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How AI is Transforming Unilever’s Marketing

Unilever is utilizing artificial intelligence in transforming its marketing efforts, including processing insights and locating influencers.

Currently, the advertiser operates 26 data centers worldwide, mainly where data scientists are utilizing artificial intelligence in synthesizing insights from a variety of sources such as traditional marketing research, social listening, and customer relationship management (CRM).

Similar to other advertisers, Unilever is optimistic that the investments will propel a shift away from mass-based reach channels to more individualized communications that are cheaper to localize and produce at scale.

For years, Unilever has been utilizing machine learning and artificial intelligence in sifting through structured data, particularly within a given database.

However, it has not been in a position to accomplish the same for unstructured data in recent times.

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Since this type of data is qualitative, gathering insights from content such as mobile activity, social media, audio, and text are challenging.

Instead of developing them to execute that task internally or collaborate with one of the leading technology companies, Unilever is partnering with startups from Singapore, Finland, Israel, the United States, China, and the United Kingdom.

Unilever‘s artificial intelligence (AI) ventures scrutinize information from different sources, specifically in the content posted by people and their reaction to it.

Only the publicly available information is utilized as part of a broader stance, which has witnessed Unilever deploying its pan-European General Data Protection Regulation plan to markets that feature relaxed data-privacy laws.

Through an artificial intelligence (AI) – driven influencer marketing platform dubbed Popular Chips, Unilever has managed to accelerate the influencers’ search process.

The technology not only assists in detecting those influencers with fake followers but also pairing the company up with the ideal ones by looking at various demographics like gender, age, and country.

Unilever found the startup through the Unilever Foundry, its accelerator program.

Having such kind of technology has exposed insights that Unilever marketers would have otherwise failed to spot.

One of the notable examples of this particular case is a variety of cereal-flavored ice creams produced by Ben & Jerry’s.

The production of such ice-creams was inspired by Unilever’s discovery that there were nearly 50 songs with lyrics on “ice-cream and breakfast.”

The insights coincided with the advertiser’s commissioning of research into ice-cream, which revealed that enterprises such as Dunkin Donuts were already serving their customers with ice-cream for breakfast.

One of Unilever’s artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms then analyzed the various data sets and unearthed an opportunity for making sweet treats during morning hours.

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Stan Sthanunathan, the head of insights at Unilever as well as the main proponent of artificial intelligence within the enterprise, said that two years since the Ben & Jerry’s range rolled out a line of cereal flavors such as Frozen Flakes and Fruit Loot back in 2017; other competitors have started doing something similar.

“AI is helping us to run metaphor analyses as we’re able to look at all these different signals from unstructured data and start to see how the brain processes information,” said Sthanunathan.

“We can start to consider those metaphor analyses when we’re working on brand architecture across the company as well how to look at how we can manage our brands better.”

Away from market insights, artificial intelligence (AI) is also playing a role in the recruitment of executives, marketers included.

The company collaborated with Pymetrics, an artificial intelligence company, to develop an online hub that leverages the technology in assessing a candidate’s appetite, logic, reasoning, and aptitude for risk against all the benchmarks for the various roles applied for.

The second stage of this process will involve a video interview, whereby the AI will scrutinize the candidate’s body language and speech.

By doing so, the technology has cut nearly 70,000 hours from analyzing and interviewing candidates.

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In spite of the increasing presence of artificial intelligence technologies spread out across Unilever’s marketing, it will not directly impact the agencies employed by the company.

Artificial intelligence critics, particularly in media, have said that the accuracy and speed that advertisers get when they integrate the technology into their marketing effort is offset by the inadequate creativity and emotional depth that stems from human experience.

It marks a similar standpoint for Volkswagen, which has formerly utilized artificial intelligence in planning its media campaigns.

“If agencies allow themselves to be replaced by AI, then it will,” said Sthanunathan.

“If you’re able to use AI to create something new from data that has the curiosity and passion that an algorithm can’t replicate, then there will always be a role for agencies.”

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KC Cheung
KC Cheung has over 18 years experience in the technology industry including media, payments, and software and has a keen interest in artificial intelligence, machine learning, deep learning, neural networks and its applications in business. Over the years he has worked with some of the leading technology companies, building and growing dynamic teams in a fast moving international environment.
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