PERSPECTIVE: Shops must comply with Unilever's world view or face the axe

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.


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