Unilever considers retiring CMO role following Keith Weed's departure

Several industry sources have told The Drum that the Dove and Lynx owner will not be hiring a direct replacement for Weed

Speculation is mounting that Unilever, the world's second-biggest advertiser, is to retire its chief marketing officer role after current ad boss Keith Weed steps down.

Several industry sources have told The Drum that the Dove and Lynx owner will not be hiring a direct replacement to fill Weed's shoes. Instead, it plans to restructure the marketing department in the wake of his imminent departure.

Unilever declined to comment when approached about how Weed would be succeeded and the future nature of the CMO role.

Weed has worked at Unilever for 25 years. He has occupied the chief marketing and communications officer role since 2009 and is due to leave in four weeks' time. The FMCG giant has yet to reveal its plans for when he leaves the company.

During his tenure, Weed has campaigned for an industry-wide clean up 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 along with his second in command Aline Santos; and built out the business’s internal digital know-how.

After his exit was announced in December, industry insiders thought Santos was the best positioned internal candidate to take over Unilever's marketing department.

However, now it looks like the group — which spends some $8bn on advertising a year — will undergo a restructure that rids it of the traditional marketing chief post.

It is not yet clear what this reshuffle might look like. But if Unilever does march ahead with this plan its high spender status and influence as a 'university of marketing' will see others take it as a statement as to what a modern brand department should look like.

The death of the traditional CMO?

In recent years, the likes of Coca-Cola and Hyatt have ditched the typical global chief marketing officer roles associated with conglomerates in favor of more regionalized structures. Many brands are also hiring and recruiting chief customer officers or creating hybrid roles that incorporate marketing, customer experience and revenue growth.

It doesn't always work out, however.

In the UK, EasyJet was last year forced to u-turn on its decision to bundle marketing and sales together into a chief commercial officer role. Ailing House of Fraser faced a similar issue in 2017 when its former chief customer officer David Walmsley departed after just 12 months in the role. Paddy Earnshaw then joined in the reinstated position of chief marketing officer (though he only stayed for a year).

Whatever form Unilever's rumored shakedown takes, ad land will be watching closely to see how it uses its marketing team to knit together traditional and digital channels (where 40% of its spend is now funnelled). The hundreds of agencies Unilever works with will no doubt be readying themselves for an announcement, poised to find out what it means for the brand's ongoing marketing efficiency cuts.

Increasingly, Unilever has been focused on its 28 'people data centers' which aim to help it edge closer to its goal of "one-to-one marketing at scale". The hubs comprise programmatic capabilities, real-time insights and Unilever’s in-house content production division U-Studios.

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