Unilever: we're 'miles ahead of the pack' on tackling ad fraud

FMCG company says it has made big strides in data-driven transformation of marketing operations as it reports a fall in sales for first half of 2019.

Magnum: ice cream sales were down due to cooler early summer than in 2018
Magnum: ice cream sales were down due to cooler early summer than in 2018

Unilever’s efforts to evolve its approach to marketing have made significant progress, chief executive Alan Jope has said, as the FMCG giant reported its half-year results. 

The business last year started opening a series of data-driven digital hubs around the world, which former chief marketing officer Keith Weed said were aimed at "building audiences, delivering and optimising targeted content, all under the umbrella of our strict data governance standards".

Speaking on an analyst call this morning, Jope said there were now 24 of these hubs, with more to come, and they had delivered more than 600 data-driven campaigns. They were helping to identify "super segments" of consumers, he said, that could be used across all three divisions of the business: beauty and personal care, home care, and food and refreshment.

Jope reiterated that Unilever was increasing its media investment, which he said had increased by about €300m (£268m). 

"We continue to shift our media mix into channels that are growing, not shrinking, our audience," he said – this meant that digital channels now accounted for 40% of spend. The shift had boosted message relevance, asset quality and targeting, he said, leading to "significant step ups in ROI".

Jope also depicted Unilever as a trailblazer in tackling ad fraud, which is predicted by cybersecurity company Cheq to cost businesses $23bn (£18.4bn) this year, and according to the World Federation of Advertisers, is now the second biggest source of income globally for organised crime, after drugs.

Unilever was "miles ahead of the pack in eliminating ad fraud", Jope said. It had managed to reduce fraud to single-digit proportions of spend, he said, compared with 20-30% for many peers. 

Unilever reported underlying sales growth of 3.3% for the first six months of the year, though turnover was down 0.9%, largely as a result of the sale of the spreads business to KKR, which was completed in July 2018. 

Ice cream sales were also affected due to the lack of the same hot early summer weather experienced in certain countries in 2018 – though Jope acknowledged the irony of talking about this on a day expected to be the hottest on record in the UK.