Connecting purchase with purpose – an agency perspective on Unilever's Keith Weed at Cannes Lions

Unilever’s Keith Weed took to the Cannes stage dressed in his trademark lurid jacket. This time it was lime green.

Keith Weed - sans lime green jacket

Weed’s theme this year was “connecting purchase with purpose”, an attempt to link sales with sustainability. In a bid to win around the audience, Weed opened with video footage of 20 big names, including Sir John Hegarty, Martha Lane Fox and Michael Roth.

The films introduced Weed’s three themes. “Ideas”, “Trust” and “Transformation”.

Ideas

Starting out with ideas, Weed argued convincingly that storytelling has to be inspirational, has to engage people with their hearts. Predictably, he cited Unilever’s Dove work as a strong example. But then he won the audience around by showing a Dove parody about men comparing penis size – “penetrating the culture” was the phrase he used.

Weed talked about the difficulty of developing ideas in a world that’s constantly changing. In a world of Netflix with no ads. And a world of attention deficit. He cited research from Microsoft that indicated our attention spans have slipped from 12 seconds to 8 seconds. This has changed the nature of ideas: “We really have to capture someone’s attention and increasingly this it not with the best idea but the best, most creative, idea that works in five seconds.”

He then addressed the issue of art vs science in advertising. Or “magic and logic” in Unilever’s terms. Moving on to a point that big ideas are “not about the tech, it’s about ideas, we can’t replace human minds and creativity with technology". He continued: "We need to put people first, focus on the idea and engage people.”

Trust

Weed progressed to more sensitive territory with an admission that there is a tension between big brands and people. “We need to build trust, build relationships,” he argued.

He then went further. Suggesting that “the industry is in chaos” and faces big challenges in building trust.

Weed then moved into a description of what he’d like from his agencies. Arguing that specialism hasn’t necessarily been a good thing. As opposed to a “110 per cent solution” for mobile or search, Weed opined: “I want the 110% solution for my brands, fragmentation is tearing us apart”. Any agency that can manage everything for a Unilever brand will be a winner was the implication.

He then developed the “trust” issue by exploring measurement. Citing studies from Nielsen and Google that suggest close to half of digital advertising is “not reaching its audience” due to “bots” and other scams. Trawling his imagination, Weed suggested that this was akin to “having posters under the water” and encouraged “vendors” to “engage” on this issue.

“We need real action and standards to make sure fraud it taken out of the way when we buy digital advertising,” was Weed’s parting shot on the trust issue.

Transformation

Putting the buzz back into last year’s buzzword, Weed introduced his points on “transformation” by citing Uber, Facebook and Airbnb as businesses that think differently and engage in an innovative way.

He then mentioned, in some detail, Unilever’s attempt to connect with the tech and innovation community. This is called Unilever Foundry and is one year old.

Weed contended that the future for brands lies in “connecting purchase with purpose” and that those that take sustainability seriously, “building real trust into brand, industry and business”, will do better. He ran a film of Diageo’s Syl Saller to prove the point. Unilever brands such as Dove and Ben & Jerry’s that are built on sustainability grow faster than other Unilever brands.

The talk finished with a rallying cry to transform the advertising industry. “Our industry faces significant changes, opportunities, and challenges… We can do well and do good, we can make marketing great again. By connecting purchase to purpose we will create a bright future."

Chris Pearce is joint CEO at TMW Unlimited

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