"The effort of marketing our brands needs to have a more positive impact on society" Marc Mathieu

Be it the Dove Sketches, Kan Khajura Tesan or Help a child reach 5, Unilever has looked at being a force for good, purposeful and helping improve lives of their consumer. And in the process, garner impressive growth along the way says Marc Mathieu - Global SVP - Marketing Unilever

e4m by Simran Sabherwal
Updated: Mar 21, 2015 10:55 AM
"The effort of marketing our brands needs to have a more positive impact on society" Marc Mathieu

Marc Mathieu, Global SVP Marketing, Unilever believes that Brands can be used as a force for good, a philosophy that the British-Dutch consumer goods giant believes in and Mathieu adds that the DNA of several brands in the Unilever portfolio has been to improve lives of people, right since the brand’s inception. Mathieu was speaking at ‘Creativity, For Goodness’ Sake!’, a festival of debate organised by ASCI in partnership with exchange4media, in Mumbai on March 20, 2015.

Doing Good Since Inception

The first product from the Unilever stable was called Sunlight, a new household soap, created by its founder William Lever in the mid 1880’s. This was at a time when hygiene was limited to few in Britain and death common due to unhygienic condition. At this juncture, Lever created Sunlight as a hygienic product meant for the masses. In the process, Lever also created among the first forms of creativity and advertising with the aid of a short silent black-and-white film which showed how easy laundry became with Sunlight.

On a similar note, Lifebuoy played on removing bacteria and preventing illness. With Unilever’s core businesses broadly divided into four categories – Personal Care, Home Care, Food and Refreshments, the purpose of every brand is now tied to the original thought of doing good.  “About five years ago, the company completely re-embraced the principles on which it was born and said in the beginning, if our purpose and mission was cleanliness and hygiene, now we need to think about the challenges of the world – Sustainability and created a plan called Unilever Sustainable Living Plan.”

The ambition of this plan was also simple - Double the Size of Business, increase Positive Social Impact of every Unilever brands and Reduce environment footprint. Mathieu says that taking the sustainability route, across the portfolio, and having a purpose is commercially rewarding as brands with purposeful and sustainable initiatives command a price premium and will represent more than two-third of growth in the years to come. At the same time, this effort also improves the planet and lives of people served.

Crafting Brands For Life

With purpose of the brand being paramount, Unilever created an ambitious new marketing strategy and platform called “Crafting Brands for life” which brings back the focus on the people served and how the brands can help them. Building purpose into the agenda is also a strategy to get people to love brands. He notes that it’s important to also ensure that creativity is used positively as against just for the sake of saying something and making sure that all brands carry on the purposeful pursuit in their marketing activities.

The Campaigns

One of the most successful campaigns executed by Unilever is the Dove Real Beauty Sketches produced in 2013. The short film which became a viral sensation was based on the insight that beauty turns from a source of confidence to a source of anxiety when a girl grows up. These insights have proved to be critical for all campaigns and help create powerful campaigns as -Dove Sketches. By embracing technology and digital, Mathieu says that this medium is not just a marketing platform but can be used to change people’s lives.

The emphasis on keeping people first and understanding people also led to the award winning, Kan Khajura Tesan campaign. The free mobile radio service was based on the insight that in media dark markets, the mobile could be used as a platform to disperse entertainment in form of songs, movies, jokes interspersed with messages of Unilever brands.  Mathieu says, “Understanding what people’s needs are and understanding how we can fit our brands as part of something bigger that actually helps go through the day and helps make their day brighter.”

Purpose to Action

With purpose in all brands, the challenge is to translate it to action. With the mission to improving sanitation access, Domestos – household cleaning range partnered with UNICEF to promote good hygiene practices, help create demand for access to toilets and raise awareness of sanitation crisis. According to Mathieu, “It is absolutely critical that we don’t just work by ourselves but also work with NGO partners, which we regularly do.”

Driving Behaviour Change

Creativity is not just to be applied to selling but applying creativity to thinking what will be the trigger that will make people think, pause and act. Health soap, Lifebuoy is one of the best examples in the Unilever portfolio which showcases this behavioural change. Mathieu says that there are three ways of looking at Lifebuoy – Sell more soaps, Wash more hands or Save more lives. While the focus is to do all three, Lifebuoy decided to start with the higher purpose of saving lives with the vision to save lives of children who die from preventable diseases before the age of five. The campaign was extended by way of activities such as pledges and work with NGO partners. By doing this a value is created as you are saving lives and by teaching people to change their behaviour and wash hands frequently increases consumption and sales.

Project Sunlight

Mathieu says, “The effort of marketing our brands need to ladder up not just in more sales but equally to have a more positive impact on society. We decided, a year and a half ago, to use our corporate brand to help bring purpose to life and drive the sustainable agenda.” As part of this, Project Sunlight was initiated in several markets, including India, with the ambition to help people and raise the possibilities of a brighter future. Mathieu also says that if you want people to change, you need to show them that their actions can have an impact and there can be a brighter tomorrow. A trigger is also required to motivate people - for parents the motivation would be the future of their children. This initiative also works and supports young leaders, from across the world, youngsters who care about the world, can embrace the challenges and do something about it.

Mathieu also added that marketing had evolved- from creating a myth to finding the truth and sharing it and it was critical to embrace this change. He adds, “It is no longer possible to create a myth and then push it out to people because people who see through it in the world of technology, internet and transparency. People will also share the truth so you should form your communication and marketing on the truth.”

Interestingly, Mathieu does not consider any of the above films followed the definition of advertising but sees them to be idea centric marketing activations that happened when there was a need to share with the audience. While a film was one part, taking the idea forward were integrated campaigns and activities.

Apart from Marc Mathieu, Global Senior Vice President, Marketing at Unilever, the other speakers at the event were Sir John Hegarty, Founder, Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH), Shantanu Khosla, MD, Procter & Gamble India, and film-maker Raju Hirani.

“Humour unites people and crosses borders,” observed Sir John Hegarty, Founder, BBH during his session 

The Great Debate at ‘Creativity,For Goodness’Sake!’ was on how responsible should advertising be and where the fine line must be drawn between creativity and misleading claims. Actor and author Anish Trivedi moderated the debate in which the participants were Sanjeeb Chaudhari, Global Head of Brand and CMO, Standard Chartered Bank, Santosh Desai, MD and CEO, Future Brands, Bobby Pawar, CCO, Publicis India and Paritosh Joshi, Principal, Provocateur Advisory

"With accurate consumer insights, regulation and rules can never be a barrier to creativity," said Shantanu Khosla, MD, P&G India during his session 

Film-maker Raju Hirani drew examples from his own films to demonstrate that vulgarity and obscenity are not required at all to make a film successful if creative ideas are explored to the maximum


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