Unilever marketing boss calls on WPP to improve creative offering

WPP needs to reinvent its creative leading edge, the company’s most important client has told an audience of marketers.

Weed: ‘Creative leading edge’ of WPP needs to be reinvented

The comments came from Keith Weed, Unilever’s global chief marketing and communications officer, in one of his final on-stage appearances before retiring after 35 years with the organisation.

Unilever is the world’s second biggest spending advertiser after Procter & Gamble, and probably WPP’s largest client. Its dozens of brands include Dove, Magnum, Rexona, Lipton and Omo.

Along with P&G’s chief brand officer Marc Pritchard, Weed is seen as one of the world’s most influential marketers.

During the interview, comments from new WPP boss Mark Read about the need to restate the case for creativity were put to Weed.

Weed argued that while he has been impressed by the progress made by WPP with its media agencies, it had further to go with its creative agencies.

He said: “I’m a huge supporter of WPP. They are our biggest agency network, and I’d say the job they’ve done at least with Mindshare as part of Group M on the media side has been brilliant.”

However, he went on: “They’ve become fantastic around media but, there’s been a huge focus there. But Mark’s 110% right, it now needs to reinvent the creative leading edge of WPP.”

Sine the departure of WPP founder Sir Martin Sorrell 11 months ago, WPP has undergone a series of radical changes to its creative agency structures. These have included merging JWT and Wunderman to create Wunderman Thompson, and merging Young & Rubicam with VML to create VMLY&R.

Although Weed’s statement that WPP needs to reinvent its creative offering was couched in mild terms, it will cause concern within the company which has been undergoing its worst year since Sorrell founded it nearly 40 years ago.

In October, WPP lost three global accounts in just one week as United AirlinesFord and American Express moved their accounts out of the holding group.

Last week, WPP revealed a drop of 8.8% in global profits and a 1.3% drop in revenue. In Australia, the ASX-listed WPPAUNZ – which has been without a local boss since the departure of Mike Connaghan nearly five months ago – reported a 12.8% fall in local profits.

It is also not the first time that Weed has signalled his concerns about the agencies on his roster. Last year he told a conference: “The world has moved very fast and in my experience, the agencies haven’t moved fast enough.”

Later in this week’s interview, Weed added: “As an industry we’ve taken our eye off the ball of creating great, engaging advertising. If we lose the desire to create fabulous, engaging content, I think we’ve lost the sparkle.

“We need to wake up and say let’s get back to the bit that really makes this business buzz.”

This week saw Weed on the speaking trail. He also spoke at the ISBA (Incorporated Society of British Advertisers) conference in the UK on Tuesday, where he called out the “seven deadly sins” of adland. The “sins” are: the reduced quality of ads, the murky world of influencer marketing, concerns over data, brands funding bad activity including online fraud, fake news, personalisation and bombardment of consumers with too many messages.

However, Weed predicted during the Marketing Week Live interview: “This time next year, the influencer market will have been cleared up.” He also said that Twitter and Instagram have finally begun to get serious about deleting fake profiles.

Weed went out of his way to praise the innovation behind Australian-founded influencer platform, Tribe, calling on marketers to find ways of working with similar offerings. He said: “There are opportunities to use great tech to be a more efficient marketer.”

Citing Tribe – which connects small influencers to brands – Weed said: “One of the big challenges we have right now is that we want lots of content, we want it real time and quickly. I want it faster, I want it greater, I want lots of it. As a marketer we need to bring that sort of innovation into the business. Go out and find the Tribes and bring them into the business.”


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