Improving nutrition

This work supports the following UN Sustainable Development Goals

  • Good Health and Wellbeing
  • Partnership For The Goals

Responsible marketing & advertising

We help people make better choices through responsible marketing and advertising.

Family watching TV

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 and on product packaging. Marketing provides an opportunity for companies to communicate and build relationships with people. It also helps them understand more about products they are thinking of buying.

However, irresponsible marketing can be harmful, especially to children who tend to accept advertising messages as truthful, accurate and unbiased.

Our principles for responsible marketing

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 people on issues that matter to them. We are pleased that the Access to Nutrition Index Scorecard 2018 concluded that our commitments on responsible marketing to consumers overall, and to children in particular, are strong. The principles that guide our communication with consumers are:

  • We are committed to building trust through responsible practices and through transparent communication – both directly to consumers and indirectly through other key stakeholders and thought-leaders.
  • 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, which includes product labels, websites, careline phone numbers and/or consumer leaflets to communicate openly with our consumers.

In 2003, we were one of the first companies to apply our own principles to the marketing and advertising of all our foods and refreshments (PDF | 465KB). These provide guidance to our brand managers and are reviewed regularly, most recently in July 2017. Our Global 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.

In addition, we have a Code Policy on Responsible Marketing (PDF | 3MB). This is for all Unilever product categories, including our Foods & Refreshment Division. The Code ensures our employees are aware of their responsibilities concerning responsible marketing practices. It is supported by training for employees. This training uses case studies to highlight the key attributes of a responsible marketing approach.

Our objective for 2019 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.

Sylvia Weeda, our Foods & Refreshment Communication Director

A leading role in industry

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. We 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.

We’re also a founding member of the International Food & Beverage Alliance (IFBA). This makes commitments to the WHO on responsible advertising to children, nutrition labelling and product reformulation. 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).


Father and son looking at a tablet screen together

Making Pledges across the world

In addition to our Global Responsible Marketing Principles work, since 2008 Unilever has played a major role in promoting industry-wide voluntary initiatives to advocate responsible marketing of foods and beverages to children below 12 years of age. These initiatives, called 'Pledge Programmes', have been launched in many countries and regions across the world. By the end of 2018, more than 50 Pledge Programmes have been implemented globally.

In Europe, for example, the EU Pledge is a voluntary initiative by leading food and beverage companies to improve the way they advertise to children. The aim is to use commercial communications to support parents in making the right diet and lifestyle choices for their children.

In the US, we signed up to the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative. By 1 January 2020, participants have agreed to strengthen the Category-Specific Uniform Nutrition Criteria that applies to foods advertised to children. These foods are lower in calories, sugar, sodium and saturated fat, and provide access to more food groups and beneficial nutrients.

In Argentina, we adhere to the Marketing to Kids (M2K) Pledge, which comes into effect in October 2019. Companies who have taken the pledge will not advertise products on television, radio and print media that do not meet its strict nutritional criteria or exceed 200 kcal per individually packaged portion.

Going forward, we will continue to participate in Pledge Programmes that will effectively improve standards on marketing to children across the globe.

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 (for example, media audiences where 35% or more are 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.

Back to top

Connect with us

We're always looking to connect with those who share an interest in a sustainable future.

Contact us

Get in touch with Unilever and specialist teams in our headquarters, or find contacts around the world.

Contact us