Unilever's Alan Jope: 'Woke-washing' is polluting purpose

Work that promises to improve the world but doesn't take real action is 'infecting' the industry, Unilever CEO says.

Jope: 'Too many examples of brands undermining purposeful marketing'
Jope: 'Too many examples of brands undermining purposeful marketing'

"Woke-washing" is threatening advertising’s credibility and trust, Unilever’s chief executive, Alan Jope, has warned.

Ad campaigns that promise to improve the world but fail to take real action are having a damaging impact on the industry, he told the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity today.

Jope explained that when purposeful marketing is done "properly" and "responsibly", it can help restore trust in brands. However, he added,  this is at an "important crossroads".

"Woke-washing is beginning to infect our industry," he said. "It’s polluting purpose. It’s putting in peril the very thing which offers us the opportunity to help tackle many of the world’s issues. What’s more, it threatens to further destroy trust in our industry, when it’s already in short supply.

"There are too many examples of brands undermining purposeful marketing by launching campaigns which aren’t backing up what their brand says with what their brand does. Purpose-led brand communications is not just a matter of ‘make them cry, make them buy’. It’s about action in the world."

Jope called on adland to reject briefs from clients that don’t "walk the talk" on purpose. He said that Unilever – which owns brands including Marmite, Dove and Magnum – refuses to be part of this "false purpose".

He added: "But we will celebrate and reward the brilliant work and power of creativity that can be unlocked by putting issues that matter at the centre of what our brands do and what they say."

Jope pointed to research that shows consumers are fast moving towards brands that "embrace a role in society that goes well beyond what they sell". Edelman’s Earned Brand 2018 report found that 64% of people choose brands because of their stance on social issues and Kantar’s Purpose-Led Growth study revealed that brands with a strong commitment to purpose have grown at twice the rate over the past 12 years.

Furthermore, Jope called on the industry to "unleash purpose" through creative ideas and said he wants advertisers to work in new ways with Unilever to help the company generate new ideas and "drive the kind of behavioural and cultural change that’s required to fix the big challenges of our time".

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