After a year of shock exits, successions and social activism, we look at the publishers, marketers, campaigners and characters who have dominated the headlines.
As Keith Weed prepares to step down as Unilever chief marketing officer after 35 years with the business, he tells The Drum why it was time, reflects on his legacy and reveals what’s next.
It was 1983 when Keith Weed joined Unilever subsidiary Elida Gibbs as a marketing exec. Culture Club’s Karma Chameleon was number one in the UK charts, the Austin Metro was the most popular car on the road and WPP was just a wire manufacturer.
Since then he has risen to the position of chief marketing and communication officer, controlling the purse strings of the world’s second largest ad budget. However, he’s now ready to hang up his spurs with Unilever revealing in early December that the boss was to retire.
So why now? “It’s rather nice round number,” he jokes. “I want to go on and do other things within the industry, so you’re not saying goodbye to me yet.”
Since being appointed to the top marketing role in 2009 he has galvanized industry-wide action on “opaque” digital media practices, worked on an efficiency drive that has resulted in the group cutting its agency roster in half, brought some production in-house, led sustainability and diversity initiatives for the Dove and Persil owner along with his second in command (executive vice-president of global marketing Aline Santos) and built out the business’ internal digital know-how.
His exit marks a turning point for the business and dovetails with the appointment of a new chief executive for Unilever in the form of Alan Jope, but he promises he “won’t be a stranger” to the company he’s served for decades.
He’s yet to reveal what’s next but does say he will be focused on his non-executive commitments (he’s chairman of Business in the Community International, president of the History of Advertising Trust, an Effie Board director and Trustee of Grange Park Opera among other things).
What he does note is that he’ll be taking a palette cleanser between jobs in the form of the Peking to Paris Motor Challenge – a continentspanning endurance motor rally.
“I’ll take a little sorbet in a 1940 Pontiac which I’ve been building for the past 18 months,” he explains.
“I leave work at the end of April and on 28 May I get on a plane to Beijing. The car gets shipped in March then I drive through China, Mongolia, Russia, Finland and Paris – six weeks, it’s going to be fabulous fun.”
Syl Saller holds two key marketing positions in the industry. Not only is she the chief marketing and innovation officer for Diageo, Seller is also the president of the Marketing Society.
Achieving gender equality is a fervent passion of hers. Over the years, Saller has been an active force in encouraging companies to invest in female talent and has been outspoken in her drive to make more gender equal workplaces.
2018 saw Saller spearhead Diageo’s signing of ‘Free The Bid’, which called on ad agencies to put forward at least one female director as part of any creative bid. She also joined Women in Advertising & Communications London (WACL) on calling the on the marketing, media and communications industries to invest in female talent and close the leadership gap.
Kevin the Carrot
Who knew back in 2016 that Aldi and McCann Manchester had a hit on their hands with Kevin the Carrot? This animated, three-inch-tall root vegetable mascot lacked the polish of the Disney Pixar’s output; he wasn’t particularly cute, heroic, or even cool. In fact, with his reassuring smile, modest, unassuming Kevin became the hero that Brexit Britain needed. He isn’t a person – he is an icon that reflects the souls of his creators.
Viewers will remember the daucus carota’s debut in 2016 – a dangerous journey across a buffet table before Santa chose him to join his reindeer chums. Kevin escaped from the jolly overlord to find himself in a Murder in the Orient Express parody, before he immediately fell in love with Katie the Carrot.
2018 was Kevin’s year. He endured the wrath of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for a ‘Sixth Sense’ parody where he claimed to see “spirits” (booze deals). The ASA accused the carrot of encouraging underage drinking. Could an animated carrot get drunk? Would children emulate the drinking habits of an animated carrot? A simple TV spot made us question the role and the zealotry of the ad watchdog.
If questioning ad regulation was the carrot, subverting advertising fandoms was the stick. The 2018 Christmas spot saw Kevin troll the millions awaiting Coca-Cola’s festive truck ad. Viewers saw the fairy light-covered truck forge a path through the snow accompanied by a sound-alike soundtrack before the beloved lorry crashed and dangled on a cliff edge. Carrot-eating viewers may have perceived through the darkness that the vehicle was a sickly orange, not red, and Kevin was revealed to be driving the truck in a bid to save Katie the Carrot and his children from the clutches of an evil parsnip.
While Kevin subverted the notion that ads can have fans, Aldi stores spanning the nation were rife with riotous madness as the masses tried to get a grip on limited-edition carrot toys. Proof that over the last few years, as the UK’s exit from Europe has been negotiated, the plucky spirit of Kevin has taken root in the nation.
