Responsible marketing

Our marketing and advertising help inform people about the benefits of our products and innovations. It is also a way for us to engage with consumers on issues that matter to them. Marketing and advertising can influence consumer choice so it is important to market our products responsibly.

Communicating with consumers

We have four clearly defined principles that guide our communications with consumers:

  • 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.

Responsible marketing and advertising

Unilever is the second-largest advertiser in the world.1 With this comes responsibility. We are committed to responsible marketing and advertising. As a leading global consumer goods company, we promote the benefits of our products using many different channels of brand communication.

Marketing and advertising can be a powerful force for behaviour change. They help inform people about the benefits of our products and innovations. It is also a way for us to engage with consumers on issues that matter to them. For example:

  • Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty challenges current stereotypes about beauty.
  • Omo/Persil's 'Dirt is good' campaign promotes getting dirty as a natural and positive part of growing up for children – all part of their learning and development.
  • With less saturated fat than butter, Flora/Becel helps people look after themselves by offering healthy, nutritious, and great tasting products that can be enjoyed at any meal time.
  • Comfort One Rinse’s campaign explains to consumers that they only need one bucket of water for rinsing their clothes rather than three, helping them to save water.
  • At the same time, we recognise the influence of marketing and advertising on consumers and take our responsibilities seriously. We apply the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) code ‘Advertising and Marketing Communication Practice’ as the basis for all our communications. The ICC code stipulates that all marketing and advertising must pass the baseline test of being 'legal, decent, honest and truthful’ and that we must ensure that all the claims we make have a sound scientific basis.

International self-regulatory codes

We support the development of international self-regulatory codes for all types of marketing and advertising and apply these across our business.

Working through our industry trade bodies, such as the World Federation of Advertisers and the International Chamber of Commerce, we have supported the development of general principles in this area and their integration into advertising and marketing self-regulatory codes and systems around the world.

Promoting healthy body images

There is much debate around the fashion and marketing industries' portrayal of unrealistic images of beauty through media and advertising. Unilever brands are free to choose the type of model and actor that fits best with the image of the brand. However, they are always bound by Unilever’s standards on healthy body images.

In 2007, we adopted a global guideline to prevent the use of 'size zero' models or actors in our advertising to ensure that our advertising does not promote 'unhealthy' slimness. All brand directors and agencies are expected to use models and actors with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of between 18.5 and 25 as a guideline. This is in line with the World Health Organization’s guidance on what level of BMI can be considered healthy.

Unilever global principles for responsible food and beverage marketing

In 2003, we were one of the first companies to apply our own principles to the marketing and advertising of all our food and beverage products. These global Food and Beverage Marketing Principles were rolled out by our Marketing Lawyers Network, our global network of marketing legal experts and our agencies in collaboration with our marketing teams. The Principles provide guidance to our brand managers and have been reviewed regularly since 2003. The most recent update was published in 2014.

The Principles require, for example, that our marketing messages are appropriate in the light of obesity issues (such as avoiding the depiction of over-sized portions) and that our marketing materials exclude anything that undermines the promotion of healthy, balanced diets and healthy, active lifestyles, or misrepresents snacks as meals.

See Unilever Global Principles for Responsible Food and Beverage Marketing in Downloads.

Marketing foods & beverages to children

Advertising food and drink products to children require a highly responsible approach. Our Global Principles contain additional requirements for marketing foods and beverages directed at children. They require that our marketing practices:

  • do not convey misleading messages
  • do not undermine parental influence
  • do not encourage 'pester power'
  • do not suggest a time/sense of urgency or a price minimisation pressure
  • do not exploit a child’s imagination or inexperience
  • do not encourage unhealthy dietary habits
  • do not blur the boundary between programme or editorial content and commercial promotion.

We have committed to voluntarily restrict all paid marketing communications directed primarily at children under the age of six years. We applied this measure because of increasing evidence showing that children below six do not have the cognitive ability to distinguish between advertising/marketing and programming.

For children under 12 years of age, research has also established a causal relationship between marketing and advertising and their purchasing behaviour and short-term consumption. For children aged 12 and over, this relationship is much less clear.

For this reason we restrict marketing and advertising to children from the ages of six to under 12 for all products except those that meet (i) Unilever’s nutrition criteria, or (ii) any common industry criteria committed to by Unilever, such as in the EU, and (iii) any binding criteria set by public authorities.

This is applicable to marketing activities and communications including but not limited to: packaging and labelling; in-store activities including closed-circuit television advertisements; consumer, trade/sales and professional promotions and public relations materials; all forms of advertising and marketing including but not limited to television, radio, internet (both company own websites and third-party websites), social media, apps, online games and direct marketing; and all other forms of communication (e.g. cartoon characters, product placements, advergaming, free gifts/toys).

This commitment applies to TV, print advertising, third-party and company-owned websites, where 35% or more of the audience is under the age of 12. This age limit is in line with the definition of a child in the majority of advertising standards in EU member states.

Our Principles also limit the use of cartoon characters and celebrities on packaging, labelling and point-of-sale materials to products that meet Unilever’s nutrition criteria.

We do not engage in the promotion of brands or products in primary schools. Where specifically requested by, or agreed with, the school administration, Unilever may participate in campaigns for educational purposes. This will only apply to brands and products which fulfil our nutrition criteria.

A leading role in industry

In addition to our Global Principles work, 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.

In 2008, we became one of the founding members of the International Food & Beverage Alliance (IFBA). IFBA was set up with other global leaders of the food and non-alcoholic beverage industry to make a series of commitments to the World Health Organization. The commitments were further updated in 2014 and include responsible advertising to children, nutrition labelling and product reformulation.

Since 2008, we have also played a major role in promoting industry-wide, voluntary initiatives, called Pledges, to advocate responsible marketing of foods and beverages to children below 12 years of age. These Pledges have now been launched in around 50 countries. Unilever supports and adheres to all the pledges that have been created around the world.

Since 2009, Accenture has been commissioned by IFBA members to independently audit adherence to marketing principles each year.

During 2015, monitoring was carried out in Brazil, Colombia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Russia, South Africa, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates. The corresponding compliance result for Unilever for TV advertising was 93.8%, while 100% compliance was found for print and online advertising.

1 Brand and Marketing Investment (BMI) for Unilever in 2015 was of €8,003 million. See Annual Report and Accounts:

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