The owner of Dove and Persil opened eight new digital marketing hubs over the last year.

Unilever has expanded its in-house capabilities by increasing the number of digital marketing hubs it has around the world.

Chief executive Alan Jope said the company had improved its “structural capability” via 46 digital marketing hubs – up from 38 last March.

These hubs have been created to facilitate collaboration between audience analytics activation specialists, online engagement leaders, performance marketers, content managers and data governance experts.

“These are the capabilities that we have built, and will continue to build to ensure we generate content that converts and is executed flawlessly,” Jope said.

He was speaking as Unilever announced its first quarter results. It reported turnover down 0.9% to 12.3bn euros (£10.7bn, $14.9bn), but underlying sales growth of 5.9%, with sales volumes up 4.7%.

Asked about the impact of the in-house operations on Unilever’s fixed costs, Jope commented that since 2017, the year after it launched its in-house operation U-Studio, “our overall company overheads have gone down by 70 basis points”.

That meant it could increase marketing spend without upping overall costs, he explained: “Within that, yes, we have chosen to invest a little bit in marketing capability, and we will keep doing that… we’ll continue to invest in the digital transformation of Unilever, but it won’t be net incremental because we’re making savings elsewhere.”

The Unilever CEO said: “We’ll continue to invest in the digital transformation of Unilever, but it won’t be net incremental [to the business’ costs] because we’re making savings elsewhere.”

He continued: “Unilever is becoming match fit – we’re clear where we want to invest and grow [and] we continue the journey of operational excellence underpinned by our five growth fundamentals.

“We’re laser-focused on translating that competitiveness into improved financial performance and superior financial returns.”

The company set up its on-site agency model U-Studio in 2016 in an effort to speed up production of fast-turnaround digital content and slash agency fees.

Speaking to Campaign last December, Conny Braams, chief digital and marketing officer of Unilever, said that she saw the future of the company’s in-housing as “very healthy, even if we are working from home for a bit longer or are not in the office as often as we used to be before Covid”.

Unilever has launched a series of campaigns this year, including a body positivity spot for Dove (created by Ogilvy) and an ad by food brand Knorr (created by an Interpublic team of agencies including MullenLowe Group, Golin, R/GA and ITB).