Doth Unilever protest too much?

I happened to clock this ad the other night.

Yet another example in a long, laborious line of companies falling over themselves to publicly shout about the good they are doing in the world today.

Now, I'm not knocking sustainability in any shape or form here. It's undoubtedly a good thing that benefits society and communities when done with proper commitment and sincerity.

However, this trend is all currently a bit too Smashie and Nicey for my palate - "I do a lodda work for charidee but don't like to talk about it".

Big multinationals are currently making a hell of a lot of noise about their good corporate citizenship actions and behaviour. How much it really has to do with a company's genuine values and how much it's a bolt-on, knee-jerk commercial strategy will obviously vary from business to business but I can't help thinking there's a lot of boardroom bandwagon-jumping that's going on that doesn't necessarily put consumers interests first.

Anyway, more specifically, my beef with this piece of communication surrounds the extent of Unilever's ambition and the rather vague claim that they "are on its way to sourcing all its vegetable oil sustainably".

Is that the best they could really do?

The latter statement is so wafer-thin that it actually makes me more suspicious that Unilever hasn't actually got its act together on this front and just wants to be seen to be doing something about the issue.

It would have been at least credible if they had identified a current figure and given some indication of when they expect it to be fully sourced that way [e.g 80% of all Hellmans sold today uses sustainably sourced vegetable oil and we expect that to be a 100% by 2017].

Surely, Unilever's sustainability policy is a bit more far reaching and bigger picture than just ensuring Hellman's Mayonnaise is made with free range eggs (I kind of already expected this) and that some jars might even be made with vegetable oil that actually is sustainably sourced.

Now, it might be that this execution is part of a bigger campaign that goes on to inform people what Unilever are doing, brand by brand. However, if that's the case, this feels too piecemeal and consumers are unlikely to be able to be bothered enough to pay attention to join up the dots.

Overall this ad seems very "small beans" about such an important issue. It all feels low key, low budget and almost apologetic about the subject matter. It's also massive ask to expect people to click to the link at the end of the ad to find out more about what they're doing. People have other and much better things to do with their time

I'm not a fan of grandiose, trumpet-blowing, corporate chest-beating ads but, in this instance, if Unilever are genuinely doing something powerful and meaningful in this area then it would have been worthy of an ad that lives up to their vision.


  1. The question to ask I guess is why has this formed a part of their marketing and advertising today?

    Why this over the creamy tasty of a dollop of Hellmann's?

    This is the new race I think for brands - who can be more socially worthy. I heard the phrase 'virtue signally' the other day and thought it quite apt for what many brands are doing today in their advertising.

    I suspect that much of it will end it tears as they are about as good to sticking their promises as a fat bloke in a pie shop.

    I worry about multi-nationals deciding what is worthy and what isn't? Maybe I'm wrong maybe World Peace day will be a great success. Burger King and MacDonald's will get along for the first time ever. Gamers will put down their controllers - and love each other just for one day whilst eating Ben and Jerry's. Peace flavour ice cream.

    Brands now want to signal how worthy and just they are via there marketing rather than how good their products are. It will be interesting how many more ad campaign in the next 12 months promise to give or support a charity or signal their worthiness over and over their product is some way.

  2. @Jim - oh, you mean like this one?

  3. Thanks for that Anon *shakes head* - such a typical advertising solution to a real problem as well.. Leave it to the scientists maybe on this one.

  4. You're welcome. That EA idea made me throw up a little in my mouth, being a gamer myself.

  5. From the link:

    "We have also set ourselves a target to source 100% of our agricultural ingredients sustainably by 2020 and we’re already well on our way.

    In Europe, by the end of 2014, 70% of the rapeseed oil used in Hellmann’s mayonnaise was sustainably sourced"

    Stats look OK. Why not just say them?

    Maybe they think customers are too thick to take in big numbers like 70.

  6. Thanks, Daniel. Agree they look OK but in this instance is OK enough?

    2020 is five years away and that feels pretty distant right now. And 70% means that 3 out of every 10 jars aren't currently made with sustainably sourced rapeseed.

    If anything, this information actually hardens my view that these actions aren't particularly substantial or significant enough to be deemed newsworthy
    or meaningful to spearhead an advertising campaign about sustainability.


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