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Transforming our brands, transforming our advertising

Our brands reach billions of people every day. The way we develop, design and market our products has the power to influence society and culture.

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Breaking down barriers

As the owner of 400+ brands sold in over 190 countries and as one of the world’s biggest advertisers, we want to use our influence to shape a more diverse, inclusive and unstereotypical society.

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Harmful social norms and stereotypes limit expectations of what people can be and what they can do. They reinforce inequality and foster discrimination. They’re barriers to a fairer world – but we believe they can be taken down. We’re driving change on a number of fronts.

We’re challenging stereotypes and social norms

  • We’re using our influence – not just to change the way we develop and market our own products, but also to advocate and partner for change across the industry as part of the UN Women-convened Unstereotype Alliance
  • We’re building a diverse business and value chain, in which women and under-represented groups are empowered and visible as role models for change, and
  • We’re ensuring, in our business and through our programmes, that everyone is part of the movement to build positive cultural change.

A more representative picture of a changing world

In 2020, Covid-19 disrupted the world, exacerbating existing inequalities and deepening divides. Gender inequality was rife long before 2020 but the pandemic brought it sharply into focus as more women carried the responsibilities of childcare and home-schooling. The resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement has exposed deeply entrenched racial injustice, sparking discussions and protests about systemic racism the world over.

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74% Of consumers expect brands to take a stand on issues

74% of consumers globally expect brands to take a stand on issues such as racial discrimination, equal rights and social justice. Now more than ever, it’s important our brands strive for greater inclusion. That means portraying a diverse set of characters and creating unstereotypical images and progressive stories that help to normalise more inclusive values and behaviours.

We’ve been on a mission to Unstereotype our advertising since 2016 – eradicating outdated stereotypes and advancing more progressive portrayals of people. When we set out on this path, we looked at Unilever advertising as well as industry advertising. This analysis showed that 40% of women did not relate at all to the women they saw in adverts, just 3% of industry advertising featured women in leadership roles, and only 2% showed women as intelligent. Fast forward to 2020 and 98% of the global advertisements we tested were unstereotypical and 60% were strongly progressive.

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However, despite the progress made, the advertising industry is still under-representing many communities, both on screen and behind the camera, including people with disabilities, people in the LGBTQI+ community and people from Black or ethnic minority backgrounds.

And for too long, our own ads were part of a culture that reinforced tired ideas. For example, a recent industry audit found that while Hispanic/Latina women make up 17% of the US population, they appear in less than 5% of advertisements. In 2019, only 1.8% of characters in ads were LGBTQI+, and only 2% of characters were disabled. That's a different society to the one we all really live in.

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2% Of characters in advertisements were disabled in 2019

In fact our own latest research with Kantar shows that 66% of consumers believe ads could change the world. Yet people are increasingly disconnected from advertising with less than one in five people believing that ads are representative of wider society, fuelling concerns that advertising could consign itself to history if it doesn’t rebuild its own image. We found that nearly one in two people from marginalised communities feel they have been stereotyped in some way through advertising. And it isn’t just marginalised people who feel the impact: 71% believe stereotypes in the media are harming the younger generation.

The power our industry holds and the influence we have on billions of people every day is a privilege and we must use it well. By unstereotyping our communications, we’re not only creating more effective campaigns but also helping to rid the world of the entrenched norms that are holding people back.

Aline Santos, our Chief Brand Officer and Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer

Transforming our marketing

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We’re tackling the lack of representation of certain audiences in the advertising industry with our new goal to increase the purposeful inclusion of diverse groups both on screen and behind the camera. That means we need to challenge ourselves to create marketing, not just advertising, that will help influence the next generation of people to be free from prejudice. Act 2 Unstereotype is our new commitment to drive systemic change.

Act 2 Unstereotype

Through Act 2 Unstereotype, we’re making structural changes to our entire marketing process, provoking and integrating more diverse and inclusive thinking across every brand – from new product development through to advertising production.

  • We’ll provoke inclusive thinking across the end-to-end marketing process: across consumer insight, brand DNA and proposition, marketing mix development, creative development, behind the camera and on-screen portrayals.
  • Every brand will create an Unstereotype Charter outlining the equity, diversity and inclusion commitments it will deliver through its marketing.
  • We’ll work with more diverse and under-represented groups on screen and behind the camera.
  • We’ll eradicate any digital alterations to photography via a 100% ban on changing models’ body shape, size, proportion or skin colour.

By serving more diverse people in a progressive way, we believe our brands can be at the forefront of shaping a fairer and more inclusive world.

We’ve taken some important steps already and many of our brands have found new, unstereotyped ways to connect with their audiences.

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Project #ShowUs: a different vision of beauty

Project #ShowUs is driving change across the industry.

In partnership with Getty Images and the Girlgaze network, our Dove brand initiated the world’s largest image library created and curated by women to shatter beauty stereotypes. It’s a collection of 10,000 images that offer a more inclusive vision of beauty for all media and advertisers to use.

When we unstereotype our advertising, our audiences respond. We’re seeing data that proves that ads with more progressive, modern and empowered characters create better business results – such as greater branded impact, enjoyment of ads and relevance. Our 2020 research with Kantar tells us that progressive ads deliver a 13% uplift in purchase intent and increase credibility by around a third.

We’re continuing to accelerate change in Unilever – and by acting together, across the industry as a whole.

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If we want to see systemic change in society, we need to see systemic change in our industry. Inclusive marketing is not a choice any more; we must act now.

Aline Santos, our Chief Brand Officer and Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer