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How Unilever laundry giants are marketing their green credentials

How Unilever laundry giants are marketing their green credentials

By UTalkMarketing Editor, Clark Turner.

Heard about the Cleaner Planet Plan? It not, you soon will as a result of a major push from Unilever for its laundry division products – championed by heritage brand Persil, alongside Surf and Comfort.

The marketers and suits are on a CSR mission to ensure that while consumers are cleaner, they’re also greener. Cynics might just brush off this campaign as green PR puff but, as you would expect, team Unilever mean business with a clear strategy and targets already in place.

According to the latest figures from TNS, in the ‘Main Wash’ category, Surf and Persil hold the top two spots respectively both in terms of spend and volume in the UK marketplace, while Comfort ranks number one in the ‘Laundry ‘ category, again in both terms of spend and volume.

The Cleaner Planet Plan uses a three-pronged approach to address the impact of laundry products across the board, from reducing the impact of the manufacturing process to developing more compacted and concentrated  products that use less packaging.

The final line of attack is in helping and motivating consumers to adopt laundry habits that are not only kinder to the environment but can help them save both money and time. With the recession impacting on consumers’ brand choices, the timing couldn’t be better.

“When we were creating the Cleaner Planet Plan we discovered some good things, “ Vice President of Unilever’s Laundry Category, Europe, Seb Munden, (pictured on the left) told UTalkMarketing.

“When you align the needs of economy and ecology, the result is a very powerful force. So that’s what we’re trying to do – helping consumers to save money, while doing the right thing for the planet.”

He added, “We employ a lot of bright graduates who want to do the right thing and we listen to them. Who you are and what you do is as important as your brand values.

“Economic powers are very persuasive, so we’re using them to do the do the right thing too.”

The plan is being supported by a global communications programme will be rolled out across key markets providing hints and tips about how to improve the environmental  impact of laundry that will appear on pack and via the media

In addition, a new Cleaner Planet Plan website, reached from, promotes more environmentally friendly laundry habits

Global consumer research will also take place to identify key motivations that can lead to a consumer behaviour change and unique logging and sensory technology will also be placed in homes around the globe to measure behaviours and identify key triggers to consumer behaviour change

The biggest challenge faced by Unilever's home and personal care division Marketing Director, Matt Close, (pictured on the right) is, he has to admit, changing consumers’ behaviour.

“People’s mothers did their laundry a certain way and they’ve just followed suit,” he adds. “We’re faced with a need to educate people about how changes can help the planet and ultimately dispel inertia over the topic of laundry.

“We need to ensure people pick up the message after they pick up the product from the supermarket shelf, but we believe this will work once momentum has started. It’s all about being systematic in your approach.”

It’s 100 years since Unilever’s heritage laundry brand, Persil, was launched on the market. The occasion has been marked with a 100 years anniversary campaign.

One school of marketing thought argues that heritage marketing has no value when marketing should really be about addressing consumers needs in the here and now. But Seb disagrees.

“The reason for the campaign was to highlight that whatever life throws at you, Persil is there,” he said. “It’s all about the message and the ‘Tough but Gentle ‘positioning remains as relevant and important today as it’s always been. The fact it’s the brand’s birthday just makes the message more memorable.

“It’s not about making a choice between tough and tough or gentle and gentle. ‘Tough and Gentle’ really resonates with consumers. In addition, people like the reassurance of things that have been around for a long time.”

In communicating that message today, digital will, naturally, play a major role. It’s an area in which Unilever has a high marketing spend, and is increasing.

Information on the Cleaner Planet Plan will be carried on Unilever laundry product packaging and in print advertising that will then drive consumers online for more information including what wash settings they should be using.

“The most important place to carry the Cleaner Planet Plan is on the packaging. The digital goes hand in hand, so consumers receive the message when and where it’s most relevant to them,” Seb added.

Social Media Marketing is also playing a critical role with a Cleaner Planet Plan channel on YouTube. A current competition is challenging schools to send in videos documenting children's great ideas for helping the environment. A panel of judges will pick the most engaging idea and video star who will win their family a £3000 eco home and garden makeover.

“There’s been a great viral effect. The content is relevant interesting and engaging,” said Matt.

“I have to admit I was not into sustainability in my personal life until my  five-year- old came home and started turning off the lights, saying , ‘Daddy, you’re killing the polar bears’. As a result our family habits have changed radically. It’s about making that linear linkage of what I do at home has an impact around the world.”

Families have also been targeted with an online campaign entitled, ‘Every child has the right’ encouraging kids to go out, explore and play while Persil will take care of their mucky clothes.

“The thought behind this was about changes in parenting and children’s lives,” Seb explained.  “Under the global positioning we’ve been able to take different approaches in different territories. So in the UK, there’s a focus on self-learning though experiences, while in Asia it encourages self-reliance, encouraging  children to get on.”

Matt added, “It’s an engagement plan that provides parents with resources to use and occupy their kids. Hundreds of thousands have downloaded material and requested packs.”

According to Seb, it’s easy for parents to be afraid and anxious for their children in this age.

“Laundry brands usually pile on the anxiety, getting consumers to ask themselves, ‘Is it clean enough?’,” he continued. “We aim to reduce that anxiety, saying, ‘we’ll take care of the dirt; you get on with your lives.”

See a video from the Cleaner Planet Plan schools’ competition below.

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