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Cannes Lions 2019: Unilever CEO Alan Jope urges ad industry to not take briefs from brands that don’t work on purpose

On Day 3 of the world’s biggest creative festival, the new CEO of Unilever talks about how some brands are driving fake purpose, which is leading to consumer distrust in the advertising and marketing industry

Alan Jope

On Day 3 of Cannes Lions Festival 2019, Alan Jope, the new CEO of Unilever, took to the stage to warn the advertising industry about fake purpose-driven brands and urge them to collectively come together to deal with the problem as it’s causing consumers to distrust the very system of advertising and marketing.

He requested the hall full of advertising and marketing professionals not to take up work of brands that do not do meaningful purpose-driven marketing. “Please do not damage the advertising industry by accepting briefs from brands that don’t work on purpose. Let’s hold each other to account. Just walk away and refuse the brief. In fact, we don’t want to work with teams that have a track record of not creating purposeful work,” Jope said.

Jope said that at the time when Unilever is trying to convert all its names into purposeful brands, there are companies across the globe that are driving on fake purposes. He said, “At a time when we are trying to deal with real-world issues, fake purpose is dangerous. It will further destroy trust in our industry. Marketing has a titanic trust problem. There are a lot of reports to prove distrust in advertising and marketing is soaring.”

He said problems such as fake followers, ad bombardments, massive breach of data privacy and fake news are some issues that should be collectively addressed by the industry’s leadership. We should not trust any brand communication not backed by substantial impact in society.

He said purposeful marketing is at a crossroad right now and some in the marketing and advertising industry feel fatigued with purpose. Some even call it a fad. “We are at a crossroad because there are too many examples of brands underlining purposeful marketing by launching campaigns that don’t back up what brands say and do. Being a purposeful brand is not about making consumers cry or emotional, it is about taking real actions in the real world. It is about campaigning for social justice, installing toilets and partnering with the world’s best NGOs,” Jope said.

Out of 400 Unilever brands, 28 are driving the company’s purpose-driven journey at a growth rate of 69% and adding 75% to the total business. Unilever brands such as Dove, Lifebuoy, Love, Beauty and Planet, Ben and Jerry are a few brands with purpose.

Jope said the brands without a purpose will have no long-term future in Unilever. All the current brands in Unilever will find a purpose. He said, “A brand that doesn’t find its purpose will leave our portfolio. Our merger and acquisition strategies will be based on this. We will continue to grow our portfolio, acquire brands with purpose in high-growth spaces as we have done in recent years.”

About their vision, he said, “Every time you scrub, wash, brush, spin, lather, spread, lick or slurp our products, you will be doing something good in this world. We want Unilever to become a trust mark of brands with purpose and positive impact.”

Jope explained that purposeful advertising doesn’t mean that every brand has to be in serious issues such as global warming and the loss of habitat. Brands with purpose can tap into all ranges of human emotions.

Towards the end of his session, he invited the audience to put sustainable business at the heart of everything we do. He said, “You have the secret sauce, which is creativity. Apply creativity to purpose to get the best creative work. Create work that people care about. I think that is why most of the pro bono work that the agencies do often make the best films. This is the way the creative industry and the brands can start a societal change. Bring ideas that drive behavioural and cultural change.”

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