Unilever’s Marc Mathieu: “The Unilever brand is a trustmark for sustainability”

Unilever is launching its first consumer facing brand campaign, using Project Sunlight to spread its sustainability message. Marketing Week speaks to Unilever’s marketing senior vice president Marc Mathieu about the campaign, its launch online and why it is finally using the corporate brand to speak to customers. 


Marketing Week (MW): Why are you launching Project Sunlight?

Marc Mathieu (MM): We want to engage with consumers around how what we do is also a platform for them to change their behaviour and their attitude to make sustainable living easy, more desirable, more rewarding, but through the lens of our brands.

We are releasing a documentary that we call our anthem that tries to answer the question “Why bring a child into this world?” We believe changing behaviour is extremely difficult and there are very few moments when people can embrace the idea of changing the way they live. The birth of a child is always the moment where people start to look at the world not through their own lens but through the lens of someone they have responsibility for. We wanted to capture those reactions.

The hashtag we are using is #brightfuture. Its about making people look at the world not in the way sustainability 1.0 has framed the conversation, which is very much doom and gloom, but to realise that decade after decade life conditions improve. Right now we are caught in saying “the future is something I don’t want to go towards and I feel incapable of impacting”. We want to shift the paradigm from “we are not going to make it” to “if we try we can and it’s worth it”.


MW: Why are you using the Unilever voice, rather than product brands?

MM: 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.

Our product brands are the ones that people connect emotionally with and they are the ones that can create a narrative that people can actually engage with around sustainable living. But at the same time we want an umbrella platform, which is why we have a hub where for the first time people can see all the Unilever brands that have some way of contributing to making the world better, whether its through access to water, health and hygiene, sustainably-sourced ingredients, sustainable farming, self esteem.

We want to use the Unilever brand as an amplifier and an aggregator of all the great things that our product brands do.

MW: Why is sustainability important to Unilever?

MM: Unilever four years ago embarked on this Sustainable Living Plan and it is the heart of our internal strategy. It is something that also goes back to our DNA. We called it Project Sunlight because the first brand under the Lever side of Unilever, at the time of William Lever, was a brand called Sunlight that at the time it was to make basic hygiene and cleanliness commonplace.

Today cleanliness in this part of the world is a given. But it is not commonplace everywhere. So we took that broader ambition and made it a purpose for the company.

MW: Why did you choose to make a video?

MM: You can’t ask people to change unless you capture them emotionally first. Films are one of the best ways to trigger people’s emotions. We also wanted to capture not only emotions but the real narrative, which is why we wanted more of a documentary rather than a piece of communication that was not rooted in something real.

MW: Why the focus on online?

MM: We wanted this to be real. Marketing used to be about creating myth and telling it now it is about finding a truth and sharing it. This idea of creating something which we would capture in a piece of film but then let people have their own reaction to it in an authentic way by sharing it with one another is something that we felt was important.

Also engaging with them in real time. We are going to do some real-time publishing. We have about 40 hours of content and we want to listen to what is going on and react to some of the conversations.



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