The Drum has been writing for more than two years about the likelihood of Read succeeding Sir Martin Sorrell at the helm of WPP, but no one could have predicted just how that would unfold in reality.
Read was at the helm of Wunderman, which has become arguably the network’s leading agency brand under his leadership, as its global chief executive for over three years and was seen as the company’s digital chief prior to that. The man (and it seems from the interview process that it was always going to be a man) who was to replace Sorrell needed to understand the digital needs of the marketing sector and clients, and while many questioned whether Read was capable of being as front-facing as the role demands, he has stepped up since landing the top job (and before, when co-chief operating officer and handling the baying press during Cannes Lions and the full year results).
He is seen, however, as more of a man of the people – or as much as any chief executive can be when they have a number of businesses to figure out and a group of shareholders who have long been displeased and are seeing their profits recede.
“We owe it to the people in the company to do the best we can,” he told The Drum while talking about turning around the fortunes of WPP in June.
On his own approach he later explained: “To some extent WPP will, by definition, have a different type of leadership now Martin is no longer here, and that type of leadership will be more collaborative in style and will help to bring the organization together more.”
He went on: “We need to do it in a different way. I like to think that I work with people to bring the best out of them and work collaboratively with them. I think I am clear on the overall direction and that the people around me understand what it means and what they need to do to be successful within that. The type of company we are matters to me – the way people are treated, what happens when you come to work, I’ve always felt that. That is important and certainly when I ran Wunderman I was keen to push women more in the organization.”
What the fortunes of the business will look like under the Read regime is still unclear with stock prices still not improved. However, in making moves such as merging Y&R and VML or J Walter Thompson into Wunderman, he has shown he is not shy of big decisions even this early into WPP’s new era.
Publicis Groupe’s then-new chief executive Arthur Sadoun turned heads at Cannes when he announced his intention to produce an AI driven tool that would compose teams for particular projects. Perhaps the announcement was more directed at his decision to withdraw spend from all awards globally, but with Marcel there was an idea that was something new for the industry to talk, moan or scoff at.
In May, almost a year after being announced, the platform was unveiled in Paris in a display reminiscent of the fashion shows synonymous with the French capital. Clients and senior staff gathered to hear about and see how the system would work. And while many were amazed, it ultimately showed itself to be a management tool with both potential and questions still to be answered.
Welcome to the industry Marcel. We hope you make a good espresso. No milk for me.
This is not the only recent honor for publisher Darren Styles, who collected an ever-soslightly more glamorous OBE from the Duke of Cambridge in November for his services to the economy, diversity and charity. It’s been some journey for a man who describes himself as “a kid from a council estate, product of a comprehensive education and a lifetime selfstarter moving into grumpy middle age”.
Styles – a career contract publisher who has worked with brands including Hertz, Vauxhall and Spar – fulfilled a longstanding ambition when he became the owner of gay men’s magazine Attitude in September 2016. Since then, he has been steadily taking his treasured monthly upmarket to suit a readership whose average age is now 38 and in 2018 presided over its landmark 300th issue – a milestone not to be sniffed at given how many other longstanding magazines went to the wall last year.
Two and a half decades on from its launch with Boy George on the cover, Attitude remains a powerful force for good – in print and, increasingly, online. “We can see there are people reading our magazine in countries where it’s illegal to be gay,” Styles told The Drum of its website’s role in helping people all over the world find themselves.
As attitudes have changed down the years, so has Attitude. This is a magazine that was originally launched as a stablemate to ‘Asian Babes’ under its first owner Richard Desmond and whose advertising pages were dominated by purveyors of jock straps, lube and condoms. “One of the provisos I had when I got involved with the magazine was to say we have to stop that, because if we want to grow up and reflect our maturing readership and we want people to take us as seriously as we want to be taken, we can’t do that; it doesn’t work with our advertisers,” Styles recalled.
Today, Attitude counts high-end brands like Belstaff, Dsquared and Jaguar among its backers. And, in 2018, it struck up a kinship with a more surprising partner – the controversial bookmaker Paddy Power.
For the World Cup in Russia, where gay people face some of the most oppressive laws in the world, the betting brand hit on the idea of donating £10,000 to LGBT causes every time the host nation scored. By happy coincidence, at the same time Paddy Power was planning that stunt Styles was in the process of setting up the charitable Attitude Foundation to put something back to the magazine’s community. Mindful of Paddy Power’s past missteps, Styles agreed to work with the brand but only if it had the power to veto content. The bookmaker agreed and the campaign went better than either could have expected. Russia’s shock progression to the quarter final, including five goals in its first game, sent the message viral and raised £170,000.
