Posts Tagged ‘Unilever’


by Stephen Bell

Yesterday Dublin based bookmaker Paddy Power and the gay charity Stonewall kicked off a new campaign to give homophobia in football the boot.  ‘We don’t care which team you play for’ runs the witty copy on their poster.

As a gay man, albeit one not terribly interested in football, I applaud Paddy Power for its bravery and willingness to tackle a difficult social issue head-on. Hopefully it will give the conservative and outdated culture of UK football the “kick up the arse” it badly needs to join the twenty first century in its attitude to matters gay.

But as a brand professional and as a citizen this intervention leaves me uneasy because it raises serious questions about the role of brands in society and the extent to which brands should lead on social and political issues.

In this case I commend Paddy Power. But what if I didn’t? What if I thought homosexuality was a sin and an abomination? A few years ago a Caribbean holiday company let it be known that it was discouraging gays.  You could argue it was a blow for Christian values and the family. Were they too entitled to express their values and beliefs?

What if P&G launched a campaign to get mums to stay at home or car manufacturers campaigned against limits on carbon emissions, or booze companies started telling us to vote for a particular party because it was in their interests?

The idea that brands and corporations should be able to use their financial muscle to set political agendas is obviously fraught with difficulty.  After all brands aren’t political experts and by what right or authority do they intervene? Now you might argue that they already do. That’s what lobbying is about.  The difference is that campaigns like Paddy Power’s appeal directly to the consumer.

Then again look at the environment. Corporations like Unilever are taking the lead in environmental action, largely because consumers cant and wont.  Consumers may have gone green for a moment at the top of the last business cycle, but there’s not a lot of evidence that they are seriously engaged with green issues now.

Consumers are volatile, they discount the future too heavily, so anything further than a couple of years away scarcely exists, and they have to finance environmental measures out of their own pockets. Companies have a longer time frame, are more likely to maintain a consistent strategy and finance environmental measures out of surpluses.  Thank God they do. Left to consumers nothing would be done until it’s too late.

So there’s no hard and fast moral rule here. The morality of brand interventions in social and political issues seems to depend entirely on the intervention and whether you agree with it.

But what about the marketing wisdom of PP’s campaign? They obviously have their timing spot on.  They couldn’t have run such a campaign ten or even five years ago, they would have been way out on a limb. With gay marriage enshrined in law, the issue of gay rights is safe but still a tiny bit edgy.  They are just ahead of the curve, and that’s the sweet spot for such interventions.

Although it is part of their ‘We hear you’ strategy, I was struck by the lack of obvious connection or synergy between Paddy Power and the issue. Conventional marketing wisdom says a brand should only endorse a cause if it is at the core of its identity.

I doubt if homosexuality is core to Paddy Power’s brand. So the campaign could be cynical attention-seeking .  And there is danger in this approach. All it needs is one unfair dismissal case or one gay employee complaining about being bullied and Paddy Power will score a massive own goal.

But actually it made me think better of them. They have gained extensive media coverage and maybe that was their intention. But there is the possibility that rather than performing some cynical cost-benefit brand calculus they may be doing this out of conviction.

All that said, I still don’t see myself ever visiting a Paddy Power shop.



Coca Cola Life highlights problems of going green

by Alex Benady

Latin Americans seem to be experimenting a lot with Coke these days.

Three weeks ago it was an ice bottle in Colombia. This week it’s a green bottle in Argentina.

‘Coca Cola Life’ as it has been branded, is a new formulation of the world’s favourite soft drink that includes a mix of sugar and naturally sourced sugar substitute Stevia. As a result a 600 ml bottle has only 108 calories compared to the usual 250.

In addition Coca-Cola Life is packaged in the company’s PlantBottle, which is the first recyclable bottle made from petroleum-based materials and up to 30% plant-based materials. The hope is to create a 100% plant-based bottle in the future.

To wrap it all up, the new bottle has a rather undelicious and unrefreshing green label –surprisingly close to the ‘don’t smoke me’ olive green now used on Australian fag packets.

Executional questions aside, the new product highlights a real debate about how companies should approach green issues. Should they use green improvements as tactical/promotional devices like Coke Life seems to? Or should they embody them deep in the strategic direction of the company -like Unilever?

There is a school of thought that goes, because governments and consumers are too short term and expedient in their thinking, the lead on environmental issues has to come from corporations. Unilever has acted radically to help address this short termism by making profound adjustments to the way it operates. Most notably it has abolished quarterly financial reporting.

In contrast Coca Cola Life has all the appearance of a consumer option, not a company compulsion. In fairness to Coca Cola, while Coke Life looks like a tactical response to the environmental issue, it is quietly rolling out the Plantbottle in nine different countries. So it is serious.

But in Argentina Coke may have taken the route it has because it has a rather unique problem. One that many brands would love to have. The brand has become a straightjacket. Coke consumers are so loyal and so traditional that it cannot mess with its ingredients. Remember the New Coke fiasco in the 1980’s?

It would have been impossible for Coca Cola to launch this product under the classic Coke livery. But this puts it in a quandary. How do you embody profound changes in your product if your consumers wont let you? ENDS


CPB picks up effectiveness hat trick at DBA

by Alex Benady

Coley Porter Bell has won three gongs for effective design at the 2012 Design Business Association’s  2012 Design Effectiveness Awards..

