2016 in review: Unilever – set on sustainability

2016 in review: Unilever – set on sustainability

Unilever’s key message remained clear throughout 2016: sustainability. Frankly, it would take the whole of 2017 to sum up all the Anglo-Dutch FMCG giant’s sustainability drives over the past year…

The highlights, however, include the creation of an open platform designed to solve key global development challenges; offering up its hard-won compressed deodorant technology to rivals ‘for the greater environmental good’; reaching zero waste to landfill targets at 400 sites worldwide, bringing the grand total to 600. And breathe. There’s a score of CSR initiatives and sustainability awards to add to the tally too.

A new tranche of Unilever’s drive to set an example is its approach to marketing and advertising. The company announced two wide-reaching campaigns this year: the first to eliminate sexism and stereotypes from its advertising campaigns, and the second, championed by Dove, to push for greater diversity and realism in marketing imagery, otherwise known as the Be Real Body Image Pledge. 

Although, just as Unilever vowed to distance itself from campaigns of the past, most notably Lynx, researchers gave credence to its premise that scent can make average-looking men more attractive to the opposite sex. Huh. Go figure.

Luckily for Unilever, early indications show that its new progressive approach will pay dividends too – with those brands that have embraced the company’s sustainable living plan growing 30 percent faster than others in the portfolio. The Anglo-Dutch FMCG giant is hopeful that the same will apply to #unstereotype and #bereal.

All these campaigns, of course, are part of a wider mission to transform marketing to tempt the millennial shopper. Social media-savvy consumers, says Unilever, don’t respond to traditional ads, so the company has created two new in-house units to create branded content.

These caring, sharing messages are all well and good, but Unilever wasn’t quite as keen to spread the love when the plummeting pound put pressure on pricing. In the wake of Brexit, Unilever found itself in a stand-off with supermarket giant Tesco, with the UK’s hyperbole-loving press predicting national shortages of Marmite before the row was quietly resolved. That hasn’t stopped rivals L’Oréal and Estée Lauder flaunting their (so far) ‘consumer-focused’ approach, however.

That wasn’t the only fight Unilever had on its hands this year. In India, local Ayurvedic manufacturer Patanjali has been gunning for the multinationals all year. The stiff competition has forced Hindustan Unilever to up its game – with a product innovation a go-go.

And while we’re on the subject of global markets, Unilever has been quietly and cleverly putting the necessary infrastructure in place to grow on a global scale. The company’s entry into Cuba is assured, with ground broken on its factory, it’s eyeing up production sites in Colombia, has cut the ribbon on a new facility in Ethiopia, and is stepping up investments in Nigeria.

What we didn’t see much of this year from Unilever was acquisitions – after a slew of purchases late last year, it all went quiet on the premium beauty front. Unilever was attached to a possible purchase of Honest Co, and said to be in the running for Vogue International but neither deal came to fruition. In fact, apart from sewing up a deal for Indulekha, which was brokered back in 2015, Unilever’s only major personal care acquisitions this year were the Dollar Shave Club and a last-minute deal for hair care brand Living Proof, which is expected to complete in 2017. Bring it on.  


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