- Keith Weed is retiring as chief marketing and communications officer at Unilever, according to a press statement shared with Marketing Dive. The news, announced today (Dec. 6), follows the departure of CEO Paul Polman, who is being replaced by Alan Jope, per Campaign.
- Weed will officially depart Unilever in May next year, the company said. He has worked with Unilever brands in various capacities for 35 years and has served as its marketing chief since 2010. During his time as chief marketing and communications officer, Weed stewarded initiatives around sustainability and diversity, including through Unilever's Unstereotype Alliance, which seeks to eliminate stereotypes in marketing, advertising and media.
- Weed's efforts around brand purpose and digital advertising transparency have frequently earned high industry praise, including from this publication. The executive was recognized by the World Federation of Advertisers as Global Marketer of the Year in 2017 and has been ranked as the most influential CMO by Forbes for two years running. He was this week named Marketing Dive's Executive of the Year.
Unilever is losing a high-profile thought leader with Weed's retirement, and at a particularly uncertain time for the marketing world. As digital advertising has continued to prove to be an area fraught with problems related to transparency, brand safety and measurement, Weed has been more vocal about putting greater pressure on major platforms like Google and Facebook to clean up shop, while also not letting his peer marketers off the hook in addressing these issues.
This year, the executive has also demanded better handling of newer channels like influencer marketing, announcing at Cannes Lions that Unilever would cut ties with partners that have bought followers online. During the annual advertising festival, Unilever also announced it would expand its Unstereotype initiative across all content formats, calling on all content creators, partners and distributors to remove outdated stereotypes in their marketing.
"[D]iversity is still practiced in a way that often inadvertently perpetuates stereotypes by painting whole groups as one homogenous entity without accounting for the vast array of sub-cultures," Weed said in comments previously shared with Marketing Dive. "Understanding and addressing the intersectionality of gender with race, ethnicity, sexuality etc. will be a key action going forwards."
On the creative front, Unilever brands have launched campaigns around often sensitive societal issues during Weed's tenure. While there have been a few missteps along the way, product lines like Dove and Axe have ultimately helped to shape the overall industry discussion around previously taboo subjects in marketing, such as body positivity and toxic masculinity.
In these ways, Weed has helped Unilever stand out as a business with purpose — something increasingly in demand among consumers — while also delivering on performance. Unstereotyped ads, for example, increased purchase intent by 18%, along with being 21% more credible and 16% more relevant with consumers, according to data Weed previously shared with Marketing Dive.
"As the world's second largest advertiser, we have been able to leverage our scale for effectiveness and efficiencies, and we have also been able to leverage our scale for good, leading for greater responsibility, transparency and accountability in the advertising and digital industry," Weed said in a statement around his retirement.
Weed's pending departure, coupled with the recent plans to replace CEO Polmon, means that Unilever is heading into 2019 without executives who helped to shape standout company initiatives, including those around sustainability. The company saw a sales lift of 3.8% in Q3 results reported in October, missing analysts' growth targets. Unilever operates in a CPG category that's felt mounting pressure in recent years from e-commerce and direct brand competitors and general digital disruption. Unilever has not yet named a successor to Weed.