Cannes Lions 2016: Unilever CMO Keith Weed Previews the ‘Future of Brands’


Cannes Lions Keith Weed Unilever

As Unilever CMO Keith Weed took to the stage to discuss “The Future of Brands,” he stated: “Brands. Love ’em or hate ’em, they’re an integral part of our everyday life.” Citing his own background as an engineer, he said, “I love the data side as well as the creativity. I love the magic and the logic.”

Weed framed his comments with a formula of “I to the power of N”—relating to individuals, influencers and impacts—using Unilever campaigns to illustrate.

“With technology, we’ve gone from mass marketing to mass customization,” said Weed. “Marketing is about engaging with individuals. Unilever wants to build a relationship with a billion brands and a billion people around the world.”

Discussing the evolving CMO role, he noted, “We’ve gone from being a chief macro office to a chief micro officer—and we need to understand the individual to do both, globally and locally in the language, the culture and real-time.”

Weed shared brand examples of his three-pronged strategy:


  • AXE: To reposition the brand to address men of today, the film “Find Your Magic” connected at “a macro scale and has been seen by 76 million people.”

  • Romeo Reboot: The AXE reboot in Brazil used data to speak to individuals and target the creative better. “Surprise, surprise,” said Weed. “If you show people creative they’re interested in, they’re going to watch it for longer.”


  • Magnum: Release the Beast, launched at the Cannes Film Festival, used Kendall Jenner “as a way to magnify everything we did. We need to think about influencers more as we’re building brands. And not just celebrities but power-users who are driven by category, by time and by location.”
  • KNORR: Identified 12,000 food influencers before the Love at First Taste campaign began and matched singles by their favorite flavors. “In the first 24 hours, 5 million people saw it and over the course of the campaign there were 2 billion online impressions and three-quarters of those were earned which equals influencer power.”

  • OMO detergent: Working with influencer/education advocate Sir Ken Robinson, Unilever produced “Free the Kids: Dirt is Good” with prisoners at Wabash Maximum Security prison in Indiana, where only two hours of outdoor time is allowed daily. “Play is important in the lives of our children, noted Robinson. “But on average, our children now spend less time outdoors than a prison inmate.”


  • United Nations COP21: The film “Farewell to the Forest” supported the meeting and positioned the company’s corporate brand stance on deforestation.

  • Ben & Jerry’s: The campaign for Climate Change—when 785,000 people showed up in New York City for ice cream—supported the brand’s mission that “If it’s melted it’s ruined, for ice cream and our planet.”

  • Dove: Pointing to Dove’s record of redefining real beauty, Weed said Unilever is in the business of challenging stereotypes. “Eighty percent of women do not identify with previous stereotypes in ads we as an industry are sending across the world.” It’s not a moral issue, it’s an economic issue, he added. “At Unilever we’re working on ‘un-stereotyping’ as we look at the role of women in our advertising. No more secondary or service roles but women with full, authentic, aspirational roles. It’s a different way to represent beauty and a non-critical research perspective.”
  • Sustainability: Unilever’s sustainable living brands delivered nearly half the company’s growth and grew faster than the rest of the business, said Weed. “Our top five brands are now sustainable living brands. With technology we can now take statistics like this to endless people around the world.”

In his closing remarks, Weed provided an overarching recommendation for attendees: “In the past few years consumers have been ahead of marketers. Now is a time for a renaissance in marketing.”


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