Well done Unilever, but hang on...

Don't get confused between 'a purpose' and your purpose

"Chief executive Alan Jope says it is no longer enough to sell washing powders that make shirts whiter or shampoos that make hair shinier because consumers wanted to buy brands that have a “purpose” too."

This headline is virtue-signalling. It may as well read 'Unilever announces new formula for getting those stubborn stains out of you hair shirt'

Now I'm not saying I know more than the CEO of Unilever, and correct me if I'm wrong, but isn’t the "purpose" of a washing powder to make your clothes clean? Period.

I just don't want or expect a washing powder to agree with my views on LGBT rights or to save pandas. I'd be chuffed to find they were donating some of their profits to those causes, but when it comes to the actual job of ‘do-gooding’ it’s probably best to leave that sort of thing to the experts - rather than a frikkin' soap powder manufacturer. If we continue down the Unilever route, what can we expect next? Maybe the marketing team at Rice Krispies will link arms with anti-fracking demonstrators or my local Ford Dealership will double as a food bank? If brands lose sight of their real purpose, what a confusing place the world would be.

When browsing the washing powders in my local Tesco, I might be swayed by the names that strive for ecological sustainability and I do expect a multi-national like Unilever to treat its employees well and for it to pay its local taxes in full, but save the sanctimonious 'purpose' bullshit. Stick to what you’re good at and let the experts do the rest.

To be fair, I did a bit of research before writing this piece and it does seem as though Unilever have put a shift in recently, eliminating animal testing from the majority of its products (with a few caveats due to Chinese consumer regulations). In terms of tax too, they seem to be reasonably clean, although I note the previous CEO, Paul Polman, who stood down in 2018, was a ‘tax exile’ in Switzerland and Unilever refuses to say exactly how much tax he paid on the £10.2million he earned in 2017 or from the £62.7million since he started the Unilever job in 2009.

So, while the attention-grabbing Jope headline suggests Unilever is committed to a ruthless pursuit of truth, fairness and social justice and I don't care what his research tells him, I find it ludicrous to suggest that Marmite - a good vegan product - has less ‘purpose’ than, say, Dove soap. The notion is clearly bonkers. One's good on toast. The other washes my backside. I try not to get them mixed up.

Perhaps what Jope’s really saying with this holier than thou trope is that he’ll flog off any of his brands he can't get his agencies to create an ‘ethical’ narrative around? But, while he promises he’ll sell off the 'brands that hurt the planet', he’d better make sure they don't end up in the hands of a less scrupulous (or perhaps less PR savvy) owner who doesn't give a shit about the planet. Because if he does, he’s really just shifting the problem elsewhere and brushing his shit under the carpet.

Maybe instead he should just kill the 'bad' brands in his portfolio and retire them to the great brand graveyard in the sky? I can't see that happening as his shareholders will want him to get maximum profit from the sale of valuable brand assets.

So come on Unilever, keep doing what you're doing. Cruelty free, tax transparent, body positive brands are great, but don't get confused between 'a purpose' and your purpose. Just do what you do best and be a responsible, caring citizen in the process, and you may find that's enough. The alternative is to look like you're being a sanctimonious, disingenuous twerp. Which would be a shame.


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