News & Views

Unilever / The Foundry

by Contagious Team

Last week Contagious was invited to Unilever's internal launch of The Foundry – its platform to collaborate with startups. The evening's main purpose was to encourage Unilever marketers to mingle with the six startups present and see how they've been working across various brands in the FMCG company's sizeable stable. 

Launched in May, The Foundry, sets briefs for technology startups around challenges that Unilever is working on, such as smart ice cream cabinets, reinventing ecommerce and Cleanipedia, an online resource for cleaning tips. As well as the opportunity to work on its brands, Unilever also provides the startups with mentorship and investment.

Keith Weed, Unilever's global chief marketing officer, gave a speech to kick off the event, which was held on the top floor of Unilever's London headquarters:

'We do want to pioneer the future of marketing. As the second largest advertiser in the world we have the bandwidth to do great stuff, and we won’t keep ahead unless we do that. 

'So we have some big visions for the future in how we can engage with all of you to build marketing of tomorrow. To the marketers: try and get into the heads of how these startups could help your brands and your campaigns going forward. And to the startups, quiz the marketeers – what are their needs, what are they trying to achieve and how can you engage with them? Because the one thing they can give you that you haven’t got is right now is scale – of brands that work across many markets and engage with many people on a day to day basis. We’ve got some good examples of win wins already and I’m keen that we build on this – that’s the whole idea of the Foundry.'

Marc Mathieu, Unilever's global SVP marketing, described Unilever as a 125-year-old startup, and spoke of the potential that startups have to solve a range of problems: 'It is much easier to invent new solutions from scratch than when you have years of legacy. Startups don’t have anything to lose because they have everything to lose. You start from scratch and you need to win. You need to find a niche and break through. That’s the beauty of it: this ability to come from leftfield and actually create a brand new solution.

The pitch session part of the evening saw the six startups that are working with Unilever through the Foundry present their services, including: 

Poken - a device to support networking at events, sharing details simply by tapping two devices together

Seen It - a platform for brands and audiences to co-create content, which has been working with Knorr through the Foundry

Digital Genius - an artificial intelligence platform that automates conversation between brands and their customers

Newaer - a way of connecting people and brands in proximity to each other, without using mobile networks or iBeacons

Marc Mathieu added: 'If we want to be at the bleeding edge of marketing, if we want to reinvent marketing constantly, we need to do it from within, but we also need to do it with the ecosystem of the most creative people in the world, which nowadays is increasingly the startup world. We created the Foundry because we wanted to bring the outside in, to really help this community to actually pilot new solutions at scale.' 

Contagious subscribers can read a full interview with Marc Mathieu, Unilever's global SVP marketing, in the next issue of Contagious, published at the end of August.