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Babs Rangaiah

Unilever’s Media Innovation Leader Babs Rangaiah








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Trendsetters: Unilever’s Media Innovation Leader Babs Rangaiah Talks of Reframing Marketing for a Connected World

Babs Rangaiah, Vice President of Global Media Innovation and Ventures at Unilever, and an avid baseball enthusiast whose Twitter handle reflects his player number, has racked up some extraordinary stats as a marketer. Under his leadership, Unilever has become recognized as one of the most innovative companies for its use of media and an inspiration to marketers of every category who grapple with embracing new technologies and changing behaviors.

Unilever examples and awards abound from Dove “Evolution” as the first online ad to win a Gold Lion at Cannes to the AXE “Wake Up Service” app that ingeniously leverages the insight that most young men use their mobile phone as an alarm clock (and enjoy waking up to the voice of an AXE Angel) to smile recognition software applied to ice cream vending machines. (Unilever is the world's biggest ice cream manufacturer with such brands as Wall’s, Magnum, Ben & Jerry’s, Good Humor, Breyers and Klondike.)

Babs played a key role as architect of Unilever’s participation in the Apple iAd program which enables a variety of the company’s brands to test global scale in the mobile digital space on Apple’s suite of devices.

At the end of last year, Unilever announced the development of a global consumer data strategy, led by Havas, to enable its brands to harness the power of consumer data, including social graph data, to improve their ability to engage with the right audience at the right time. According to Babs Rangaiah, “We still firmly believe that our brands need a balance of Magic and Logic – this will make sure that our best creative efforts reach our consumers in an efficient and effective way.”

Last month, he shared his views at the Mobile Media Upfront, and it became clear that issues ranging from mobility, privacy, data, scale and global growth are very much on his mind and, interestingly, very much interrelated.

There’s little question that the world’s next generation of connected citizens will access the Internet via mobile, especially in developing and emerging (D&E) markets. Babs paints a picture of a diverse mobile world. He cites how a majority of Koreans not only use their smartphones as wallets, but their children rely on them to be counted for attendance at school. However, other youngsters in remote villages of the world are using phones as flashlights.

Africa is an intriguing marketplace as many consumers pay for the use of a mobile phone by the day. Unilever is experimenting with subsidizing phone costs in exchange for providing users with messages about brands and by offering deals on products.

As the AXE “Wake Up Service” app demonstrated as it rolled out in multiple countries, a market like Japan is well-established in the mobile space, while India’s mobile phones are largely just feature phones. Although Babs is an advocate of how essential insights can create ideas that travel across the globe, tech differences and device features certainly cause marketers to rethink and reframe what mobile can be in an environment that employs few forms of “standardization.” He also believes that while the US may not yet be as sophisticated in mobility as Korea and Japan, it will soon be on par. Nonetheless, the Internet has transformed consumer behavior, and now shifting media activities are becoming global and mainstream. And the implications for marketers are huge.

So how does a marketer unlock the potential of mobile on a global level? According to Babs Rangaiah, today’s phones are unique in that no other device else has ever enabled targeting at the point of purchase; however, there are hurdles to overcome. The personal nature of the device raises questions about the intrusiveness of mobile advertising. However, he believes that a combination of opting in and respecting the personal, while providing relevant, contextual messages will make a difference. Size may also matter as small screens are not typically the ideal canvas for building brand equity through the heightened levels of sight, sound and motion to which we’ve become accustomed. And of course, basics must occur so that mobile advertising can become standardized, scalable and then monetized.

Originally from a village near Bangalore India, Babs Rangaiah’s career in marketing and media has been nothing short of remarkable. Today, he’s based in New York as Vice President, Global Media Innovation & Ventures for all Unilever Global Brands after spending 4 years in Europe as Vice President of Global Communication Planning. In this London-based role, he fused new media sensibilities into the creative process by leveraging consumer engagement and interactivity across multiple regions.

His Unilever career began in 2002 as Media Director in the US where he helped transition the company from traditional media advertising to a more contemporary and diverse mix, including branded entertainment, cinema and digital marketing.

Prior to Unilever, he spent 2 ½ years as the Vice President of Media for the interactive firm AGENCY.COM. He started his marketing career at New York ad agency DMB&B in media planning, working on such accounts as JP Morgan, Burger King, Merck and Procter & Gamble.

The Internationalist proudly named Babs an Internationalist of the Year in 2009, and we’re delighted to keep track of his career and ongoing innovations as our industry continues to reinvent itself—largely with his help.