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Responsible Marketing

Responsible or not? Unilever

By May 7, 2008April 13th, 20216 Comments

I’ve mentioned Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty that encourages self esteem for young girls. It’s smart, it zags when everyone else is zigging, and as the father of young daughter it makes me want to stand up and cheer.

But of course, Responsible Marketing is never black and white.

Dove’s parent company, Unilever, has been taking a beating on the public relations front by Greenpeace and a host of other activist groups for buying from companies that are harvesting Indonesian rain forests to extract palm oil.

Greenpeace took inspiration from Dove’s Real Beauty campaign, creating new viral videos to deliver their message.

Here’s Dove’s “Onslaught” ad:

And here’s the Greenpeace ad, Dove Onslaught(er):

But this story has a happier ending than you might think. Love or hate Greenpeace, their methods are effective, and on May 1, Unilever CEO Patrick Cescau announced a move to certified sustainable palm oil.

Here’s an excerpt from Cescau’s speech at the Prince of Wales’ May Day Climate Change Summit in London:

Palm oil is an important raw material for us and the whole consumer goods industry. We use a substantial amount of palm oil and we want to be an agent for positive change, as we have been in fish, tea and other areas.

We started work on sustainable palm oil ten years ago by developing and sharing our own guidelines and good practices with growers and suppliers, leading to the setting up of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil in 2004. Through the RSPO, we have continued to work hard to build an industry consensus on criteria for sustainable palm cultivation.

Now we need to take the next step. Suppliers need to move to meet the criteria, by getting certified both the palm oil from their own plantations and the palm oil they buy from elsewhere. We also intend to support the call for an immediate moratorium on any further deforestation for palm oil in Indonesia.

We are committed to doing this because we believe it is the right thing to do for the people who use our products, for the environment and communities in and around which palm oil is grown and for our business and our brands.

Unilever has gained accolades for sustainability and responsible business practices in other areas, but as the world’s largest customer for palm oil, they done considerable damage to-date.

I have two questions:

1. Do you consider Greenpeace’s tactics on this campaign responsible?

2. Is Unilever responsible or not?

Comment below to weigh in.

. . .

Inspiration for this post came from Jeff on OurWorld. Thanks, Jeff.

Join the discussion 6 Comments

  • Will Boyd says:

    Responses to questions:

    1. In my opinion, Greenpeace was able to use media to make a strong statement that, in the spirit of new media, was in conversation with Unilever. That conversation may not have been cordial, but evidently it was effective. The Greenpeace spot, at least for me, encouraged thought and further engagement with the issue. I think that it was a smart use of resources and no one was place in physical danger by their actions. To me, Greenpeace was acting responsibly.

    2. I believe responsibility is a journey and not a destination. Unilever was open to criticism and responded to the concerns of Greenpeace. I think that Unilever was acting very responsibly. I am sure that Unilever, as well as just about every other organization, still has some growing to do in the area of corporate social responsibility, but they are obviously making great efforts and strides in that direction.

  • Jeff says:

    I echo Will’s thoughts. Who among us has never behaved irresponsibly? True responsibility consists of adopting a set of standards that you adhere to and being willing to modify your behavior when you find yourself straying from those standards. Sometimes it takes someone else to point out our inconsistencies.

  • Great feedback, Will and Jeff.

    Responsibility is a relative term, isn’t it? I’d like to see companies set a standard that helps guide their actions BEFORE outside forces respond. But compared to a lot of other huge companies, Unilever has done a pretty good job.

  • Steve says:

    Are Dove not within their rights to campaign for ‘real beauty?’ I think their campaign has been quite refreshing in the whole scheme of things. But, they do consume huge amounts of Palm Oil which is havign massive implications around the world.

    Should Greenpeace feel bad for ‘adbusting’ a decent ad about self-esteem in the pursuit of it’s own goals? Would they still have made the video had Dove NOT created that campaign? Does the success of the Unilever response justify the means?

    In the end, I’m not really sure what is right and wrong here – you’re right Patrick that there is very rarely a clear ‘black and white’ solution in the marketing world. I think both companies are good corporate/social citizens and I think the Greenpeace and Unilver response has been highly collaborative and professional. And, it’s helping to solve the problem(s).

  • Steve,

    You’ve made some excellent observations here.

    The ‘real beauty’ campaign remains one of my favorites, and I’ve shared it on the blog (more than once).

    But I couldn’t avoid the palm oil issue so this post had to be written.

    I am impressed with Unilever’s response. I’d love to see more companies address directly their transgressions and then find a way to move forward.

    Unilever still has my business.

    Happy marketing,


    Oh, and great job with

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