Causevertising in times of coronavirus, in the context of Lifebuoy

If a brand doesn't have a cause - now isn't a good time to go hunting for one, recommends David Porter, VP of global media at Unilever for APAC and Africa.

Advertising Week, JAPAC in collaboration with LinkedIn is hosting a two day long virtual conference relating to different aspects of disruption in the face of COVID - 19. Themes of the conference include brand purpose, consumer behaviour and trends, content and creativity, and digital transformation.

Where does purpose fit, for Unilever as a company? David Porter, VP of global media at Unilever for APAC and Africa spoke to Kartik Chandrasekhar, global brand VP for Lifebuoy on the tenets of marketing with purpose. Porter and Chandrasekhar discuss how the company aims to lead in sustainability and uses the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan as the touchstone for everything it does. This session uses data and real-life case studies to make the case for purpose as marketing's most powerful asset.

Porter began the session by talking about where purpose finds a place in Unilever’s DNA. He mentioned that the conglomerate had partnerships across multiple organisations and that these affected how Unilever markets itself as a brand. Unilever went on to design a charter of eight principles for partnership in association with the World Federation of Advertisers.

Some of the organisations Unilever has partnered with. Porter also spoke about the Unilever Trusted Publisher’s program which is designed to give more control and visibility over where ads are placed. “We prioritise publishers who meet standards and eventually most of our online ad spends will be with those who follow the protocol,” he says.

The World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) did a study among senior marketers on Covid – 19 response to the second wave. Porter mentions that among the findings of this survey are that the vast majority of marketers are rethinking everything, and that the public will judge our brand based on what was said and how they behaved during this time.

He added that the gap between what a brand says and does is much more starkly obvious to the public at this time - the recommendation across the company is more on what the brand does, instead of solely focussing on what it is saying. “If the category is directly relevant to the crisis, we are focusing on direct messaging and if its adjacent to the crisis, we are using messaging that is meant to inspire the public. If not, the focus should be on what the brand is doing for the community with an emphasis on public service,” says Porter.

Porter also emphasises that if the brand does not have a clearly chalked out purpose, now is not the right time to go hunting for one as it can misfire or be seen as opportunistic or inauthentic. “Most people still want to be entertained, they want to be reassured and most importantly, they want to know what people are doing to help during the crisis,” he adds.

He took the example of Unilever’s own brand Lifebuoy, launched in 1894 with a clear purpose – to fight cholera in Victorian England; it was one of the frontline defences against the Spanish Flu a 100 years ago. Porter adds that till a vaccine is found, soap remains our best defense against COVID – 19.

Porter also played the ‘Lifebuoy data lighthouse campaign’ that ran in India a few years ago before calling in Karthik Chandrasekhar, the Global Brand VP for Lifebuoy.

“Purpose is not something that solely comes along with what brands say and do. It also comes with what brands do to inspire others to act on that purpose.” Chandrasekhar points out; stating that the below ads were aired on January 24 th , 2020, before the pandemic had hit India.

Chandrasekhar concluded the talk by reiterating that it has always been Unilever's policy to taken on socially relevant causes. He played a case study to end the seminar - Lifebuoy's infection alert system. The system was created based on the fact that in rural India, washing hands with soap and water is a cost effective way of keeping diseases at bay.

Mobile phones have roughly 78 per cent penetration in rural India and whenever data showed that there was a disease outbreak in an area, there was a call patched to cellphones in the area, which contained educational messages relating to handwashing and disease prevention. This data driven marketing initiative brought a Silver Lion and Bronze Lion awards back home at the Cannes Lions Awards 2019.

Lifebuoy causevertising coronavirus David Porter Karthik Chandrasekhar