Aline Santos, the firm's EVP/Global Marketing, discussed this subject at a recent conference where she reported that shoppers increasingly want brands to do more than make impressive statements.
"Consumers are really expecting brands to create movements. They want to be part of those movements," she said. (For more details of this strategy, read Warc's exclusive report: Unilever steps up from marketing purpose to brand activism.)
One example of this idea in action involves Omo, a detergent brand sold under the names Persil, Skip and Via in various markets across the globe, but united by the "Dirt is Good" positioning.
In making this vision a reality, the brand has built hundreds of playgrounds around the world, worked with legislators to boost the amount of time schoolchildren spend outside in Vietnam, and developed "Outdoor Classroom Day", an event with a global focus.
"At some point, consumers also said, 'It's all good that you have this beautiful narrative about dirt is good. We all buy into it. But what are you doing about it? How are you acting on it? What things are you doing?' … It's not sufficient to talk about it. You have to start acting on it," said Santos.
Elsewhere, Ben & Jerry's ice cream is a brand with activism in its DNA, having long been involved in championing issues like same-sex marriage and "liveable" wages.
"For Ben & Jerry's [activism] is in the DNA of that brand. On any big issue, in any big country, you will see people marching," said Santos.
"So it's not only creating big digital communities for Ben & Jerry's; it is in the physical world. It is absolutely fantastic to join one of these marches and see how people really, really strongly believe in what the brand is trying to do."
And if brand custodians require any further convincing on adopting this approach, Santos offered up some compelling statistics that demonstrate how activism can move products and people alike.
"Fifty percent of Unilever's growth today is coming from brands that are acting on their purpose," she said. "And the growth that we are getting from these brands is 30% higher than the brands where we didn't crack the purpose."
Data sourced from Warc