Unilever's Paul Polman claims marketers 'rapidly losing ground' to consumers

Unilever chief executive Paul Polman has given a withering assessment of the state of the marketing industry, arguing that marketers have fallen behind consumers.

Unilever: chief executive Paul Polman calling for marketing 'foresight'
Unilever: chief executive Paul Polman calling for marketing 'foresight'

Delivering The Marketing Society’s 2012 annual lecture on Monday, he said: ‘In the past, the job of marketers was to stay ahead of the consumer, identify trends, anticipate consumer needs and deliver products and services that grew profits. We did that fairly well.

‘Today, we are rapidly losing ground. The consumer is often ahead of us. They are developing markets at an accelerated pace.’

At a time when ‘consumer activism’ is prevalent, Polman said marketers must learn the language of the crowd. If that didn’t happen, he warned, the gap between them and consumers would widen, with potentially severe consequences.

He cited several examples, including Netflix and Bank of America attempting to increase fees; the public reminding McDonald’s about what organic means; Kit Kat being forced to use sustainable palm oil; and News Corporation being held to account over its standards.

The answer, said Polman, is that marketing must lead, not follow. ‘We need foresight, not insight. Only then can we get one step ahead of consumers and create a better world.’

Polman said that before long he could see ‘provenance’ being added to the six Ps of marketing – a concept that informed Unilever’s decision to put its logo on all packs and advertising.

‘Where products came from, and the company behind them, will be factors in purchase decisions,’ he added.

‘A small, but growing number of consumers are choosing sustainably sourced and responsibly made products.  Marketers who dismiss this as "niche" will surely miss out.’

Become a member of Campaign from just £45 a quarter

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to campaignlive.co.uk ,plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events

Become a member

Looking for a new job?

Get the latest creative jobs in advertising, media, marketing and digital delivered directly to your inbox each day.

Create an Alert Now

Partner content

Share

1 Why creative people have lost their way

What better way to kick off Campaign's relaunch than with another think piece on the current failings of our industry, written by an embittered, pretentious creative who misses "the way things used to be"...

Share

1 Job description: Digital marketing executive

Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).