Unilever seeks new way forward

23 October 2012

LONDON: Unilever, the FMCG group, is seeking to create a "value-based" relationship with consumers so that its leading brands can become a "force for good" across the globe.

Speaking at the One Young World Summit, Paul Polman, Unilever's CEO, argued enhancing its social and ecological programmes would lead shoppers to "embrace" its products and benefit the planet.

"I have a vision of all of our brands being a force for good, with each having over a billion fans or more to help drive change. Brands like Dove, Ben & Jerry's, Lifebuoy, Knorr or Domestos, to name a few," he said.

"I envision a 21st century form of business, where the everyday consumer is helping to shape the social contract, moving from a value-based transaction to a values-based partnership."

Polman added that 2.2bn people, or a third of the world's population, now use the web, with 1.5bn accessing social networks. By 2030, he predicted, some 50bn connected devices should be in circulation.

"Consumers are discovering the power of the net to drive change," he said. "Social media is enabling a shift of power to ordinary people, who are increasingly using it to challenge a system they feel does not always fairly work for them."

As an example of Unilever's strategy, it has allied with Carrotmob, a US firm that rejects the idea of boycotting certain lines, and instead suggests "buy-cott" goods boasting strong social credentials. 

"I like Carrotmob because it's all too easy to protest about what you don't like, but so much more productive to vote with your money for positive change," said Polman.

Unilever has also committed to help 1bn people adopt good hygiene habits, and recently formed a tie-up with the Earth Institute, providing soap to 500k consumers in ten African nations. These efforts secured a total of 1m pledges of support on Facebook.

In June, the firm joined with PSI, the healthcare organisation, to trial the "Waterworks" scheme, allowing Facebook users to make "microdonations" to those deprived of clean drinking water.

Taking a more granular view, Polman suggested that using eco-friendly products like concentrated laundy detergent or tea certified as by the Rainforest Alliance would also have favourable results.

"Imagine what Unilever could do with 2bn people buying and using our products every day," he said. "With a company the size of Unilever, there is an enormous multiplier effect we can leverage. Every small choice someone makes, when multiplied by Unilever, can make a big difference."

Data sourced from Unilever; additional content by Warc staff