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Marketing Brand Strategy Unilever

Protest poster outside Unilever HQ claims it is ‘funding Russia’s war’


By Hannah Bowler | Senior Reporter

July 4, 2023 | 4 min read

The Ukraine Solidarity Project erected the billboard, which spoofs Dove’s iconic ‘Real Beauty’ ads, as it campaigns against Unilever’s business in Russia.

Dove campaign subverted by Ukrainian Solidarity Project

Dove campaign subverted by Ukrainian Solidarity Project

Unilever has been publicly shamed as an international supporter of the war in Ukraine after it was targeted by protesters outside its London headquarters.

Protesters held aloft a billboard featuring wounded Ukrainian soldiers posing in the style of its beauty brand Dove’s famous adverts, with the poster reading: “Helping to fund Russia’s war in Ukraine.”

The Ukraine Solidarity Project is behind the billboard, which has been erected in response to Unilever being put on a list of sponsors of the war, alongside Procter & Gamble, following a new Russian law requiring all large companies operating in the country to contribute to the war effort. It has also emerged that the FMGC conglomerate paid Moscow $331m in taxes last year.

In a statement to the press, Unilever defended its position of keeping open “essential” operations in Russia. It said: “We understand why there are calls for Unilever to leave Russia. We also want to be clear that we are not trying to protect or manage our business in Russia. However, for companies like Unilever, which have a significant physical presence in the country, exiting is not straightforward.”

The protest comes days into the job for Unilever’s new boss Hein Schumacher, who replaces Alan Jope who had been at the helm since 2019. A new CEO plus the departure of marketing boss Conny Braams have cast doubts over its commitment to purpose-led marketing, which has been the cornerstone of its marketing and business strategy.

Investors have been fighting back against Unilever’s prioritization of purpose, which often leaves the business open to accusations of hypocrisy, with the situation in Russia only adding fuel to the fire. Subverting the iconic Dove adverts would be a particular blow, with it being one of Unilever’s most visible purpose-led brands.

Options open to Unilever

Unilever stands by its current actions in the region, claiming it has done so to avoid the business “ending up in the hands of Russia”. There are three options open to Unilever, it claims. The first would be to close the business, shutting its factories and letting go of its 3,000 employees. This option would leave its factories to be operated by the Russian state.

The second option would be to sell the business, but again Unilever claims it can’t find a solution that wouldn’t end up with the Russian state benefiting from a sale. Its final option is to carry on its operations with the constraints it put in place in March 2022, which involved stripping back sales to “essential products” – although protesters question why ice-cream counts as an ‘essential’.

Marketing Brand Strategy Unilever

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