquired €2.8bn (£2.5bn) in turnover all of which comes from purpose-driven brands and it has disposed of €4bn (£3.6bn) of turnover, which is a mixture of brands that it either feels don’t have a long-term proposition purpose, or are stuck in low-growth categories.

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