It would be very easy to view Unilever's dismissal of its agencies'
attempts to negotiate a new remuneration package, reported on this
week's front page, as a straight battle between a thuggish client and
ill-treated ad agencies.
In this scenario, the senior client at the world's second-biggest media
spender is a crude Irish bully assisted by an unpolished media boot-boy
and neither will tolerate argument.
They use their advertising budget like a cattle prod. They will never
change their opinion just because a valid argument for change is
They're far too shrewd to be manipulated by those clever dicks from
Knightsbridge, Berkeley Square or Canary Wharf. And should those clever
dicks dare to dig their heels in, the client will remind them that there
are half a dozen other networks willing to pocket their self-respect
along with a reduced commission rate.
In fairness, this situation's not like that.
Unilever is taking a radical look at its entire operation, and
communication channel planning is its new mantra.
Instead of Unilever marketers determining brand strategy then briefing a
creative agency, media agencies, ad agencies and clients will work
together to formulate brand communication.
Only then will an agency be briefed on the creative. Bollocks? Far from
it: it is rooted in basic truths. Unilever has identified a way of
addressing skyrocketing TV airtime costs and a fragmented media market.
It has finally acknowledged that the world doesn't start and stop with
TV advertising and it has found a smart use for its own body of media
With these benefits comes a huge increase in income and status for media
agencies and a sharp loss of income for Unilever's worldwide advertising
networks. A portion of ad agency commission will be diverted to media
agencies to fund communication channel planning and those ad networks
affected are, to put it mildly, hopping mad.
In future, ad networks will have to prove they can handle many different
channels in order to stay on the roster. Media agencies will have to
ditch any vested interests in where the money is spent or they'll lose
the business too. Unilever might consider a couple of facts about itself
at this point.
First, it might take a close look at its own working methods. Like all
big clients, it is messy, not to say wildly inconsistent, in terms of
who has responsibility for what in what country and territory. Second,
it might also consider that there are some other clients out there who
reason that cutting agency commission might give you a nice warm macho
feeling but getting the best people to work on the business might not be
so easy in future. Even in these days of communication channel planning
it is still talent that makes a difference, after all.