Friday, July 11, 2008

Supply-Side Guest Memo: 'Sustainability,' Advocacy Marketing and 'Doing Good By Doing Well' Keys to Unilever's Present and Future Says CEO

Natural~Specialty Foods Memo Editor's Note: Anglo-Dutch global food, consumer packaged goods and personal care products giant Unilever owns brands ranging from Dove Soap, Lipton Tea and Hellman's and Best Foods Mayonnaise, to the Knorr specialty and ethnic foods brand, Bertolli (premium) Italian foods, and the trendy Axe brand of personal care products for men, among many more global brands, including such natural and specialty foods iconic niche brands as Marmite, Bovril, Coleman's Mustard, PG Tips Tea and many more. [Read an April 30 piece we wrote about a number of these brands being put on the market by Unilever.]

Unilever has been doing lots of reorganizing in the last couple years. It's also been stepping out into the forefront under the leadership of French CEO Patrick Cescau (pictured above) in the areas of advocacy marketing and advertising--with its Dove brand advertising campaign which features woman from all walks of life and body styles in the television commercials and print ads--wellness and premium foods marketing, and in the "green" or environmental area, among many others.

The Financial Times newspaper has an interview in today's addition with Unilever CEO Patrick Cescau in which he talks to the interviewer, staff writer Michael Skapinker, about these topics and a wide variety of other issues involving Unilever's global business.

In the interview piece, the CEO talks about how the company is focusing on the "conscious consumer," the developing world's markets, the fast-rising cost of ingredients and energy, along with other wide-ranging topics. In the piece, he says Unilever has always been known for its community involvement and efforts to be good stewards of the planet since the days of founder William Lever. However, he adds the company lost that heritage a few years back, which is something he's committed to restoring as CEO.

Growing the company and making a profit while at the same time creating an even more socially responsible and sustainably-focused Unilever--or "doing well by doing good," which has become Unilever's corporate mantra Mr. Cescau--is what the 59-year old CEO says he wants his legacy to be because its what the company's roots are.

Below are the first three paragraphs of the Financial Times' interview with Unilever CEO Patrick Cescau, followed by a link to the entire interview-based piece in today's issue.

In 2003, Patrick Cescau sat down with fellow Unilever directors to hear a presentation from the Dove soap and cleansing products team. The Dove people had an idea for an advertising campaign that would feature women of all shapes and sizes rather than svelte models.

They showed the directors a film of girls talking about the pressure to look perfect, and how disappointed they were when they didn’t. The girls in the film were the directors’ daughters. Mr Cescau says watching his own teenager talk about her worries greatly affected him. He had no idea the Dove team had interviewed her, although his wife knew.

“It suddenly becomes personal,” he says. “You realise your own children are impacted by the beauty industry, how stressed they are by this image of unattainable beauty which is imposed on them every day – and the loss of self-esteem and other trouble going with it, anorexia and all of that.”

Click here to read the entire interview.

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