Media: Perspective - Unilever is right to try out a different internet approach

Who said you can’t teach an old dog new-media tricks? While younger media guys and fleeter advertisers gnaw their knuckles about missing the new-media wave, one of media’s more - ahem - seasoned professionals and one of the world’s biggest advertisers have teamed up to go digital.

Who said you can’t teach an old dog new-media tricks? While younger

media guys and fleeter advertisers gnaw their knuckles about missing the

new-media wave, one of media’s more - ahem - seasoned professionals and

one of the world’s biggest advertisers have teamed up to go digital.



In its first move into dotcom start-ups, Unilever has taken a stake in

Wowgo, a new internet brand of which Mike Gold (a founder of Gold

Greenlees Trott) is the chairman. But before you imagine web page after

web page expounding the joys of soap powder, loo cleaner and frozen

peas, this is not simply another example of an advertiser knee-jerking a

presence on the web.



Like Procter & Gamble, which teamed up with Excite UK last month,

Unilever has set its sites on the teenage market, which as a target is

harder to get right but easier to define as a niche audience.



For such mass-market companies, a niche portal targeting young girls is

not exactly an obvious route. What is really interesting is the decision

to eschew the sort of generic female sites (CharlotteStreet.com,

Handbag.com and the new BeMe.com) which, you might think, would be the

natural route for such traditional ’housewife’ advertisers.



But you only have to look at the paucity of the current slew of female

portals to see one of the main problems. None of the internet sites

targeting women has any real stand-out or appreciable branding, and they

leave me cold. Nothing about the proposition of CharlotteStreet or

Handbag appeals to me, probably because, while I might be female, that

is not what defines my interests or determines what I find

entertaining.



No-one’s cracked the female audience on the web, yet. While men log on

in droves to their favourite (sports) sites, women are still web

grazers.



So, with the frozen peas approach too dull to translate into a website,

and the generic female thing too, well, unfocused, Unilever and P&G have

broken with their own traditions, as befits a new medium.



What both the Unilever and P&G initiatives acknowledge is the

difficulties of designing portals for women, but also the potential for

harnessing the internet’s ability to tell us more about each other,

something which all too often gets lost in the headlong rush to get on

the net at all costs.



For Unilever, the idea of Wowgo is to blend information, chat and

interactivity in a way that can deliver real insight into how teenage

girls feel about brands, track trends in the teen sector and do so in an

environment which - if they pull it off - will be empathetic to its

users and develop a co-operative relationship with tender young

consumers. Which is exactly what the internet should be about - not

churning out more patronising editorial aimed at ’women’.



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