ANALYSIS: Unilever takes a direct path

Unilever’s recent experiment with marketing its disparate brands in the form of magazines may have a dramatic effect on the way the brands are perceived.

Unilever’s recent experiment with marketing its disparate brands in the

form of magazines may have a dramatic effect on the way the brands are


Unilever has seen the future of marketing and it’s the direct variety.

It is certainly not alone in holding that view, but the packaged goods

giant is adding a new twist to the debate with its decision to send out

seven targeted magazines promoting a cross section of Unilever products,

from Birds Eye Fish Fingers to Elida Faberge’s Organics.

Of the first mailing, set to go out this week, five of the titles cover

several product categories from the group companies - Van den Bergh

Foods, Lever Bros, Elida Faberge and Birds Eye Wall’s - while the other

two each stick to a particular sector. ‘We want to test whether it is

effective to present so many brands to consumers within one title,’ says

Jerry Wright, Lever Bros marketing director for homecare and personal

wash products, and supervisor of the project.

The move, which will be evaluated and followed by a second mailing early

next year, may prove a pivotal point in Unilever’s marketing. First, it

represents a multinational company cutting across the politics an

organisation of its size attracts, to think about its brands in the way

consumers see them, rather than how they are managed within Unilever.

Second, it gives a big hint of the nature of the next generation of

direct marketing, with brand owners like Kellogg, Mars, and Unilever’s

competitor Procter & Gamble all causing concern in the world of

television by reducing their above-the- line TV spend.

The costs of database marketing are becoming such that it makes sense to

promote a number of different brands in one mailshot. The big question,

though, is choosing which brands can be presented together without

confusing the consumer or wasting your marketing budget.

Jon Ingall, managing director of Evans Hunt Scott, applauds Unilever’s

move but wonders if the support of the Unilever name should be stronger

than just a passing reference in the editor’s letter.

‘When Heinz presents its brands in the At Home magazine, its strong

corporate name means consumers understand what is behind them. I think

readers of the Unilever magazines would probably like to know why all

these brands, in such disparate sectors, are being presented to them


Unilever as a brand is virtually unknown to the vast majority of

consumers; all marketing activity has historically been focused at

operating company level. But as the desire to test the feasibility of

collaborating on direct marketing has come from a senior level, it may

pay Unilever to strengthen its corporate name to back the activity.

Promoting a variety of different brands in one mailing need not be

confined under one corporate banner. Sources indicate that a number of

FMCG companies are investigating the possibilities of getting together

to push their various brands through letter boxes.

In the same way that the big below-the-line issue of the early 90s was

which brand to jump into bed with for a promotion, the latter part of

the decade is going to be taken up with brands finding suitable database


‘Pooling data is the way to go. Non-competing brands getting together in

one mailing makes a lot of sense as long as they are both targeting the

same group of consumers,’ says Simon Dalby, new business director at

Heinz’s direct marketer WWAV Rapp Collins.

But he adds that the mix of brands must be carefully worked out to

ensure that their images fit well with one another and that they target

the same group of consumers.


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