Unilever's new chief executive Alan Jope has warned brands against cashing in on culture wars by 'woke-washing' in advertising, claiming the purpose category is being "polluted" by brands that fail to take real action.
At a roundtable at Cannes Lions, Jope rallied the industry to "unleash purpose," arguing that 'woke-washing' is undermining the advertising industry's credibility and trust. Under the eyes of former chief exec Paul Polman, Unilever was particularly outspoken on brand purpose, and the profitable benefits it delivers. Polman stepped down from the role earlier this year, after spending 10 years improving the overall environmental footprint and increasing its positive social impact, and utilising both in its marketing drives. Moving in from his role as president, beauty and personal care, Jope urged to continue in this direction.
He announced at Cannes Lions this week that "brands without a purpose will have no long-term future with Unilever." Last week, Unilever claimed that sustainable living brands can perform better than those without purpose. it announced that 28 of its sustainable brands, including Dove, Knorr, Persil/OMO and Rexona grew 69% faster than the rest of the business in 2018, compared to 47% in 2017. It is worth noting that Unilever's largest brands are among those that have embraced these trends - and may have delivered growth regardless.
"Purpose is one of the most exciting opportunities I've seen for this industry in my 35 years of marketing," Jope told the crowd at Cannes Lions.
"Done properly, done responsibly, it will help us restore trust in our industry, unlock greater creativity in our work, and grow the brands we love," he argued.
He put the shift down to increasing numbers of consumers who prefer brands that 'get it.'
Expecting brands to embrace a role in society beyond what they sell, 91% of millennials would switch brands for one which champions a cause and 64% of global consumers say they choose brands because of their stand on social issues.
Jope warned that purposeful marketing was at an important crossroads, where 'woke-washing' is beginning to infect the industry.
"It's polluting purpose" he said. "It's putting in peril the very thing which offers us the opportunity to help tackle many of the world's issues. What's more, it threatens to further destroy trust in our industry, when it's already in short supply."
Jope's advice on how to avoid 'woke-washing'?
To reject campaign briefs from brands that don't "walk the talk" on purpose, and instead, "unleash purpose" with "creative ideas that move people, change perceptions, and inspire action."