Unilever's Marc Mathieu on empowering consumers

Unilever's senior vice-president of marketing on how the democratisation of marketing has taken power from brands and handed it to the consumer.

It may sound like a cliché, but we do live in a global village. Over the past few weeks, I've experienced it first hand, from São Paulo to Hanoi, Istanbul to LA, Paris to Tokyo.

Everywhere I go, I encounter a world of differences – in lifestyles, cultures, beliefs – but I also see amazing similarities, convergences and common underlying trends. Of these, democratisation is one of the greatest forces. Of course, we see a trend toward democratisation as the form of government that Churchill once cited as "the worst one, except for all the others that have been tried". But, as a marketer, the democratisation that interests me most is the democratisation of marketing.

More and more, consumers, real people with real lives, are stepping into our "sacred space". People want to play the role of marketer, "tastemaker" and cheerleader for our brands – their brands. They want to like them, endorse them, spread the word for them; they go out of their way to create new content for them, instantaneously shared across the web, always keen on new ideas, new reasons to believe and new points of views – effectively taking the place of the work we once did as marketers.

The reason people are increasingly able to create and communicate at scale is the social platforms they have at their fingertips. The social web gives power to the people: they are now ready to share their point of view with anyone who will listen, powered by their social network, the friends of friends, the anonymous viewer of a YouTube channel, a tweet or a retweet.

A young Brazilian girl pushes the "like" button on her friend’s Facebook feed to reinforce how great the new TRESemmé Platinum Strength Shampoo feels… a French pleasure-hunter posts his delight after creating a custom-made Magnum in a pop-up "Pleasure Lounge"… a proud Turkish mother cheers for her dirt-covered son whose football team just scored in the local Persil "dirt is good" challenge.

But more is yet to come. Silicon Valley was one of my latest stops, where I went with Unilever colleagues to meet with the big players you would expect – and also with many smaller, but all the more creative, disruptive and fascinating start-ups (or recently started-up-and-growing companies). There, I experienced the next chapter of the Democratisation of Marketing: an inspiring photograph of Toni & Guy’s new Hair Wardrobe collection discovered on Pinterest; a timely Hellmann’s recipe that was peer-sourced from StumbleUpon; and a powerful report on Dove’s purposeful self-esteem pursuit included in one of the almost 1m Flipboard-enabled social magazines. Of these, 100,000 were created within only 24 hours of the release of Flipboard’s 2.0 version, empowering 50,000 of its users to suddenly become publishers, curating their own content, sharing their views, their fears and their life.

No more content-rights issue for that pirate-generated YouTube clip, posted by a Lynx fan or a Ben & Jerry activist. Thanks to premium-content network Zefr, user-generated content outnumbers original brand content. And the Dove product placement in your favourite TV show can now make it straight into the social graph on campus, powered by Tivli!, the new social TV.

Even as I arrived at my home in Los Angeles, I could see the "scary" signs of change as my digital-native son marketed his found-footage horror feature film-project for funding… on kickstarter.com.

Our brands and our products are all over these posts, these images, these socially enabled feeds and magazines, these films. But on people’s terms, no longer on ours. This is the Global Village of Marketing, the new age of Marketing Democracy.

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