Robert Sawatzky
May 5, 2020

WPP wins Unilever media duties in China

Mindshare and PHD have wrestled for the account for years, but Unilever now says it prefers to work with holding companies over individual agencies.

Unilever's China Consumer Product Safety Cooperation Center
Unilever's China Consumer Product Safety Cooperation Center

Multinational FMCG giant Unilever has concluded its review of media assignments in mainland China, appointing WPP to take over planning and buying from incumbent PHD. 

Unilever executive vice-president of global media, Luis Di Como, confirmed the outcome in a statement to Campaign Asia-Pacific, which says: 

A review of Unilever planning and buying assignments in mainland China was concluded recently. The review is in line with company policy to evaluate media agency arrangements periodically. Following the review, Unilever China intends to appoint WPP China as the agency responsible for planning and buying of all paid media in mainland China. The appointment will take effect later this year.

The incumbent, PHD continues to hold Unilever's planning and buying account in Taiwan and Hong Kong, along with Australia and New Zealand in Asia-Pacific.

While the value of the account has not been made public, Campaign reported in 2018 that the renewed Unilever account for all Greater China markets was understood to be worth US$500 million. At that time, PHD's successful defense of Unilever was reported as a surprise, given Mindshare's planning stronghold on the client globally. PHD first won the Unilever media account from Mindshare in 2009 and retained the business following reviews every three years. But at the end of  2017, Unilever moved global comms planning to Mindshare from PHD without a review. 

In his statement to Campaign, Di Como thanked PHD on behalf of Unilever "for the excellent work done by them over the past decade which was characterised by dramatic changes in commerce and communication."

A source familiar with the media review told Campaign that Unilever is looking to align its media business globally at the holding company level.  

Last year, Unilever CEO Alan Jope publicly noted the FMCG firm was not looking to increase or decrease the number of agencies on its roster, but instead structure relationships with holding companies rather than individual agencies. He stated, "I know that WPP have got all the talent that we need to solve our brand problems, and so do Omnicom, so do Interpublic. What I don’t want to do is just have a relationship with one narrow vertical just within WPP."

Unilever and WPP also have a long history. More recent connections include a WPP 'Team Unilever' in-house partnership launched in Singapore in 2018 and led by Mindshare's Sudipto Roy, and the appointment of former Unilever CMO Keith Weed to the WPP board in 2019.

Both WPP and PHD declined to comment.

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