Brands starting to shout about sustainability

Many brands have previously been reluctant to shout too loudly about their sustainability efforts in advertising campaigns for fear of being accused of ‘greenwashing’. However, FMCG giants Procter and Gamble and Unilever are now putting sustainability at the centre of marketing efforts.

Unilever’s Project Sunlight sustainability campaign

P&G updated on the progress in achieving its sustainability commitments on the environment, waste and social responsibility last week.

The Gillette, Pampers and Duracell maker is changing the way it communicates sustainability by making it part of their core principles, rather than a separate issue.

P&G’s director of global sustainability, Virgine Helias, said the firm now plans to “sing” about its efforts as it aligns sustainability with innovation, an important aspect of the P&G brand.

“The holy grail is connecting sustainability with brand equity. If we don’t then it won’t appeal to our customers,” she said.

Previously brands used to talk about grand ideas such as saving the rainforest or slowing melting of the polar ice caps. Now they are dividing it down into topics that make sense to customers.

Sally Uren, chief executive at Forum for the Future, a non-profit that works with businesses and government on sustainability, says: “Brands previously made poor attempts at communicating sustainability by talking about green marketing – highlighting issues such as polar bears that perpetuated the notion that sustainability was a bit strange.

“Now they are separating sustainability out into meaningful chunks, such as energy use, to make it understandable to consumers.”

Unilever is also making a big push to promote sustainability, using its first ever brand campaign to back Project Sunlight. A film and online hub will host examples of sustainability activity launched by its brands. Although the company insists the aim is about “making sustainable living commonplace” rather than boosting sales, it is employing comprehensive media monitoring including a 40-strong “command centre” to monitor effectiveness. 

The firm is harking back to its founding purpose in an attempt to prove, as senior vice president of marketing Marc Mathieu puts it, that sustainability is in its DNA, rather than purely a box ticking exercise.

“We want to use the Unilever brand as a trustmark for sustainable living. We have started to build Unilever as a house of purposeful brands and this puts them all under an umbrella that brings our main purpose to make sustainable living commonplace to life.

“This is about having a broader ambition and purpose for the company,” he added.

By integrating sustainability it into their core brand, companies are seen as being more authentic. They can then market this through the products they sell, from P&G convincing customers to switch to 30 degree washes to Sainsbury’s using its “Value of Values” concept to promote the provenance of its products.

“Brands trip over when they try to think about sustainability separately from their main brand identity. That is why Unilever is integrating Project Sunlight into the evolution of its core brand and P&G is talking about innovation and sustainability,” said Uren.

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