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Microsoft, AOL Sign Unilever in Major Ad Deals

Global consumer goods giant Unilever signed separate three- year Internet advertising agreements with Microsoft and America Online under which it will create interactive marketing programs for its major consumer brands.

Spending was not disclosed.

The deals are further evidence of traditional consumer products companies moving into Internet advertising.

Unilver said the marketing initiative will be run by its Food Group and Home And Personal Care Group of North America. The company also announced plans to create an Interactive Brand Center in New York City staffed primarily with Internet marketing employees, as well as Internet and Information Technology experts. Plans call for the project to reach "global proportions" sometime in the near future, the company said.

The AOL/Unilever venture will focus on the creation of "innovative" Web advertising, and the companies said they will co-develop customized programming and promotional sites.

Advertising for as many as 100 Unilever brands may also appear on CompuServe and on AOL's e-mail, message boards and live online events, AOL said, adding that the agreement includes services in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Germany, France, Japan and later will include Australia.

Unilver said it also expects to have a "major advertising presence" throughout The Microsoft Network (MSN) and the Microsoft Web site.

Said Robert M. Phillips, president, Unilever Home & Personal Care - North America: "None of us truly knows how the Internet will change the manner in which consumer goods companies communicate with consumers because this technology is being developed so rapidly. However, we expect that as a result of these alliances, over one billion impressions for our brands will be viewed on the Internet by consumers over the next three years."

Unilever's well-known product line includes Lipton teas and soups; Wish-Bone salad dressings; Lawry's spices; Ragu; and Calvin Klein cosmetics and perfumes. The company already has a Web presence with sites such as www.recipesecrets.com, www.tasteyoulove.com, www.dovespa.com, and www.mentadent.com.

Unilever Sees Future of Marketing as Interactive and Personal Unilever's interactive marketing and electronic commerce manager said he sees the future of marketing as instant, two-way, personal communication with consumers.

The $50 billion Anglo-Dutch consumer goods giant signed separate agreements with America Online and Microsoft yesterday to develop interactive marketing and advertising for 100s of its brand-name products.

"The future of marketing in 2020 is instantaneous, two-way, personal, integrated and seen everywhere," Unilever's Simon Darling was quoted by Reuters as saying at an Advertising Age International conference in London called "Marketing 2020 Europe."

"People increasingly want things instantaneously -- 24-hour news, 24-hour shopping. They also want things personal. There's no longer a tolerance of things that aren't for me... or for 'I can't get things where I want it.' If I want it on my mobile phone, I'll have it there. On my TV? I'll have it there. The technology can enable these things," he said.

"Unilever is a mass marketing company by its heritage and we are wondering where we'll be in 2010," Darling said. "The fundamentals of marketing remain unchanged--consumer understanding, brand innovation, brand communication, media. The challenge is that how we do all these things is changing.''

No financial terms were disclosed, but Unilever and AOL said that the deal marks the largest single commitment to the interactive medium by a packaged goods marketer.

Darling said Unilever has more than 35 Web sites and is building partnerships to show "our heightened commitment to both learning and doing things for today's brands that make sense on the Web and interactive television."

A recent Internet promotion for Mentadent toothpaste invited targeted U.S. consumers to give their name and address and that of a friend, resulting in 60,000 samples sent out in a week, he said.

"Follow-up qualitative research showed that the Web, of all the mechanisms we have, has been the most efficient way of trialing. The problem is not every consumer in the U.S. yet is online. But remember, it's coming to TV," Darling said.

Brand managers at Unilever are starting to see television as a support medium to the Internet, which builds personal relationships with consumers, Darling said.