Close-Up: Unilever crowdsourcing effort divides opinion

Industry reaction to the company's Consumer Creative Challenge, in association with MoFilm, that took place last week.

Last week, some of the biggest names in advertising convened at the London Film Festival to see Unilever's chief marketing and communications officer, Keith Weed, announce the winner of the company's Consumer Creative Challenge.

The contest, organised by Unilever in partnership with MoFilm, invited budding and established film-makers to create an ad for one of any 13 of its biggest brands, including Axe, Surf and Dove.

The best film for each participating brand was placed on to a shortlist, and a judging panel of industry leaders selected an overall winner.

Triumphing overall was an ad for Vaseline called "The melody of skin", created by the Japanese filmmaker Ryoko Kawanishi. Kawanishi received £7,000 for her efforts, and her ad will now feature in an upcoming marketing campaign.

Here, Unilever's global communications planning director, Debbie Weinstein, explains why the company embarked on the project, while two of the industry's top creative directors give their thoughts on the film.

Debbie Weinstein - Unilever

We've been working with MoFilm on certain projects for around two years now. We firstly started off with a project for Ono, and then did another one for Vaseline last year too. But this year was the first year that we took on a project of any real breadth.

We did this as a reaction to the ways that the digital age we live in is transforming a consumer's relationship with content. Every brand is engaging with consumers in the social space differently, so we felt that this was a good way to look at how we at Unilever can work in this sector.

We set the bar pretty high from the off because we were asking people to submit high-quality films.So, while it was a competition that anyone could enter, you really had to have the film-making ability and creative talent to produce high quality content.

We made sure the brief was strong, consistent and remained true to our core brand ideas. We wanted content that could let us tell a story and enhance our brand equity.

The winning film for Vaseline really captured the spirit of the brand. The idea surrounding the power of touch, looking at how we connect with others and connect with the world is a powerful one, and that is highlighted here by the relationship that a child has with their mother. It's a universal truth and an absolutely beautiful story.

It was important to us that agencies were key backers in this. For instance, Tony Wright, the Lowe chairman, was on the judging panel. Our communications require a huge depth of content so there are inevitably going to be a huge range of models that can be used to create it. The onus is now on us to make sure that we look for that new model and establish ones that work. And if we are to do that, then our agencies need to play a huge part in helping us.

Jon Williams - Grey EMEA

Using music as a metaphor for skin health is an angle I haven't seen before. It's sweet. Happily, the film seems to play the heartstrings just as symphonically. I'm sure it will play well with consumers. It feels like it has everything it needs to be a great Unilever ad. It feels very familiar. Very "right". And that, I guess, is why I feel rather uncomfortable. Harnessing the wisdom of the crowd is a massively appealing direction for a number of reasons: resonance, breadth of ideas, fresh thinking, cost-efficiency etc. But to use a very 2.0 idea sourcing methodology to produce a bit of content, which is then played out as interruptive broadcast media, seems perverse in the extreme. The danger is you take the finely tuned sniper rifle of a (social) medium, and then use the stock to beat consumers over the head with.

I think it's great to open our business up to new business models. And to talents from film-making (and anywhere else) who can breathe fresh air through the corridors of traditional thinking. With brands that have a real competitive advantage in the market, I think confidentiality is the issue that has precluded more of this sort of initiative. The danger of the next product innovation leaking to your competitors through the "power of we" is a real issue. For something like Vaseline, that's not going to be a problem.

On YouTube, as of now, it's had 1,095 plays, four comments, one removed. It's not gone viral. It's not caught the imagination of the congregation. It will take millions of media dollars to introduce it to people. It shouldn't need to do that. If you're going to crowdsource creative, make sure it is to produce more innovative, relevant, forward-thinking communications. Not just more of the same but cheaper.

Ben Priest - Adam & Eve

Would I have approved this ad as a script? No, I'm afraid not.

Is it terrible? No, it's perfectly passable. Is it badly shot? In places it's well crafted.

But regardless of how it was created or who created it, for me it's just not quite good enough.

I've nothing against companies like Unilever going outside of the traditional creative gene pool for work on their brands. In fact, I think it's a good thing. Fresh talent, fresh eyes and fresh thinking should benefit our whole business by raising the creative bar. Remember how Absolut brought in a variety of wonderful artists to work on their campaign? Executions like "Absolut Haring" certainly gave us creatives food for thought.

These collaborations should lead to work that feels fresher, brighter and that somehow manages to break the rules of traditional advertising but gets away with it. For me, that's not the case here. The Vaseline film feels like a slightly less good version of one of those quiet, observed Volkswagen films. The Peperami crowdsourcing ad left me feeling the same. In the end, the winning execution was just the next ad in the campaign Lowe already had going. It was even penned by a guy who has spent his life working in agencies. So what was the point? Easier just to brief the agency, surely?

Look at a campaign like "whassup?", from a group of guys who were nothing to do the agency, and you can see that outside help can bring ideas that break the mould. We need to be cleverer about the brands we let people loose on, fussier about who those people are and braver about the work we choose.


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