Can brand builders do well and do good?

JWT's digital director, Josie Brown, CMO's roving reporter at Cannes, looks at how Unilever is employing both social responsibility and brand strategy to gain success

Few global businesses have been as committed to connecting commercial success with global sustainability as Unilever.

The global CPG powerhouse, which maintains brands such as Dove, Lifebuoy and Ben & Jerry’s, puts social sustainability programmes directly in the hands of the brand builders – not PR or corporate communications – in order to connect brand purpose with social good.

Unilever CMO, Keith Weed, made a passionate presentation at the Cannes Lions last week, laying out a case that brands with social purpose deliver deeper engagement with consumers and that ultimately drives to commercial outcome. He states Unilever brands succeeding in delivering ideas that blend social purpose with a brand idea are growing twice as fast as others in the Unilever portfolio.

Weed proposed three key elements that need to be in place to help brands do well and do good:

Ideas: Inspire and touch people emotionally through creative ideas.

Trust: More trust is required between publishers, clients and agencies in a new marketing age where more specialists and more channels are required to deliver attention grabbing and engaging creative work.

Transformation: New collaborations that bring together technology innovation and creative ideas will lead to deeper engagement with brands.

The work Weed showed on the Cannes stage for Dove, Magnum, Lifebuoy and the Unilever masterbrand were powerful examples that demonstrate how a clear social purpose can be harnessed to deliver powerful creative brand ideas.

The latest Dove work reinforces the brand’s purpose to reinforce that beauty be a source of confidence for women, not anxiety. A film shows signage being hung above doors – making one entrance read ‘beautiful’ and one entrance for ‘average’. The film shows women reading the signage and choosing to enter through the ‘average’ door. The idea in the film is a powerful, emotional connection that certainly delivers on Dove’s social purpose.

Brands need to trust publishers will work with them fairly to ensure these ideas reach and connect with the target audience. Weed made an impassioned plea to online publishers to present paid online advertising where consumers can see it.

In an era of ad-blockers and click-fraud, Unilever is pushing for online advertising standard practices where all ads appear within a readable screen and are 100 per cent visible (not cut off).

The power of transformation in marketing at Unilever was also evident in the work Weed presented for the Masterbrand. Unilever Foundry is a new initiative to connect startup businesses and technology platforms with Unilever’s brand marketers.

One of the outputs is a project called ‘Unilever Futures’, and is about harnessing the talents of new, young entrepreneurs and contributing to fund their social marketing efforts.

If Unilever can genuinely crack a model where brand marketers deliver social purpose as part of a consumer brand proposition that truly delivers commercial outcomes for the corporation, the company will set a new standard others will race to emulate.

- Josie Brown is the APAC director of digital for J. Walter Thompson.

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