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Keith Weed talks DTC, trust and avoiding Covid-19 creative ‘vacuums’

Keith Weed might have left Unilever after 35 years in 2019, but since then the FMCG giant’s former top marketer has been more in demand than ever. As well as presiding over the Advertising Association (AA), Weed has become an angel investor in several startups including influencer platform Tribe. He’s even taken on the role of The Drum’s official agony uncle.

As brands continue to grapple with how they will navigate the post-pandemic landscape, Weed sat down with The Drum’s executive editor Stephen Lepitak for a cuppa (yes, it was PG Tips) as part of the ongoing virtual Can-Do Festival.

The marketer behind Unilever’s pivot to purpose discussed how brands can navigate the new normal, direct-to-consumer (DTC) models, advertising for good and rebuilding trust in the industry.

Here are some of the highlights from the conversation, which can be seen in full here.

On how brands can navigate a post-pandemic world…

“Things are going to change. There are going to be short-term changes because the world is different. We’ve got social distancing; we’re having to use hand sanitisers – and some of those habits are going to be long-term.

“There are some fundamental shifts too, which are going to change things forever. The classic example is e-commerce. In the first 15 days of lockdown people flocked online because they couldn’t get anything elsewhere and we’ve seen about 15 years’ worth of e-commerce penetration over that period.

“Of course, some people will go back and use online less frequently but the fact we’ve got many more people shopping online than ever before is going to change and brands need to think about the role of e-commerce and direct to consumer (DTC) and how that could play out going forward. It’s not just going to be about scale either, advertisers are going to have to consider their consumer journeys.

“Brands are also going to have to think about how they show up and advertise more on platforms like Amazon versus Facebook.

“[Consumer] habits usually change very slowly, but in a crisis situation like this massive change happens very quickly and the market needs to work out what it’s going to do to react to that change.”

On why marketers should avoid falling into a creative Covid-19 ‘vacuum’…

“I’m a big believer that 80% of success is showing up. Brands can’t show up physically right now but they can show up in people’s lives and find ways to [encourage them to] connect with our brands.

“Brands are pivoting and finding new ways to keep themselves relevant and engaging. If you don’t show up in customers' lives you’ll lose relevance and they’ll forget about you.

“Right now, there’s a lot of confusion out there. A lot of brands rushed [at the start of the pandemic] to put out ads to show that they care. But there’s a video montage (below) showing that these ads were all identical. There were many words, visuals and music repeated over and over again.

“As a marketer the first thing I’d do is have a look at that montage and hold it up to yourselves. All of these companies have fantastic marketers leading them – so what went on? What happened is they produced an ad in a vacuum. They produced an ad and showed each other and then their directors and senior people and they all said ‘I love it. The emotional really strikes a chord’ and so on.

“But what they missed is the chance to think about what makes their own brands so unique and different. [They should have asked:] ‘What’s our point of difference and how do we fit into this [situation as well].

“When you stop behaving like your bran and you don’t bring differentiation you just become wallpaper and you disappear. For marketers, the first thing [they should be thinking about].

“Brands that had done a lot of work on finding their purpose before lockdown were in a better place.”

On rebuilding trust in advertising….

“There’s been a long-term decline in trust in advertising and a brand without trust is a product and advertising without trust is just noise. We need to address this issue and the only way we can do it is collectively as an industry.

“At the Advertising Association (AA) we set out to highlight what has been undermining trust. To be clear, advertising in the UK is still seen as more of a force for good than something bad, so we’ve not reached that awful tipping point, but we do need to grab the reins now.

“What undermines trust is frequency and bombardment. As well as the way brands are using data as a device. We’ve put together a program with the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) to rebuild trust… but it’s going to take some time.

“One of the things we need to think about is brands, brands with purpose and responsible advertising that addresses stereotypes. If we bring that package together we can make our industry more dynamic looking into the future.”

Weed spoke with The Drum's executive editor Stephen Lepitak as part of The Drum's Can-Do Festival, an online event celebrating the positive energy, innovation and creative thinking that can make the marketing community such a powerful force for good. You can watch the interview in full here.

Sign up to watch forthcoming sessions and see the full Can-Do schedule here.

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