Can Unilever's brand be applied to all?

LONDON - Unilever's inclusion of its logo in ads raises issues about how cohesive it will be.

Can Unilever's brand be applied to all?

What do fans of Persil and Pot Noodle have in common? It sounds like the start of a bad joke, but the brands' owner, Unilever, reckons it has the answer.

Last week the FMCG company announced it is to begin featuring its corporate logo in British and Irish consumer ads (Marketing, 14 January). Although it has previously done so in Asian and Latin American markets, this marks a change in strategy for the UK.

The rationale is to create a 'halo effect' across the company's portfolio. According to a Unilever spokesman, people buying one product from the company are likely to buy other of its brands if they are made aware of the link. Yet the question remains whether it is fair to claim that buyers of brands as diverse as Flora, Dove and Peperami share a number of traits.

David Haseler, strategy director at branding agency Smith & Milton, believes it is. 'Unilever has more of a focus than was the case 10 to 15 years ago, when it was a much more faceless organisation,' he says. 'It will help bring the company together and Unilever might even grow to become a powerful marque of quality, as M&S used to be.'

Clarity of strategy

Unilever is not alone in having hitherto avoided drawing attention to its corporate structure in ads. Procter & Gamble and Mars are among others to have taken this approach. The most successful proponent of the opposite strategy is SC Johnson, which displays its logo and strapline 'A family comp-any' when advertising its brands, which include Mr Muscle, Pledge and Glade.

Opting for a clear corporate strategy is one of the most important factors when looking to link up brands. In the 90s, for example, Danone decided to align itself more closely with its healthier brands and sold those that did not fit this image, such as beer brand Kronenbourg 1664.

Unilever, however, may struggle to promote its brands as sharing a common set of values. This is despite its self-proclaimed focus on vitality, and a 'mission to meet everyday needs for nutrition, home hygiene and personal care'. For example, its Dove 'Campaign for real beauty' has been labelled hypo-critical since Unilever also owns Lynx, which uses sexist imagery in its ads.

Stephen Meade, planning partner at McCann Erickson, believes Unilever must decide what its corporate logo represents. 'If you are going to allow a corporate express-ion, you had best make sure that the corporate brand means something,' he says. 'I'm not convinced that as a totality Unilever is completely consistent.'

Another problem, as suffered on numerous occasions by fellow FMCG giant Nestle is that of corporate scandal. Recurring reports that Nestle markets powdered milk over breast milk to Third World countries have led to consumer boycotts of its entire product line-up.

Similarly, Unilever is opening itself to the risk that one of its brands, if involved in a PR scandal, may taint the entire portfolio. However, Joe Hale, a consultant at branding specialist Dragon Brands, believes it should be lauded for embracing the public's desire for corporate transparency.

'There is more scrutiny now than ever, and even if Unilever were not doing this, people would still pick away. It's quite a refreshing move, because it is a positive statement of intent,' he says.

 Unilever's initiative is likely to mark the beginning of a long-term process to establish it as a major 'House of Brands' in the UK. Whatever its intentions, though, one cannot help but feel it must iron out any corporate discrepancies before expecting consumers to buy into the Unilever brand.

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