As Unilever digests its acquisition of Bestfoods - and, specifically, the Knorr and Hellmann's prizes - advertising agencies are preparing for potentially dramatic realignments. The three Unilever agencies aligned to the food giant's previous culinary category (Lowe Lintas, J. Walter Thompson and Ogilvy & Mather) are preparing to battle in early January with BBDO and DDB, the two agencies who have worked on Knorr and Hellmann's. All participants will first have to digest the full implications of Unilever's other decision last week: to centralise its entire dollars 700 million US media account into WPP's MindShare.
Ever since Unilever launched its Communication Channel Planning strategy two years ago, the company has been nudging media to the heart of its advertising process. The CCP strategy is rooted in the commercial realities facing the dollars 51 billion company. Unilever's chairman, Niall Fitzgerald, aims to turn the company's static growth into a 6 per cent a year improvement by 2004. To achieve this, Unilever is culling the number of its advertising-supported brands and driving the marketing support for the remaining lines to work harder.
Which is where CCP comes in. Unilever spends dollars 3.4 billion a year on advertising; CCP is designed to spend that money more effectively by elevating strategic media to a crucial, earlier stage in the decision-making process, ahead of creative issues. The appointment of MindShare to the key US media business is the latest - and most important - phase in realising that strategy.
The winners of the Unilever foods creative review will come away with an enhanced place on a streamlined roster; MindShare, though, will be working across Unilever's entire portfolio, helping to make exactly those decisions about which brands receive marketing support, in which countries and across which media.
As the full implications of Unilever's on-going global agency shake-up become apparent, it increasingly seems that the broader and deeper relationship is the one that Unilever is developing with its media partners. It is a difficult pill for Unilever's creative agencies to swallow. The real challenge now is for those creative agencies to prove that, despite hiving off their media expertise, they still have the right tools to develop Unilever's future brand communications strategies.