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Responsible marketing

We are helping people make better food choices through responsible marketing.

Father and son looking at a tablet screen together

Marketing in a connected world

From the moment we wake up in the morning, we are exposed to hundreds of advertising messages – on our phones, on TV, on advertising hoardings, on product packaging. As the second-largest advertiser in the world based on media spend, we have a duty to ensure our marketing and advertising is responsible and a force for good, helping us to engage with consumers on issues that matter to them.

We are guided by four principles:

  • We are committed to building trust through responsible practices and transparent communication.
  • It is our responsibility to ensure that our products are safe, and that we provide clear information on their use and any risks that are associated with their use.
  • We fully support a consumer's right to know what is in our products and will be transparent in terms of ingredients, nutrition values, and the health and beauty properties of our products.
  • We will use a combination of channels, including product labels, websites, careline phone numbers and/or leaflets to communicate openly with our consumers.

Following the highest standards

Working through trade bodies – such as the World Federation of Advertisers and the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) – we support the development of international self-regulatory codes for all types of marketing and advertising, and apply these across our business. The ICC’s Advertising and Marketing Communication Practice code is the basis for all our communications. This states that all marketing and advertising must pass the baseline test of being “legal, decent, honest and truthful”, and that all claims made must have a sound scientific basis.

Our marketing messages must be appropriate, must not undermine the promotion of healthy, balanced diets and active lifestyles, or misrepresent snacks as meals. For example, we won’t show over-sized portions or 'size zero' in our advertising.

In 2003, we were one of the first companies to apply our own principles to the marketing and advertising of all our foods and refreshment (PDF | 461KB). These provide guidance to our brand managers and are reviewed regularly, most recently in July 2017. Our Responsible Marketing Principles contain no exceptions and are among the most wide-reaching. They cover all forms of marketing communications, including packaging, point-of-sale and all digital communication channels. Our updated principles include a move to the Highest Nutritional Standards and a greater focus on digital.

A leading role in industry

Unilever is a founding member of the International Food & Beverage Alliance (IFBA), which makes commitments to the WHO on responsible advertising to children, nutrition labelling and product reformulation. We play a major role in promoting industry-wide voluntary initiatives like the EU Pledge, and we support and adhere to all Pledges around the world.

Each year since 2009, Accenture has been commissioned by IFBA to independently audit companies’ compliance with its marketing principles. In 2016/2017, they monitored Unilever across five markets and found 96.3% compliance for TV advertising, and 100% for print and online advertising (including company-owned, YouTube and third-party websites).

In addition, we have a Code Policy on Responsible Marketing (PDF | 169KB) (for all Unilever product divisions, not just foods and refreshments). This ensures our employees are aware of their responsibilities concerning responsible marketing practices. The Code is supported by mandatory training for all employees which uses case studies to highlight the key attributes of a responsible marketing approach.

Responsible marketing to children

We recognise the role parents play in helping their children eat and drink healthily. So, for any marketing directed at children, we will not undermine parental influence, encourage 'pester power', or use time or price minimisation pressure.

We are careful not to exploit a child’s imagination or inexperience, or blur the boundary between content and commercial promotion. We voluntarily restrict all marketing communications to children under six, as we know they are unable to distinguish between marketing and programming. And we restrict marketing and advertising to children under 12 for all products except those that meet: our Highest Nutritional Standards (HNS); or any common industry criteria we are committed to, such as in the EU; or any criteria set by public authorities. Where differences exist, we apply the strictest criteria.

Our restrictions apply to all forms of marketing and advertising to children, including packaging and labelling, TV and radio advertising, consumer promotions, in-store activities, PR materials, online activity (including both company-owned and third-party websites), social media and digital advertising, apps, online games and direct marketing. They also apply to all other forms of communication (like cartoon characters, product placements, advergaming, free gifts/toys and so on).

To determine if ‘marketing communications’ are ‘directed to children’, we will take into account the placement (eg media audiences where 35% or more of the audience is under the age of 12) and the content of those communications. We don’t promote brands or products in primary schools. Only products meeting our HNS can use cartoon characters and celebrities, or participate in educational campaigns with specific agreement from school administrations.

Our objective for 2018 is to continue promoting the highest industry standards and inspire collective action on responsible marketing. To do this, we will support and strengthen national and regional pledges with industry partners and ensure high levels of compliance and understanding of our strengthened Global Principles.

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