OPINION: Unilever brand cull puts quality at top of agenda

The decline of a once-famous brand was poignantly charted in two stories in the same edition of The Guardian last week.

The decline of a once-famous brand was poignantly charted in two

stories in the same edition of The Guardian last week.

One page carried a report about how a shirt made for England’s soccer

captain, Bobby Moore, to wear in the 1966 World Cup Final was auctioned

for pounds 44,000. Inside it was a label bearing the message: ’Washing

instruction - use Lux.’

Fifteen pages on was the news that Unilever is to axe three-quarters of

its 1,600 consumer brands and throw all its advertising and marketing

weight behind just 400 products earmarked as having high-growth


One of the victims of the cull is likely to be Lux.

Needs must, of course, and - just as Unilever has signalled its

unwillingness to continue supporting lame duck brands - so the message

to its roster agencies is abundantly clear: take nothing for


Like its mighty rival, Procter & Gamble, which has just announced that

it is ditching the commission system, Unilever is willing to think the

previously unthinkable.

And while the company is sometimes privately criticised by its agency

account teams for allowing vested interests to inhibit speed of action -

it is said to have been discussing this move for five years - it is now

set to take decisive action to boost flagging sales.

Inevitably, this will create problems as well as opportunities for

roster shops. With fewer brands, Unilever will be calling for more

concentrated advertising firepower. For agencies like Ammirati Puris

Lintas, which began life as Unilever’s house agency but has found the

relationship with its oldest client increasingly rocky of late, the task

is obvious.

In taking this course, Unilever has underlined its determination to see

that quality wins out among its agencies, whether they are global

networks or local players. Doing a good job will rightly reap rewards -

whatever the names are on the door.

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