Unilever Embraces UGC

Unilever tightened its embrace of consumer-generated content today with the launch of a global video-making competition involving 13 of its brands, including Ben & Jerry’s, Dove deodorant, Lipton and Vaseline.

The company is partnering with video platform Web site Mofilm on the Consumer Creative Challenge, which offers a grand prize of $10,900. A jury of Unilever executives, agency leaders and prominent players from popular video sites will judge the entries and in October will select five winners for each brand as well as an overall winner, who’ll get the prize money.

Unilever plans to incorporate the winning content into its brand marketing—either online or on TV, said Babs Rangaiah, vp of global communications planning.

Rangaiah, who’ll be among the jurors, discussed Unilever’s largest consumer-generated effort to date in an interview with Adweek senior reporter Andrew McMains.

Adweek: Why is Unilever expanding its efforts in this space?

Rangaiah: We believe that marketing will be much more participatory in the next few years and we want to be at the leading edge of that. In the U.S., we’ve done a few consumer-generated campaigns. Probably the biggest one was Dove Cream Oil [in 2007] launching and putting the winner on the Academy Awards. In the U.K., we have a brand Peperami [which will] crowdsource [its] next campaign. We’ve got something going on with Lipton in China. All of those have had pretty strong results. Recognizing the importance of consumers and their interaction with brands, we want to really do this at a much higher level now.

How do you ensure brand positioning consistency in contests like this?

Well, we try to make very tight briefs, pretty much the same kind of briefs that we would give to our agencies . . . in a little more consumer-friendly language. [Also], that’s the way we’re going to select the winners. If we get hundreds of submissions for each brand, the vast majority probably will be off-strategy. But there will be some that really hit the nail on the head, are interesting or relevant and fit the positioning of our brand. Those are the ones that will probably make the cut.

What does a contest like this do for Unilever that an ad agency can’t?

Mofilm’s core competency is doing exactly this. They already have databases of audiences based on the other contests [in the past] and platforms they’ve built that are geared directly toward creating content. They’ve already done this a few times over the last year and half with several other companies. So, they offer us a built-in platform that we can just essentially take. None of this should be taken as somehow a replacement for our ad agencies. We value our relationships with our agencies, whether they’re PRs, media or creative ad agencies. They’re still our key strategic partners. This is just another platform by which we can connect with our consumers and connect more closely.

In your mind, under what discipline does this fall?

(Laughs) In the same way that agencies are blurring, disciplines in general are blurring. This kind of blurs a combination of digital, PR, advertising and media. It kind of brings it all together.

What do you say to those who might look at this cynically and say, “This is the way to get client creative on the cheap?”

That’s not the goal of it. As I said earlier, this in no way is a replacement for our ad agencies. It’s not really what it’s designed to be. The real reason for it is to offer more participation for our consumers, to get closer to consumers and allow them to be more involved with our brands. It will help them become advocates, help them have more of a connection with the brands if they’ve been a part of helping to create it. It’s not one of our objectives to save money. I mean it’s a nice benefit (laughs), if we can get great stuff. But it’s not really the objective.

How do you track the effectiveness of these efforts?

We track it similar to the way that we track any other campaign. The Dove campaign, for instance. It was the primary thing we did to launch that brand and it significantly overachieved our sales goals. So, we know that it had direct impact. The Internet is probably the most measurable medium there is. So, we know exactly how many people are participating, how many people view, how many people pass on [videos]. These are all things we can measure, probably better than we’ve been able to measure anything. And then at the end of the day, each brand will be tracking directly [what] these campaigns—once they run them in combination with all the participation—do for their business. We’re also going to be putting in some research as it relates to brand attributes and things like that.