Advertising & marketing

Advertising helps 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.

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

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.

  • 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.

Brand and Marketing Investment (2005 - 2016)


International self-regulatory codes

We support the development of international self-regulatory codes for all 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.

Unilever’s 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, in collaboration with our marketing teams. The Principles have been reviewed regularly since 2003 and updates published, the latest being in July 2017.

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. The Principles are applicable to ALL of Unilever’s food and beverage marketing activities and communications globally.

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

Marketing foods & beverages to children

The Principles also 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 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, starting 1 January 2018, we restricted marketing and advertising to children from the ages of six to under 12 for all products except those that meet Unilever’s Highest Nutritional Standards (PDF | 155KB), and, where applicable, nutrition criteria of locally agreed pledges (i.e. EU Pledge) or any binding criteria set by public authorities. Where differences in criteria exist, Unilever will apply the strictest criteria.

This is applicable to all forms or marketing and advertising, which include but are not limited to: packaging and labelling, television and radio advertising, consumer promotions, in-store activities, PR materials, online activity (including both company-owned websites and third party websites), all forms of social media and digital advertising, apps, online games and direct marketing; and all other forms of communication (e.g. cartoon characters, product placements, advergaming, free gifts/toys, etc.)

This commitment applies all forms of marketing communication, 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 include that we only use cartoon characters and celebrities on and in association with products that meet Unilever’s Highest Nutritional Standards.

We do not engage in the promotion of brands or products in primary schools. Where specifically requested by, or agreed with the relevant health or education body and the school administration, Unilever may participate in campaigns for educational purposes with branding levels agreed with the education body to ensure transparency. This will only apply to brands and products which fulfil our Highest Nutritional Standards.

Voluntary industry initiatives on responsible marketing ('pledge programmes')

In addition to our Global 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 now been launched in many countries and regions across the world. As of July 2017, 24 Pledge Programmes have been implemented globally, namely Australia; Belgium; Brazil; Canada; Columbia; the EU; Gulf States; Hungary; India; Malaysia; Mexico; New Zealand; Peru; Poland; the Philippines; Portugal; Romania; Russia; Singapore; South Africa; Switzerland; Thailand; Turkey; and the United States.

In 2008, with other member companies of the International Food and Beverage Alliance (IFBA), we committed to the World Health Organization (WHO) that third-party auditors would monitor the IFBA members’ marketing and advertising principles. See Downloads for the IFBA Monitoring Report.

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.

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