Unilever Chief Says Some Of Its Brands Without 'Purpose' May Have To Go

Unilever’s new CEO Alan Jope told journalists on Thursday that the brands it markets that don’t serve a clear social or environmental purpose could be eliminated from the giant consumer packaged goods manufacturer’s roster of products.

"There will come a day when we say, 'You know what? This brand or this category is just not going to be able to find its purpose,'" he told a group of reporters, according to an account in BusinessGreen.com.

Continuing on that theme, another report of the same exchange in The Guardian said Anglo-Dutch Unilever was taking a hard look at brands like Marmite food spread, Magnum ice cream and Pot Noodle instant soups -- all better known outside the U.S. -- that may not measure high enough on the “purpose” meter.  



Jope asked: “Can these brands figure out how to make society or the planet better in a way that lasts for decades?”

He has been emphasizing sustainability and social-purpose efforts, and even harpooning unnamed companies that run “purpose-driven” campaigns but fail to take real action, dubbing that public posturing “woke-washing” when he spoke at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in June. Jope also said then: "Purpose is one of the most exciting opportunities I've seen for this industry in my 35 years of marketing.”

Jope became CEO in January, replacing Paul Polman, who was also well-known for pushing brand purpose.

Under Polman, Unilever won acclaim for its Dove “Real Beauty” campaign that highlighted how marketers’ force-fed sales pitch about what constitutes beauty has hurt women's self-esteem.

In June, Unilever said the company’s 28 Sustainable Living Brands -- including Dove, Knorr, Persil/OMO, and Rexona -- grew 69% faster than the rest of the business in 2018, compared to 47% in 2017. Unilever markets some 400 brands in total.

Also, in a conference call with analysts on Thursday, Jope pointed out three other examples of “how purpose at the center of our brands is helping to drive growth.”

He briefly described a program in the Philippines that allows consumers to go for shampoo refills of Unilever brands; a program in Indonesia in which Unilever Home Brands coordinates a massive volunteer effort to clean 2,000 mosques in 13 cities in time for Ramadan; and Ben & Jerry’s campaigns for criminal justice reform and fighting racial bias in the United States.

“Purpose is part of our agenda,” he told the analysts.

The report in The Guardian indicated he was ready to sell off or eliminate some brands even if that hurt Unilever’s bottom line. “Principles are only principles if they cost you something,” he reportedly said.

Jope and other Unilever executives were talking to analysts and the press in reaction to its half-year earnings results, also released Thursday.

Unilever reported a net profit of $3.35 billion US compared to $3.67 billion U.S. for the corresponding period a year earlier. Revenue declined 0.9% overall, to $29 billion US.

4 comments about "Unilever Chief Says Some Of Its Brands Without 'Purpose' May Have To Go".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, July 29, 2019 at 9:02 a.m.

    So, if Unilever has a detergent or a bar soap brand and the brand managers--- or CMO for that division---- can't figure out how to make the world an even better place with his/her products will Unilever drop those products? Hmm?  Just a guess on my part but probably not---if they are profitable, that is.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited replied, July 29, 2019 at 10:36 a.m.

    Cup of noodle soup could go. Lots of non biodigradable trash and loads of of unpronounceable chemicals.

  3. PJ Lehrer from NYU, August 20, 2019 at 9:25 a.m.

    That's the whole point.  People are only buying brands that align wit their values.  Brands that don't are probably already unprofitable, or will be soon.  http://pjlehrer.blogspot.com/2019/08/cause-marketing-costs-less-than-good.html

  4. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, August 20, 2019 at 9:46 a.m.

    PJ, you may be right about brands in personally relevant product/service categories  like travel, fashion, athletic shoes, luxury cars, etc.---at least mostly so rather than always so----but there a lot of purely functional commodity products out there---like detergents, toilet paper, toothpaste, etc. where the primary "value" is whether it gets the job done at a fair cost. Unilever markets many such products and I doubt that they all are operating in the red.

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