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Unilever’s Rahul Welde: Consumer communication in a digital world

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SINGAPORE: “Advertising and campaigns are not dead,” said the red-frame bespectacled executive on stage. “Whosoever says that is foolish. The TV commercial is changing from three seconds to as much as three minutes or six minutes. Its form may change but advertising and campaigns are here to stay.”

Most professionals in India are familiar with this gent. Rahul Welde is Unilever vice-president Media for Asia, Africa, Middle east, Turkey and Russia, and he is seen as a media tour de force in the world as he controls ad spends running into billions of dollars for a large part of the emerging markets for the consumer giant.

Welde was speaking at the closing session of Social Matters in Singapore. He said he welcomes the explosion; the fragmentation in media. “I believe it has brought with it tremendous opportunity.  It allows to not go by classical reach and frequency approach that we have to do with mass media where we do a shot gun spray gun approach. It allows us to specifically target specific audiences. But we need to ride all the platforms – TV, print, outdoors, radio, online, social and what have you.”

 He pointed out that Unilever is constantly listening to whispers in the digital social universe. “We are constantly on the alert. We are listening. We are reacting to what consumers are saying. It helps us tweak products; attributes and helps build brand love amongst consumers,” he stated.

He spoke about a campaign that Unilever ran in India on the day of the election results on 16 May on Facebook. “We knew everyone was going to be on Facebook to comment, give their views on the election results. The reach block we resorted to asked engaged Facebook users to embrace the change that is coming. We got 35 million impressions; 165,000 reacted and interacted. It was very effective,” he explained.

Welde said that digital is also permitting Unilever to deliver on “target moments.”

For instance, he said that if the weather prediction is that the temperature is going to rise four days from a specific date, then he can choose to flood the various social and digital sites with advertising or messaging pushing ice-creams.

“Let’s take this further,” he said. “This month is Magnum ice cream’s 25th birthday in Singapore. I can reach out to all those who are celebrating their birthday this week or this entire month individually and help create a personal touching moment for each of them with their brand which is Magnum. In the old world of print and television, I could have never done this. “

He also spoke about the Dove Real beauty sketches campaign which was conceived in Latin America but broke in Australia. The idea of the campaign was to convince 96 per cent of women who think they are not beautiful that their beliefs about themselves are untrue.

As part of the campaign, a forensic artist asked women to describe themselves and he drew them without ever taking a look at their faces. The next day a stranger – who had met the women – then described the women sketched the day before to the artist who once again drew them. In almost all’ the cases, the women’s description of themselves and their beauty was not as charitable as the strangers and it showed in the two version sketches.

“The video which was produced by our agency Ogilvy went viral wildly,” says Welde. “We wanted every woman to know and believe you are more beautiful than you think and I think it worked very well.”

Welde and the Unilever team are obviously pressing the right levers.

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