Commentary

Unilever Shows Twitter's Biz Stone Was Right - Philanthropy Is The New Marketing

Did you catch Unilever's new tv ad last night nestled in between judges spats and young singers not wanting their "journey to end" on the X Factor results shows last night?

Interesting stuff, don't you think? In what looked like a series of clips from a junior version of TED lectures, young "leaders" had snippets of speeches calling for hunger and poverty to be tackled broadcast to millions of UK homes. Soon the advertisement will be running in America too.

It was a huge departure for a corporation that owns so many famous FMCG brand names, which usually take to the airwaves to warn that either us, our children, our clothes or our homes need to smell better and look cleaner to make people like us. My favourite was the reference to Ghandi's immortal words "be the change you want to see in the world."

It was a little like a thinking person's Monty The Penguin -- erring on the side of thought rather than emotion, of course. 

It made me realise that Twitter founder Biz Stone has been right for quite some time. He came to Oxford earlier this year to tell students that the future of marketing is philanthropy. Companies, he said, will basically spend some money doing nice things and then spend the rest of the budget telling people what nice things they have been doing. 

Now, I don't suppose for one minute we'll get to Christmas without branded Unilever adverts offering us a nicer-smelling home or cleaner, fresher clothes, but this could well be the start of a trend. We have already seen it in energy company adverts where a voiceover will typically say how they are looking after the environment better through the use of new technology. Banks are lining up not to remind of their pitifully lower interest rates but rather to tell us they are "there for the journey" and understand our issues and empathise. Tesco's Christmas advert is all about the emotion of communities coming together to turn on their Christmas lights and we all know where John Lewis has been heading for some time, culminating in this festive season's Monty The Penguin.

This rush for brands to show us they have a heart means there is only one way for the huge companies that own collections of brands to go. Making television advertising about philanthropy, or corporate social responsibility (CSR) will surely be an emerging trend that Unilever has kick-started this weekend.

I have said it before and so will say it again -- nobody ever cares how much you know until they know how much you care, and that is what corporations are starting to latch on to. We have all seen endless badly dubbed adverts of houses, bedsheets and old trainers coming alive with the smell of blossom. Now we're starting to see a shift to people trusting a brand's product because they trust the brand. If it comes from the people who give a platform to young, plucky campaigners, then they must put as much thought into their products, the thought process goes.

So while last night's "X Factor" results show was what you would normally expect, as were the vast majority of advertisements, that one minute slot will shine out as the proof of the trend toward philanthropy becoming the new marketing.

1 comment about "Unilever Shows Twitter's Biz Stone Was Right - Philanthropy Is The New Marketing".
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  1. Kevin Lee from Didit, November 11, 2014 at 6:46 p.m.

    Perhaps a broad definition of philanthropy. One can do good in many ways, not just cash. To remain authentic (and be authentic), the employees of companies need to volunteer and advocate for change, not just let the CSR or Marketing department write a check. This is an area of investment for me and I agree that it works, when its authentic and on-brand.

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