Brand Purpose Influencer Marketing Marketing

Unilever is rewarding people for watching its sustainable ads


By Jennifer Faull, Deputy Editor

April 28, 2023 | 8 min read

The pilot has involved brands including Hellmann’s, Comfort and Magnum.


Unilever pilots programme rewarding ad views

Unilever has developed a new program that sits at the “intersection between marketing, technology and sustainability” where it rewards people for viewing ads promoting sustainable behavior.

“We use short videos to tell sustainable stories about our brands, and then we reward consumers for engaging with it,” Conny Braams, Unilever’s chief digital and commercial officer, told The Drum.

“And what we’ve seen from the pilots that we’ve been doing is that it, first of all, builds brand power, which is really important. But also, it really changes behavior.”

Unilever said it’s in an early pilot phase, testing across a few brands including Hellmann’s, Magnum and Comfort.

The ads appear on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube and run no different to how any ad is placed on social media platforms.

After watching the videos, viewers are then rewarded and can convert their reward into a coupon or a contribution to a worthy cause, linked to the brand’s purpose. For example, after watching a Hellmann’s ad the viewer could donate to a food waste project.

The brand confirmed this is separate from the work it has done with Good Loop, an ad tech company that similarly allows people to donate to charity if they watch the entirety of an advert.

Unilever said it’s seen significant increases in brand power scores in two metrics (meaning and difference) and how positively consumers are perceiving these brands as purpose driven. It also said it's seen one of the highest action intent lifts after people watch these ads with more people feeling inspired to make meals out of leftovers, wash in shorter, colder cycles, re-use plastic and fix and repurpose clothes. It’s now encouraged other brands to join the pilot.

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It comes as part of a renewed focus on the approach it’s taking to sustainability comms. In addition to this pilot, Unilever is also upping its influencer marketing spend on sustainability campaigns following research into their efficacy in engaging people in meaningful behavior change.

Last month, it published a report which found that 78% believed influencers to have the biggest impact of all media – greater than TV, news and even government campaigns.

More than that, three in four people are more likely to take up behaviors that are good for the environment after watching social media content, while eight in 10 (83%) think TikTok and Instagram are good places to get advice about how to live sustainably.

Braams said that in response, its influencer marketing spend is “accelerating quite rapidly”, particularly for brands in its beauty and beauty, well-being and nutrition categories.

“What we really wanted to do is elevate the role of influencer marketing within the marketing mix, within sustainable marketing and make sure that these influencers have the right education that we give them enough ammunition to be really driving the sustainable changes and the sustainable behavior change in the largest scale,” she added.

Dove and Hellmann’s – two of Unilever’s largest brands – recently worked with influencers to address the two most impactful behaviors on an individual’s carbon footprint: using less plastic, and wasting less food. As a result, 76% were encouraged to act after watching Dove plastics reuse content and 82% after seeing Hellmann’s content on food waste reduction.


Unilever has a strong incentive for its focus on marketing its products as doing good for the planet. Despite some outspoken opponents of the strategy, Braams said 60% of the company’s turnover comes from brands that consumers recognize as driving a positive contribution to society.

“On communication, what we’ve seen is that purpose really works,” she said. “Of course, it starts with value. We need to have a good value proposition, a superior product, whether it is a core product, or an innovation, against the right price for the right people. And then you can add on your values. And these values need to be very central to the category benefits. And you need to continue driving it for at least three years for people to say: ‘Yes, this is a brand I know to be doing something good for society’.

“And then these brands are way more resilient to economic fluctuations and competitive actions because people buy convinced about the purpose that they drive.”

But this focus on conveying a purposeful, sustainable, message has meant Unilever has found itself the focus of ‘greenwashing’ claims. It’s had a Climate Transition Agenda in place for nearly 15 years, reviewing its operations and partners in the value chain to ensure they are more environmentally friendly.

Nonetheless, last year it was subject to accusations of greenwashing by the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) related to a campaign for its detergent brand Persil. A spot highlighted Persil’s sustainability credentials and claimed the product was “kinder to our planet”.

ASA banned the ad on the basis that the environmental claim was misleading and could not be substantiated.

“On greenwashing, for us, what is so important, is partnerships. We always want to have objective partners to sign off on the activities that we do,” said Braams on how it’s navigating the increased attention, and regulation, on the green claims brands can make in marketing.

“The second thing we’re really keen on is you never have a brand, say without a brand do. So yeah, it’s nice to say something, but what are you really doing about it? For us, that’s an internal measure that we really take very seriously. And let’s not forget that science continues to evolve. So, this is not a once we fixed it, it’s done. You can say everything about the society you want to create, but if you haven’t got your own operations in order, if you don’t set standards for your value chain partners and if you don’t have your brand’s integral thinking about the role that you want to play, then all your commitments to society and a better planet are not based on a solid foundation. And I think that is preventing us from greenwashing.”

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