As Keith Weed steps down as marketing boss after 35 years at Unilever, the company faces a turning point. Having been with the company since 1983, Weed has grown up with the corporation, seen the challenges it and the wider marketing sector has faced and helped to shape its solutions.
Through a focus on brand purpose and sustainability, an understanding of the role diversity and inclusion can play, and the ability to question everything from the role of agencies to the efficacy of digital, Weed has been a trailblazer for both the company and the industry. His retirement will cause both to ask questions about what the future of marketing will look like.
The news of Weed’s departure, while a year in the planning, also comes just a week after Unilever’s CEO Paul Polman revealed he would be leaving. The loss of the FMCG giant’s CMO and CEO in such a short period is significant not least because both have been integral in building Unilever as it is today.
Unilever is a marketing organisation so any business challenges it faces are also marketing challenges. From the growing threat of new entrants to the future of its focus on purpose and how it will remain an attractive career option for the brightest and the best, these are issues that both the new CEO Alan Jope and new marketing boss (who he will decide on in the new year) will have to face and solve together.
Keith Weed’s legacy at Unilever
Much like Polman, Weed has been integral to Unilever’s focus on purposeful brands and building a business with sustainability at its core. On Twitter he writes how this has been “positive for Unilever with sales and profit growing year on year but more importantly positive for people, society and planet”.
Internally, he led the creation of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan and used this as a tentpole around which to build the Unilever brand. Unilever used to simply be a corporate brand with little need to talk to consumers but the focus on sustainability gave the company the chance to talk about the business behind the consumer-facing brands.
The culmination of that was Project Sunlight, an initiative aimed at motivating people to live more sustainable lifestyles. Unilever used the campaign to promote the initiative as a means to build brand trust and establish itself as a mark for sustainable living.
“If any company can have a chance of doing this it should be Unilever,” he said at the time. “We are optimistic about what we can do to create a better future if we leverage the opportunity we have right now. There are 3 billlion people on the internet, 2 billion on social media. There has never been a better time to engage people at scale to take action in what we need to do to make sustainable living commonplace.”
This isn’t just about doing the right thing for society. Unstereotyping is a business imperative too.
Keith Weed, Unilever
Beyond sustainability, Weed has led on Unilever’s goal to make advertising and…