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Marketing has a titanic trust problem

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Authored by Alan Jope

Average read time: 4 minutes

Our CEO Alan Jope is challenging the advertising world to defy the green-washing that’s polluting the industry, and instead use creativity to drive purpose and positive change.

Time Square at night

About the author

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Alan Jope

Chief Executive Officer

Alan was appointed Chief Executive Officer in January 2019. As CEO of Unilever, Alan is responsible for leading one of the world’s largest and most geographically diverse consumer goods businesses, with presence in 190 countries, serving 3.4 billion people every day.

At Unilever, our purpose is to make sustainable living commonplace. We believe in being a business which takes a stand, and acts, on the big social and environmental issues facing the world. Being a business which does more good for our planet, not just less harm. And being a business which equally and fairly shares our wealth.

We know we’ll be a better, more successful industry by following this path. Citizens are taking to the streets or social media to praise good corporate behaviour and punish bad. The best talent is going to work for companies that are making a positive contribution. Investors, NGOs, media and many others are, quite rightly, holding companies to account, recognising that a healthy business requires a healthy world. And a healthy world requires healthy business.

Alan Jope

Green-washing, purpose-washing, cause-washing, woke-washing. It’s beginning to infect our industry. It’s polluting purpose.

Alan Jope

Our commitment to bring purpose to every brand

People are migrating at increasing speed towards purposeful brands. So strongly do we believe this that we are prepared to commit that, in the future, every Unilever brand will be a brand with purpose.

They will all stand up for positive change. They will grow by building movements and taking meaningful action on causes they care about. Brands without a purpose will have no long-term future at Unilever.

But purpose must be authentic

There are too many examples of brands undermining purposeful marketing by launching campaigns which aren’t backing up what their brand says with what their brand does.

Our 28 brands with purpose are growing 69% faster than the rest of our business, delivering 75% of our total turnover growth.

And we are very demanding of those brands. They must communicate a purpose which highlights and addresses an environmental or societal issue. What each of our brands with purpose says must be powerful. And they must also take meaningful long-term action with measurable results, so what each brand does must be purposeful.

It’s not just about ‘make them cry, make them buy’

Green-washing, purpose-washing, cause-washing, woke-washing. It’s beginning to infect our industry. It’s polluting purpose. We’ve all seen it, and we know when we see it.

It’s putting in peril the very thing which offers us the opportunity to help tackle many of the world’s issues and, in doing so, to build our brands.

What’s more, it threatens to further destroy trust in our industry, when it’s already in short supply. Marketing has a titanic trust problem.

SaveTheWalrus campaign image

Let’s kill the perception that purpose produces creative work that is too worthy, too one-dimensional, always serious. It’s not all about the polar bears on melting ice caps – or the walruses for that matter.

Alan Jope

Creativity can unlock change

Please don’t damage our industry by accepting briefs for brands which don’t walk the talk on purpose. Let’s hold each other to account. If there’s no substance behind what a brand has to say, walk away.

Having a track record of producing anthemic messages with no substance behind them means you won’t work on our brands.

Let’s kill the perception that purpose produces creative work that is too worthy, too one-dimensional, always serious. It’s not all about the polar bears on melting ice caps – or the walruses for that matter.

An invitation to the advertising industry

My invitation to you is to work with us in a new way. Bring us ideas that drive the kind of behavioural and cultural change that’s required to fix the big challenges of our time. Tap into the human truths which sit underneath them. Who wouldn’t be moved to produce fantastic creative ideas which are rooted in resolving these issues? We are all in on purposeful creativity.

Unilever will not be part of false purpose and will not work with those who are. But we will celebrate and reward the brilliant work and power of creativity that can be unlocked by putting issues that matter at the centre of what our brands do and what they say.

We hope you, and your creativity, will join us in leading the adventure. For our business, for your business, and for the walruses too.


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