$3.3 billion Unilever media pitch wraps, WPP retains largest remit

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Getty Images

The incumbent retained the account in major markets.

The biggest media pitch of the year has come to a conclusion and WPP has emerged triumphant. 

Incumbent Mindshare retained most of Unilever’s media business across its top six markets: The US, the UK and Ireland, India, Indonesia and China. The pitch was the first open review from Unilever in six years, since 2015.

For WPP, GroupM and Mindshare, the win is a major retention and  expansion of a critical piece of business with one of the largest advertisers in the world. Including China, the group expanded its remit to about 80% of the global business, worth more than $3.4 billion. The brief, the largest its ever been for WPP, is seven times larger than that of Unilever’s next largest media agency, according to an internal note obtained by Campaign US. 

Other holding companies, however, walked away with chunks of the business. Omnicom’s PHD won Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Canada from WPP, as well as Africa, the Middle East, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Taiwan, which WPP did not have. Havas Media won France and Spain, which WPP previously held. IPG’s Initiative retained Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Greece, and has business in Latin America. Asatsu-DK has the business in Japan.

More than a third of the 40 markets in play during the pitch moved across agencies, according to a source familiar with the review. In addition to retaining the six top markets, Mindshare's business spans the Netherlands, Belgium, the Nordics, Italy, Eastern Europe, South Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka) and Southeast Asia (Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam).

More than $3 billion worth of business was up for grabs, according to Comvergence, making it the biggest media pitch of the year. The pitch did not include Latin America or China, a $600 million chunk of the global account which Mindshare won from Omnicom last year. 

According to sources, Publicis and Dentsu pitched for the business but did not win, despite Publicis picking up Unilever’s US $30 million retail advertising brief in March. Accenture Interactive reportedly competed for the business early on.  

“The rapid digitization of consumer lives – accelerated even further by the COVID pandemic – has driven the convergence of media, commerce, entertainment and shopping, offering exciting opportunities for our brands," Luis Di Como, EVP global media at Unilever said in a statement. "In this context, it’s great to be continuing our journey with existing and new partners, many of whom have worked with us collaboratively over many years.”

Mindshare’s ‘Good Growth’ story resonated with Unilever, which has a big focus on sustainability and corporate social responsibility, according to the internal note. 

Part of the brief, according to sources, was to centralize Unilever’s entire media business, inclusive of data, analytics, planning, buying and social, under a single agency in a given market. Unilever's new roster will further its "Get on the Frontline" strategy, which is about using data and empathy to solve real life problems, ensuring brand purpose spurs positive change for people and the planet and ensuring its brands stand out in culture.

Unilever, which owns brands including Dove, Ben & Jerry’s and Hellmann’s, spent roughly $8.6 billion (£6.33 billion) on marketing prior to the pandemic. In October, Unilever pledged to increase its marketing spend after the worst of the pandemic. Underlying sales growth in the first half of 2021 was up almost 19% to $1.5 billion.

This story has been updated with comments from Unilever.

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