Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 21 No. 34
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.

How Unilever uses data to tidy up campaigns

When Unilever became an NCAA corporate partner in 2011, it tapped Nielsen to help gauge the effectiveness of the company’s activation strategy.

“Unilever wanted to evaluate who they were reaching, how their message was resonating and — where the rubber meets the road — whether or not people were buying more products,” said Stephen Master, global head of Nielsen’s sports practice.

Unilever holds exclusive rights to the men’s grooming category.

Unilever used Nielsen to shape activation around its NCAA sponsorship, which included a spot with John Thompson III.
Photo by: Edelman
“We use Nielsen to figure out not only what is and what is not working, but why a particular piece of creative is working,” said Matthew McCarthy, Unilever senior director of men’s grooming.

Unilever then “reinvests those learnings,” McCarthy said, to create, edit or eliminate content.

One such learning resulted from a study into the marketing strategies of three Unilever brands throughout the 2011 March Madness tournament. Dove Men+Care’s ad campaign centered on college basketball icons such as Magic Johnson, Bobby Hurley and John Thompson III, while the commercials for Axe and Degree had no direct ties to the sport.

Utilizing Nielsen’s Homescan panels, which record all UPC-coded items in a representative sample of 100,000 U.S. households, Unilever discovered that men who watched the tournament were more likely to buy their men’s grooming products.

“However, while Dove Men+Care products performed incredibly well and saw a nice lift specifically among avid NCAA fans, Axe and Degree didn’t get quite that lift,” Master said.

As a result, Unilever shifted the approach of its brands’ marketing strategies around future NCAA tournaments to include some sort of tie-in to basketball in most cases. And based on Nielsen research, Unilever realized that it didn’t need to give coaches, athletes and other talent a dominating presence in the ads. Consumers responded just as favorably to having Unilever brands featured prominently in the ads.

“We had the opportunity to actually raise the profile of our products because, based on Nielsen data, we realized that people had both brand awareness and category registration with those products,” McCarthy said.

In addition to business-to-consumer endeavors, Unilever also deploys Nielsen’s scanner data in its business-

to-business efforts. Because the UPCs provide information on where products were purchased, Nielsen was able to create a study for Unilever’s sales team showing that retailers that activated around Unilever’s March Madness campaigns via custom displays, signage, end-aisle placement and incremental shelf space sold a significantly higher number of Unilever products among NCAA fans.

“That’s worth a lot,” Master said, “because there are a lot of NCAA fans out there.” He added, “Now Unilever is able to go to Retailers B, C and D and say, ‘We can prove to you that it’s worthwhile for your store to give us space.’”

McCarthy said data will only become more important with time due to the ever-changing landscape in which fans consume sports. He hypothesizes that the campaign of the future is one that never ends but constantly evolves, and he’ll be keeping a close eye on whether this theory is supported by Nielsen’s data.

Said McCarthy: “Within the campaigns, you are optimizing in real time as you go, and you use those learnings to affect how you approach the next thing you’re going to do or, in some cases, the entire approach within a sport.”

Charlie Frankel writes for SportsBusiness Daily.