The first was a packaging bronze for helping Unilever’s Hellmann’s Deli Mayo fight off competition from other sauces that were beginning to encroach on its turf. In just five months CPB conceived and executed a new visual identity for a range of flavoured mayonnaises. Within a further eight months, Hellman’s had re-established itself as the market leader in the flavoured mayonnaise sector, increasing share from 18.9% to 32.5%. (more…)

Is the Royal Warrant still arresting?

by Chris Button

With the Royal Wedding now on everyone’s calendars, it seems appropriate to consider another way in which the Royal Family engages the public.

The Royal Warrant, which has graced packaged goods since their advent in the 19th century, stems back to a Royal Charter granted by Henry II to the Weaver’s Company in 1155. Currently, in addition to the Queen, the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Edinburgh are also able to grant Royal Warrants although, particularly in the case of the latter, the distribution is much more limited.

There seems to have been little investigation into the relative merits of displaying a Royal Warrant. In a recent survey, 22% of respondents considered it important to see the Queen’s warrant on a product, yet the haphazard usage of the warrant, even among individual brands, is thoroughly confusing: it figures prominently in gold on the neck of a traditional bottle of Heinz Tomato Ketchup, but is not to be found anywhere on a can of Heinz Baked Beans; Sharwood’s display it in bright gold on a black neck collar around their mango chutney, but not on any of their other sauces; Walker’s display it in full colour on the front of their packaging for oatcakes, but not the shortbread for which they are famous.


Brands need a stronger ‘sense of self’ to ensure success

by Emma Brock

Believe it or not 150 billion minutes were spent on Facebook in 2009.  But that was nothing.  It is predicted that this year Facebook’s five hundred million members will spend somewhere between 200 and 500 billion minutes adorning their walls and messaging their friends on the site.   Meanwhile 2 billion videos will be viewed on Youtube each and every day (which, incidentally, is now the second largest search engine).

The figures are simply staggering. Social media is the crack cocaine of the internet. It elects presidents, recruits armed forces and helps us get married (apparently one in 8 marriages in the US are now the result of social media connections).

It is no exaggeration to say that for many people, certainly those under 35, social media is a main driver of their lives. But it is much more than simply a series of channels for communication. Collectively it has changed the individual’s relationship to the rest of society.

It’s not news that it has also changed the relationship of brands to society.  Where once it was the done thing to mind your own business, plough your own furrow and keep your opinions to yourself, now people are free to comment and vent on anyone and everything, even when they don’t know the individuals involved.

Many of the implications for brands of this seismic social shift have been well documented. Consumers now assume the right to criticise corporate behaviour and comment on every aspect of our marketing from portfolio management to new product concepts, names, designs, distribution and promotional material.

And they don’t stop at comments. They originate, recast and reshape marketing materials, they make spoof films and posters and they mount powerful campaigns against behaviour they don’t like.

It’s no exaggeration to say that consumers have arrogated to themselves the right to manage your brand.  And what brand managers they are. Some are thoughtful, committed, knowledgeable and engaged. Others are careless, capricious and even malicious.

But it doesn’t matter whether they are a Harvard Professor offering her considered opinion or a bored housewife venting her anger. All these opinions count and many brands have learnt that you ignore them at your peril.

Quite rightly marketers are taking this stuff extremely seriously. That’s why Keith Weed, CMO of Unilever, recently took a delegation of top marketers to Silicon Valley. As one of the world’s leading marketing companies, Unilever understands what it doesn’t understand and knows what it doesn’t know. And it is desperate to cope better with this new world that leaves the boundaries of the brand porous and ill defined

But I believe before we open up to the hundreds of millions of opinions and mash-ups and piss-takes, before we cast our brand to the winds of social media, brands need a powerfully developed sense of self. 

That sense of self comes primarily from strong brand design. Not the simply the brand’s livery and contours, but its entire construction, its DNA.

Only brand design will provide the compass that will allow brands to navigate their way through the sea of conflicting voices.  Only strong brand design will enable a brand to stand strong in the face of the hostile reception from a small but vociferous group of consumers. Only strong brand design will help a brand resist the siren calls of misguided supporters.

When the world and his dog can tamper with your identity, if you don’t have a clear idea of who you are, you’re in real trouble. That’s why in the era of social media, brands need strong brand design like never before.

Unilever gets balance right

by Alex Benady
bye bye ladies

bye bye ladies

When Unilever’s Persil launched its ‘dirt is good campaign’ a couple of years ago, P&G’s Ariel responded with a campaign based on the thought that ‘clean is better’.

That episode sums up one of the biggest dilemmas facing any brand manager: Sell the product and you’re in danger of competing for your customers’ business on a purely transactional or functional basis. Sell benefits or the social role of the brand and you are always vulnerable to rivals like Ariel coming along with a better product.

So it was fascinating to read in this week’s Marketing magazine, that Unilever’s Dove is shifting from a communication platform based on ‘real beauty’ to a more science-based, product efficacy story.

Gone are the real women in their white underwear. Instead we’ll get the image of a flower and raindrops “intended to represent the product’s three moisturising ingredients,” according to the report. Advertising will explain how the product helps to hold moisture at the surface of the skin.

Lighten Up

by Stephen Bell

I came across this packaging for Sunlight Laundry Soap in a shop in Sri Lanka recently. I love it! It stood out a mile in the dimly lit environment and its promise is very clear – bright, sunshiney cleaning with a scent that lifts the spirits. Optimistic, bold, bright, confident and probably to my western eyes a touch nostalgic, it is a piece of delightful packaging from Unilever.

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