Unilever CEO says brands that don’t “walk the talk” are tarnishing the ad industry

FMCG giant Unilever CEO Alan Jope has warned that “woke-washing” ads that promise improvements in the world but fail to take real action are tarnishing the credibility and trust of the advertising industry.

The Unilever boss urged advertisers and their agencies to hold each other accountable and advised agencies to reject campaign briefs from brands that don’t “walk the talk”.

“Purpose is one of the most exciting opportunities I’ve seen for this industry in my 35 years of marketing. Done properly, done responsibly, it will help us restore trust in our industry, unlock greater creativity in our work, and grow the brands we love,” said Jope at the 2019 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

“However, purposeful marketing is at an important crossroads. Woke-washing is beginning to infect our industry. It’s polluting purpose. It’s putting in peril the very thing which offers us the opportunity to help tackle many of the world’s issues. What’s more, it threatens to further destroy trust in our industry, when it’s already in short supply.”

Jope said there are too many examples of brands undermining purposeful marketing by launching campaigns which aren’t backing up what their brand says with what their brand does.

“Purpose-led brand communications is not just a matter of ‘make them cry, make them buy’. It’s about action in the world,” Jope added.

He said Unilever will not be part of “false purpose” and will not work with those who are. He also rallied the FMCG sector to “Unleash Purpose” with “creative ideas that move people, change perceptions, and inspire action”.

He said that consumers are choosing “brands that ‘get it’ and [embraces] a role in society that goes well beyond what they sell”.

Last week, Unilever announced that its sustainable brands, including Dove, Knorr, Persil/OMO and Rexona, have grown 69 per cent faster than the rest of the business in 2018, compared to 47 per cent in 2017.

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