- Unilever, the marketer of brands such as Dove soap and Lipton tea, plans to spend more to improve its digital marketing efforts, CEO Alan Jope said in a quarterly earnings call this week. The company increased its marketing spending in Q3, and plans to do so again in the current quarter.
- Some of the higher spending will go to traditional brand and marketing investment, while the company also seeks to invest in a "more manpower-intensive marketing world, where digital programs take more resources," Jope said. He highlighted the effectiveness of Unilever's digital campaigns, saying the company has taken steps to ensure its advertising is seen in brand-safe environments by real people, not bots.
- Unilever's underlying sales grew 4.4% in Q3 from a year earlier, while total reported sales slipped 2.4% to $15.3 billion and e-commerce jumped 76%, per its quarterly report. By product category, it reported 19% growth in hygiene, 12% in home products and 4% in laundry, while out-of-home sales to restaurants and grocers fell 16% and personal care slipped 2%.
Unilever's plans to spend more on its digital marketing are part of a bigger undertaking that seeks to help employees develop the skillsets for what Jope described as a "manpower-intensive marketing world."
That shift reflects the company's greater presence in emerging markets than in developed countries, unlike some rivals. With more consumers in those emerging markets adopting digital technologies, especially smartphones with data plans, Unilever is responding with its planned investment in people and other marketing resources to connect with customers.
In discussing its digital marketing efforts, company management also described how it focused on brand safety and avoided losing money to fraudulent bot networks. During the quarter, Unilever was among the hundreds of companies to participate in a pause of spending with some social media companies, including Facebook. The company said it would redirect the spending that had been earmarked for social networks to other channels.
Among other highlights from Q3, Unilever reported strong growth in North America as consumers continued to spend more heavily on packaged food brands like Hellmann's mayonnaise, Sir Kensington's condiments and Talenti ice cream. The persistence of the pandemic in many parts of the U.S. led people to buy more personal hygiene products like Dove soap and Suave hand sanitizer. The company's personal care unit also grew worldwide as people purchased shampoo and bath items, though sales of deodorant, hairstyling products and skin care slumped as many consumers remained homebound.
While the pandemic continues to disrupt Unilever's operations, particularly in key markets like Brazil and India, the company's plans to bet bigger on digital are part of a longer-term strategy. Almost two years ago, Jope discussed how Unilever would restructure operations to improve efficiency and invest in digital marketing programs, Marketing Week reported. It also started to aggressively hire people for digital hubs to manage marketing programs that were more data-driven and personalized, signaling a ramp up in marketing efforts that could be more cost-effective in the long term.