Unilever’s Aline Santos shares hopes as chair judge for Campaign Global Agency of the Year Awards 2022

Aline Santos tells Campaign why these awards are especially important in today’s economic climate, what she is most looking forward to about the judging process – and what she believes will make a standout entry.

By Jennifer Small

Campaign’s coveted Global Agency of the Year Awards are like no other awards. This year, Unilever’s Aline Santos will lead the jury. Here, she tells Campaign why these awards are especially important in today’s economic climate, what she is most looking forward to about the judging process – and what she believes will make a standout entry.

For the third iteration of Campaign’s Global Agency of the Year Awards, the leader of the judges will be Aline Santos, chief brand officer and chief equity, diversity & inclusion (ED&I) officer at Unilever.

Santos, who is “very excited to be leading this year’s judging process”, is most looking forward to the opportunity to celebrate talented people from across the globe, whether in creative, strategic planning or account teams.

“We are always looking to the talent: who is the talent behind the table and what is the work that they are producing? And what is the effectiveness of the work that they are producing?”

Santos is also keenly anticipating the chance to witness the power of account teams demonstrated in awards entries that showcase cohesive teamwork between the disciplines.

“Many campaigns that I am super-proud of, especially for Dove, are a result of the combination of having the right account team, who are forcefully driving their beliefs along with brilliant strategic planners and genius creative people. The right team combinations have created magic for us.”

And it’s exactly this magic which Campaign’s coveted Global Agency of the Year Awards exist to recognise: the outstanding achievements, not only in creativity but also effectiveness, new business performance, thought-leadership, innovation, culture, and values.

This is a celebration run across four continents – providing a global arena where agencies can compete directly with each other, regardless of size. The 30 awards are judged by a select panel of global and regional chief marketing officers; the people in a position to hire shops and authorise budgets.

“In the middle of art and science”

In today’s economic climate, it’s especially important to recognise all elements of agency performance, says Santos, who points to the radical change brought by the digital world as a tool for the exacting attribution measures which can sometimes negatively overshadow creative possibilities.

“Advertising has always been in the middle of art and science,” she says. “Because of all the digital possibilities, perhaps some people are treating it too much as a science and we cannot forget the art. But at the same time, we cannot ignore that we now have data that we never had before. And effectiveness is the name of the game. Nobody has time or resources to waste in our industry.”

And because of today’s “blurred lines” between content, media, commerce, and entertainment, there is a much greater capacity to generate attribution to marketing, by measuring consumer’s purchasing habits, their intention to purchase, or their response to the brand’s messaging.

It’s very different to Santos’s early days at Unilever; “100 years ago” she says, when the quality of agencies was judged by “the prizes they won in Cannes, the quality of the creativity, or the admiration marketers had for the work that they’ve done for our brands or competitors.”

There were also, Santos explains, “legacy attitudes” around working with the same agencies for many years.

Back then, the possibilities for brands to attribute the results of a campaign to the growth of a brand were very indirect, Santos says, highlighting a famous phrase, which some attribute to William Lever (founder of Unilever): “‘We know that 50% of what we invest in advertising works and 50% doesn’t work. The only problem is that we don’t know which is which.’ And that was exactly how it was when I joined the company,” she says.

However, as Santos explains, today is very different. Marketers can see much more clearly which campaigns are performing – and which are not. Of course, budgets are much tighter with the proliferation of media, and marketers have to make informed choices.

“Unstereotypical progressive advertising”

Santos, who joined Unilever as a marketing trainee, has been the architect of multiple purpose-driven marketing campaigns for many of the manufacturer’s 400 brands. In 2017, Santos co-founded the Unstereotype Alliance with UN Women – an industry wide collaboration to accelerate progress on this agenda. Internally, Santos increased the representation of women in management to 50%, a year ahead of Unilever’s 2020 target. In 2021, she was elected Marketing Leader of the year by the Marketing Society.

Today, Santos is the driving force of Unilever’s #unstereotype initiative, designed to help marketing and advertising break outdated stereotypes and harmful social norms. And this drive to see society equitably represented, both in front of and behind the camera, will be central to Santos’s judging approach.

“If we are in a country where x per cent of the population is from a specific race and ethnicity, we want that represented in the agency as well. This is a very critical input. Brands that fail to represent the consumers they serve will not grow,” she says.

But as Santos points out, when representation is balanced in terms of gender, sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, ability, disability, the results of advertising are much more effective. She refers to Unilever studies proving “higher brand power when we have unstereotypical progressive advertising.”

“Destroy the bubble that you live in”

Santos believes that awards like Campaign’s Global Agency of the Year can drive better work, while delivering fresh talent into adland.

“Awards bring awareness of good work, and this provides lots of learnings, inspiration, and also a sense of pride. I think these awards, if we award for the right reasons, can be a source of inspiration for people to come into this profession,” Santos says.

And her top tip for creating a winning awards entry?

She advises agencies to take inspiration from Unilever’s marketing philosophy “Get on the Frontline,” designed to help brands “get real, do good and be unmissable”.

“Destroy the bubble that you live in and get close to the reality. Understand people, society, planet – get closer to the frontline of society, sustainability, inclusion, culture, science, technology. Getting the right insight is the beginning of a brilliant campaign.  Then consider how to contribute to a better life for your consumers? And finally, create a piece that is going to be unmissable; first in mind and first to find.”

As Santos points out, marrying creativity and business performance is central to the criteria for these coveted 30 prizes, which include: Brand Experience Agency, Consultancy, Customer Engagement Agency, Digital Innovation Agency, In-House Agency, Media Agency, Performance Agency, and PR Agency. Categories for individuals include the opportunity to be named Campaign’s Global Creative Leader of the Year and recognition for internal diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Winners will be revealed at an awards ceremony in May next year in London. The judging process will be audited by PwC to ensure trust and transparency.

The deadline for entries is on 6 February, with an early-bird deadline on 13 January. Agencies can enter here.