Styles’ tireless dedication to the LGBT+ community has already transformed people’s lives but, as he lamented to The Drum, his work isn’t done yet. “We sadly carry on our own website two or three times a week stories about people who’ve been beaten in the street or attacked in some way shape or form, be they L, G, B or T. So there’s still work to be done, sadly. The need for this magazine will see me out, I think. That utopian world where Attitude was a different magazine and the awards weren’t necessary isn’t here yet. And it won’t be for a while.”
Help Refugees is a phenomenon and its founder Josie Naughton a phenomenal person. She may not have initially intended to do more than send items to those in Calais in desperate need of help, but she went on to raise millions of pounds in donations as a result and is really changing lives.
In 2018 she reached out for the advertising industry to help and has even reached UK bosses at Facebook who were impressed with how she has used online platforms to engage with the public who now wear her ‘#chooselove’ T-shirt with pride.
The crisis may not have been solved, but without Help Refugees it would surely have been a damned sight worse.
Demanding an end to forced arbitration in cases of harassment, a commitment to end pay and opportunity inequity and a publicly disclosed sexual harassment transparency report – these were some of the demands of Google employees across the globe who participated in a 48-hour effort to arrange a worldwide walkout.
It was reported that almost 60% of its employees in London, Dublin, Montreal, Singapore, New York City, San Francisco, Seattle and Cambridge joined in, following a New York Times investigation that revealed Google had given Android co-creator Andy Rubin a $90m exit package despite multiple relationships with other Google staffers and credible accusations of sexual misconduct against him.
Though the majority of the women remained anonymous, one of the few to wave anonymity was Cathay Bi – a Google employee in San Francisco and one of the walkout organizers. Bi read aloud stories provided by Google employees – shared anonymously – detailing personal experiences of harassment at the company. She is reported to have said that she experienced sexual harassment while at Google, but that she did “not feel safe talking” about the experience and had ultimately decided not to go public with her own story of sexual harassment.
Bill and Melinda Gates
Microsoft’s founder Bill Gates and his wife Melinda have long been as synonymous with philanthropy as they have with technology, putting much of their fortune into medical research in an attempt to solve some of the world’s major ills.
The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation was founded in 1997 in a bid to eradicate disease using data and technology, and the work of the organization continues to drive forward innovation. November saw Microsoft overtake Apple as the world’s biggest company – a turn that will no doubt swell the Gates’ fortune, currently estimated to be worth around $100bn. Much of that will go into further research, with the University of Dundee having received £1m for its work in developing a male contraceptive pill.
Elsewhere, The World Bank announced it had teamed up with the foundation in order to grow innovation around sanitation services, with $1bn donated to the cause, while $200m will also be spent on developing the toilet of the future as unveiled by Bill in Beijing at the start of November. That same month it also awarded a grant of $500,000 to USA Today to help it cover educational issues as part of a two-year commitment that will see the creation of a national reporting team within the network dedicated to the topic.
These are just a handful of projects that have benefited from the foundation, which has become a beacon of what brand building can achieve when the profits of a highly successful business are put towards world change and doing good. Take note, Zuck.
Advertising touches billions of people every day and has the power to shape culture, and it has the responsibility to tackle outdated stereotypes. This has been Aline Santos’ mantra since she joined Unilever in 1989, where she’s been the architect of several campaigns with purpose at their heart including the iconic global Dove ‘Real Beauty’ campaign and led the ‘Dirt is Good’ campaign for Persil. More recently, she has been at the forefront of the ‘Unstereotype’ project, which aims to eradicate clichéd portrayals of gender in advertising and brand content since its launch in 2016.
In 2018, Santos led Unilever’s multi-million dollar deal with Simon Fuller’s XIX Entertainment to expand an initiative to eradicate stereotypes in content beyond advertising, in an attempt to purge the music industry of outdated labels. Under her leadership, the startup collaboration platform Unilever Foundry has partnered with UN Women and its Global Innovation Coalition for Change (GICC). This alliance with 22 partners will seek to advance gender equality, create a set of innovation principles and promote positive role models for women.
The Drum's New Year Honors were first published in the January issue of The Drum magazine, which looks back at the year in marketing and advertising and mulls over some of the lessons learned in 2018. Buy your copy here.