- By Region
Unilever is attempting to reinvent “soap opera” sponsorship for the digital age by striking international, multimillion-dollar partnerships with media groups Viacom and News Corp.
The deals illustrate how the internet is driving the globalisation of media, and how its creation is funded, as well as advertisers’ desire for more professional content on social networking sites
Facebook and Google’s YouTube
Soap operas acquired their nickname in the 1950s when a substantial portion of the commercial TV shows broadcast in the US were made up of long-running domestic dramas, sponsored or produced by household goods companies such as Procter & Gamble and Lever Bros – Unilever’s earlier incarnation.
Such TV shows remain the largest outlet for consumergoods advertising but the growth of online marketing and social media is providing new opportunities for global brands, such as Unilever.
Although YouTube has been used by campaigners and critics of Unilever’s beauty products and their components, the Google-owned video-sharing site provides a global distribution for marketing messages whose 800m regular users vastly outstrip traditional broadcast TV audiences.
Keith Weed, chief marketing officer at Unilever, one of the world’s biggest advertisers, says that finding a steady supply of quality digital content that consumers want to share with their friends – for a reasonable price – is a “real challenge”.
Now, in an attempt to combine the global scale of websites such as YouTube and Facebook with the production values of television, Unilever is going direct to companies such as Viacom, owner of Paramount Pictures, MTV and Nickelodeon, and News Corp, parent of Fox, to tap both classic footage and new, made-for-web women’s drama.
“In reality it’s going back to the early days of TV channels, when the likes of Persil and Omo and others were sponsoring the 30-minute soap opera, but now we are doing it in the digital space,” said Mr Weed. “What digital has enabled more than anything else is the globalisation of the media world.”
Magnum, Unilever’s ice-cream snack, is global sponsor for a new Facebook app featuring three hours’ worth of clips from Paramount’s best-known films, including Grease, Top Gun and The Godfather.
“Magnum Mini Moments” app, which launches globally this week, allows Facebook users to share the free clips with their friends, wrapped sponsorship and branding from Unilever. Unilever will pay Viacom an annual fee for the rights to its archives.
Jeff Lucas, head of sales for Viacom’s music and entertainment groups, said the company was working with Unilever to distribute content “in the way we know our global audiences are
consuming it – across platforms and without borders”.
At the same time, Unilever brands including Simple soap and Bertolli meals are among the first sponsors of WIGS, a new YouTube channel of original content created by Fox. WIGS features short, female-centric films produced by Jon Avnet, known for his work on Black Swan and Fried Green Tomatoes, and starring Hollywood talent such as Jennifer Garner and Julia Stiles.
Meanwhile, as part of its partnership with News Corp, which was more than a year in the making, Unilever’s deodorant brand – known as Sure, Degree and Rexona in various countries – is also global sponsor of Touch, a new drama starring 24’s Kiefer Sutherland.
“Our global Unilever partnership goes far beyond the scope of anything we’ve ever done,” said Jean Rossi, president of Fox One, News Corp’s integrated sales and marketing division.