As part of the WARC x Ogilvy Image to Impact report, Unilever’s VP – Marketing for Dirt Is Good, Tati Lindenberg, spoke about how the company’s re-oriented the Dirt is Good narrative to make more of an impact in a changing world.

Tati Lindenberg

Tati Lindenberg, VP – Marketing for Dirt Is Good, Unilever

If we look at how marketing has changed over the past 10 years, what are the biggest shifts that you have seen personally in that time?

I believe there have been at least two big shifts. One is the proliferation of channels – compared to 10 years ago, the current marketing and media landscape has an unprecedented number of channels and much more integration of online with offline. Also, there are societal demands concerning brand relevance and context in a way we didn't see a decade ago. This is what we call conscious marketing – for instance, when 'Black Lives Matter' or Covid-19 happened, people were expecting that brands would have a voice and somehow contribute to these societal and health crises.

Both shifts are a breeding ground for creativity. Not everyone gets it right every time, including Unilever, but creatives in advertising never had such a wide canvas for impact. It is exciting but also very challenging.

How do your brands arrive at this and what sort of steps are taken over time when making conscious marketing?

I'll use Dirt Is Good as an example, which is the one I'm looking after now – the second largest laundry detergent brand in the world. The Dirt Is Good idea was created more than 20 years ago – it changed people's perception of getting dirt, from an enemy to be avoided to an ally to be nurtured. And it used this brand-new perception to drive the core benefit of the product – remove the physical consequences of getting dirty (as in dirty laundry), whereas children would enjoy its benefits. All the campaigns over the last two decades have portrayed dirt as a mark of an individual life fully lived – 'Go outside, get stuck in and enjoy the experience. We will clean up all the dirt that your child would pick up'. That was our marketing story.

However, around three years ago, we noticed that Dirt Is Good, as an idea, seemed to be increasingly less relevant to people. We questioned what was wrong and what needed to change. And this is when we realised that our marketing narrative was too individualistic for the current reality. Most of our award-winning and highly efficient advertising was about one protagonist kid, usually a boy, who would go outside, interact with a few friends and experience life through the power of getting dirty. And, by doing so, he would learn a value or a life skill. He'd come back home, his mama would encouragingly look at him, covered in dirt. Then there was a product window, and voilà, Dirt Is Good cleans it. The big problem with this narrative was that the one benefiting from the act of getting dirty was an individual, a single child.

This individualistic approach was no longer in tune with reality. Therefore, we decided to revise our Dirt Is Good point of view and narrative by showing that the 'getting dirty' can be a force for good. We still portray incredibly ingenious kids coming outside and experiencing life through the power of getting dirty, but the beneficiary of such experience is first, the planet, then society, and then – consequently – the kids. We've learnt that kids, or the future generation, can unleash their potential and become more well-rounded individuals when contributing to a better planet and society. Dirt Is Good adapted to new societal demands by moving from a more individualistic approach to a community and planet-led one, incorporating a sense of togetherness and a more purposeful point of view.

Sometimes it's hard for a brand to measure the impact that is made. Through the different actions that Dirt Is Good has done, is there a way to measure its effectiveness?

We can certainly measure impact and effectiveness when it comes to brand activation. Dove, for instance, has been running the successful Dove Self-Esteem for decades. The brand team measures the sign-ups for the project, the actual engagement from the girls who take part and the impact it had on their lives, short and long-term.

In the Dirt Is Good case, our research told us that kids are deeply concerned about the environment but feel isolated and under pressure to act. They admire the activists they saw on TV but do not have the confidence to take on these issues themselves. They participate in social media 'clicktivism' but are aware that it would take more than hashtags to enact real change. We published the 'Generation Action' white paper and launched several initiatives to help kids act including the Dirt Is Good Schools Programme, the Dirt Is Good Academy and the Wildlife Changemakers – a content series about young environmentalists in association with Sky Nature in the UK.

The online Dirt Is Good Academy, hosted by National Geographic Kids, helped kids to learn about sustainability, encouraging them to move through activities and modules designed to enable action on environmental and social issues. Given its digital nature, we were able to understand kids' engagement and behaviour throughout the activities. Even more important, we were able to understand how kids felt about climate change before going through the academy, and after. We were also able to contact them a few weeks later to know how confident they were in their knowledge and their ability to act for a better world.

That said, whereas we can measure engagement and behaviour change from brand activations, like the Dirt Is Good Academy, finding out the exact attribution to long-term brand power is rather complex. We know about the correlation between purpose-led activities, brand relevance and affinity, but haven't yet been able to deduce – systematically – a causation among them.

In the context of brand power and affecting the brand long term, does Unilever, have a special in-house equation where that's measured or talked about?

Yes, we have a few ways of measuring the success of a project at Unilever. One, of course, is the financial results – the easy ones to measure, not the easy ones to get. The second one would be all the marketing measures such as penetration, market share, brand power and any other specific KPIs we wish to track depending on the type of project. The third one is how we measure the impact of our 'Brand Do' or purpose in action. Dirt Is Good is about powering up people (including the ones behind the brand) to act for a better world and planet. Therefore, we do track how we have been improving our products to make them more sustainable and how our activations, such as the Dirt Is Good Academy, contribute to a better planet and society. In the end, the impact and amplification of our purpose drives brand power, which drives penetration, leading to better market shares and financial results.

Do you have any thoughts on how brands will evolve in the next five years to create more impact?

There are some big areas we must keep evolving to create more impact.

To start with, people are more critical and less tolerant of brands not doing their part. I do not believe that every brand must stand up for everything, but having a point-of-view of the societal issues that matter to the group of people targeted by a given brand is critical. However, having a POV is as essential as doing something about such a theme.

Conversely, there is one area in which every single brand will need to do something about – the climate crisis. In the next two to five years, not a single brand could afford to not have made their products more sustainable and committed to a roadmap for plastic reduction, more renewable and biodegradable ingredients, and less GHG, among others.

I would also add partnerships – brands coming together and weaving shared values. From the now customary 'feature songs' to luxury fashion partnerships like Prada and Adidas, to the mainstreams Dove and the Cartoon Network – it is about forming alliances to drive more impact and deliver more and better experiences to people, as well as to explore untapped opportunities talking to new audiences.

Do you have any advice for brands that want to do more societal good, but don't know how to identify their cause with authenticity in mind?

An authentic brand begins with being loyal to its roots and heritage. In the case of Dirt Is Good, the history of the brand idea/narrative/adv is rooted in modern parenting and child development. Therefore, if we do something about the LGBTQIA+ community, it must be in the context of children and kids' development.

Also, to be authentic, a brand must be unapologetically close to its category and what it can in fact do for societal good. Take the example of laundry and sustainability. The laundry product's largest negative impact to the planet is plastic. Whereas I do have initiatives to reduce GHG and increase renewability, moving out of plastic is the first and utmost action I must take.

On one hand, it is about looking outside to appreciate the societal issues and address them through the lens of the brand heritage, values, and tone of voice. On the other hand, it is about a 'brand soul searching' – deeply evaluating the negative impact a given brand is bringing to the world (if any) and coming up with plans and solutions to do better. Consistently.