Unilever Ups Marketing on AOL

Consumer packaged goods giant Unilever will continue to promote its goods through an extensive, renewed marketing agreement with AOL Time Warner.

Through the deal, AOL will promote Unilever brands across its bevy of online and offline media properties.

Few details were disclosed about the agreement, save that it encompassed several million dollars’ worth of media and marketing services. AOL said it would its leverage America Online service and Web sites, its Turner Broadcasting stations, and its Time Inc. print titles, for use in cross-platform advertising. AOL also said it would use its custom publishing group to develop consumer retention marketing materials for Unilever.

AOL and Unilever also said they would establish a team to oversee new cross-platform promotional opportunities.

“This is a groundbreaking agreement that goes beyond simply agreeing to a traditional multi-platform media deal,” said Unilever U.S. president and chief executive Charles Strauss. “Our two companies will work together, both in the U.S. and in Europe, on customizing brand growth and marketing strategies to drive our leading brands. Together, we have the knowledge and opportunity to drive our businesses to further growth.”

The new arrangement stems in large part from an over three-year-old arrangement between the Anglo-Dutch consumer packaged goods behemoth and America Online, which last year completed its merger with Time Warner.

As a result, the advertising partnership is likely to focus on Unilever’s top brands, including Slim Fast, Ragu, Skippy, Good Humor, Dove, Pond’s, Vaseline and Snuggle. Many of the brands had already been advertised through at least one AOL division.

AOL co-chief operating officer Bob Pittman, in typical fashion for these sorts of agreements, dubbed the news as evidence of AOL Time Warner’s ability to effectively integrate its media properties.

“By working across our company through our Global Marketing Solutions team, Unilever will be able to take their divisional relationships across AOL Time Warner to the next level and reach more consumers more efficiently than ever before.”

But it’s unclear exactly what this means for a major AOL rival, Microsoft’s MSN portal. In addition to its 1998 advertising deal with America Online, Unilever also signed a similar agreement with MSN.

The Microsoft advertising deal and subsequent agreements resulted in MSN running campaigns for Unilever’s Hellmans, Helene Curtis, Snuggle, Lipton and “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!”

But a Unilever spokesman characterized the company’s relationship with Microsoft as largely technology-related — “for database issues.” That alliance continues, Unilever said — though MSN has for years routinely trumpeted the consumer goods giant as one of its leading brand advertisers, not a technology client of its Redmond, Wash.-based parent.

MSN spokespeople did not return requests for comment at press time.

In the past, Unilever executives also said that MSN was a close participant in the company’s Digital Futures Laboratory in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., the mission of which is to explore new wireless and in-home technology solutions.

Now, however, Unilever said that it will be working with AOL with its Digital Futures Lab and in other projects involving digital media and technology standards.

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