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Brand Marketers Keep Spending Online

Posted by: Catherine Holahan on September 15, 2008

With Wall Street in crisis and a recession looming, it follows that marketers would slash budgets—particularly for newer forms of brand promotion such as social network advertising. Not so, says Keith Bobier, Unilever’s senior director of marketing. The company behind such brands as Axe deodorant and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter plans to continue to spend on sharable video ads, games, and other forms of widget advertising that can be spread across sites such as Facebook and MySpace. “We are not pulling in the reigns at all,” says Bobier. “There is nothing experimental about this for us. This is a serious part of our marketing mix.”

Web companies are hoping other brands react similarly to the tighter economic times. Firms such as Google and Microsoft have long touted the idea that budget crunched marketers will spend online, even as they cut back on other forms of advertising, thanks to the ability to track performance and easily adjust campaigns. “Near as we can tell, we just offer such great ROI [return on investment] for advertisers that they can directly see and measure, that advertisers in even difficult markets just have great inventive to get as much profitable inventory as they can,” said Google co-founder Sergey Brin in a call with financial analysts late last year.

Bobier points to results from a recent campaign as evidence for why Unilever is “all in” online. For five weeks, Unilever ran a campaign in which an animated spokeswoman for I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter (spray) “Spraychel” ran for president against Mr. Butterman. Like Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, she ran on a “change” platform. Butterman ran on a program of keeping the status quo where rich (foods) get fatter.

The campaign included online videos, a sweepstakes, shareable “widget” programs that could be spread throughout social networks, a Web site, and sweepstakes offers . About 16% of people who saw the ads interacted with them, compared to a 2% average click through rate for standard banner ads. “It was really successful for us,” says Victoria Barbadoro, associate brand building manager for I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.

Among the most promising parts of the campaign was a widget that spread virally to thousands across the Web. Unilever didn’t pay for each widget install, so every impression received from fans spreading the message was icing on the cake. “I think we have all been surprised,” says Bobier of the ads, some of which were games. “I have constantly said no self-respecting forty or fifty year old woman is going to be playing online games at night and the data has proved me wrong.”

The ability to react quickly to that data was a key appeal. Whereas television advertising campaigns must often be purchased in bulk, in advance, Unilever could adjust where ads ran and which ads ran regularly based on user response data. Barbadoro says that the team analyzed the data each week and changed ads and sites based on their performance, analyzed by Microsoft and digital marketing firm Interpolls, which developed the widget.

Reader Comments


November 10, 2009 11:36 AM

Does the 16% interaction rate equal a click? I'm assuming that it's referencing time spend on the ad vs. a click through which are very different online marketing measurements (branding vs. conversion).

If so, the statement of 16% vs. 2% is a bit off.

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