Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Unilever chief Keith Weed on how brands must adapt to 'evolution by consumer selection' (Marketing Magazine)

Unilever chief marketing officer Keith Weed is to outline his vision for brand evolution at the Advertising Association's annual summit this week. Here, he explains what lies behind Unilever's strategy.

In a resource-constrained world, marketing plays a key role in driving social, economic and environmental progress. But we need to look at different models that can help us adapt to the change that consumers are driving – something I call 'evolution by consumer selection'.

Everywhere we look, we see the economic nightmare; yet marketing can help us meet this challenge. According to McKinsey, in the past 10 years the contribution that advertising made to GDP in the G20 countries is, on average, 10%-15% – maybe as much as 20%.

Survival of the fittest
This term is associated with Charles Darwin, but he apparently never used it. Darwin talked of 'evolution by natural selection'; the organisms best suited to their environment would be most likely to flourish. That is how I think about brands. Success will come to those that are most adaptable and stay indispensable to consumers' lives.

Looking beyond the economy at other big drivers
The first of these drivers is the shift of economic power to the East and South. The centre of gravity is more New Delhi than New York. Second is sustainability – not just environment, but sustainability in every sense. Third is the impact of digital technology; the way in which it is changing consumers' lifestyles and behaviour.
Developments in ambient technology mean that computing won't be locked up in devices: it will be everywhere and in everything. By 2020, as much as two-thirds of digital data will pass through the cloud; all devices will be connected.

The consumer in charge
Driven by the rapid advances in social media, the individual citizen feels empowered to take action on his or her own behalf. This trend is set to accelerate rapidly in 2012. We should embrace it by moving from creating brands to curating them – developing an environment so consumers can truly 'live' these brands.
This is a different type of consumer engagement and requires different ways of working. We now have global, direct relationships with media companies like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and Apple in a way not possible with national media companies.

Adapt or die
There are three things our industry needs to adapt:
1. Become more integrated so that our brands are more integrated.
2. Invest in our talent development and capabilities.
3. Use marketing as a driver of social, economic and environmental progress.

New industry models for integration
With the new model of 'paid', 'owned' and 'earned' media, content creation and distribution are transforming the communication/advertising model, and the roles of the advertisers, agencies and media-owners are evolving. Consumers are creating content and the cloud allows them to see whatever they want, whenever and on whichever screen.
We need new industry models that truly integrate all our communications to ensure that consumers engage with brands that offer a consistent message and brand experience.

Investing in talent development and capabilities
At Unilever, we've developed our 'Crafting brands for life' strategy and development programme based on the idea that marketing should balance 'logic and magic'. It's about creating a strategy that puts people's lives at the centre. If they drive the agenda, we must learn from them. Only by truly knowing them can we do what's right for them.

Marketing as a driver of social, economic and environmental progress
Consumers love brands. They simplify lives, short-cutting decisions and shopping. Brands can also help simplify an increasingly complex media and resource-constrained world.
Marketers have an incredible opportunity to work alongside consumers to shape positively the lives of generations of consumers to come; to make marketing noble again and achieve sustainable growth – sustainable economic, environmental and social growth.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Ad Age Digital A-List: Unilever (AdAge Digital, By: Jack Neff Bio)

The Packaged-Goods Giant Is Investing Big in Making Digital a Reliable Brand-Builder, and It's Beginning to See Bottom-Line Results

Dove's "evolution" video in 2006 generated hundreds of millions of viral views and received many creative awards. The parent company's evolution has been a bit rockier.

Unilever had some digital successes on other products, too, but results were far from universal. So in early 2008, the company sent U.S. media executive Babs Rangaiah to London to help build a digital capability that was truly global. The appointments of Paul Polman as CEO a year later and of Keith Weed as chief marketing officer in 2010 meant more senior leaders committed to ramping up digital.

During the past two years, dozens of Unilever senior executives have made pilgrimages to Silicon Valley and the Consumer Electronics Show. The company appointed a digital roster from which all global brands have chosen shops, as well as a digital advisory board. Spending on digital doubled, to 13% of overall marketing outlays.

Unilever also has put 2,000 marketers through its digital training academy and opened media labs for its eight recently reconfigured regions. It established a global social-listening platform through Sysomos and public-relations agencies, consolidated a hodgepodge of efforts into Facebook pages for Dove and other global brands, and added e-commerce links to its websites.

While the focus has been on process, the overall long-term goal is achieving more creative breakthroughs like "Evolution" and making digital a reliable brand-builder the way TV has been, according to Mr. Rangaiah.
The push is beginning to be reflected in the bottom line. Speaking to investors in December, Mr. Weed outlined digital programs for Bertolli, Starbucks Ice Cream, Ragu and I Can't Believe It's Not Butter that had generated $2.69 to $3.58 in sales for each dollar spent.

Unilever wants much more, however.

"To this day, most of what you see is banners and buttons and pre-rolls -- translations from old media to new," Mr. Rangaiah said. He likens it to the early days of radio, when broadcasters read newspaper stories until an RCA middle manager, David Sarnoff, persuaded superiors to air a heavyweight boxing match.

"Just like David Sarnoff, there are going to be some people at some companies, hopefully ours, that are going to reframe the space," Mr. Rangaiah said. "Media companies will be part of that, too."

That's why Unilever has made it a point to forge relationships with Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter, Mr. Rangaiah said.

With Facebook having a few thousand employees and 800 million users, "getting really top-notch service was a challenge in markets around the world," Mr. Rangaiah said. "Working with them has gotten us great client service" and access to insights not available to all marketers, he added.

Owned content and earned media are growing parts of the equation for Unilever brands.

Last month, a Dove Hair Spa for the Facebook version of Sims was added by more than 200,000 of 20 million players within a few weeks, Mr. Rangaiah said. The Magnum Pleasure Seekers game, integrated with such brands as Samsung and YouTube, produced the most-tweeted URL in the world the day it launched in April. It has had millions of plays since.

And the Axe brand has launched apps in the past year that let users digitally memorialize their nights out (à la "Hangover") or arrange wake-up calls from sultry-sounding women. Such programs are reshaping how Unilever, the world's No. 2 advertising spender, budgets its marketing dollars.

"To get earned media, you need to create great assets in the digital space," Mr. Rangaiah said. "The idea is that by creating great earned impressions, you can take from the paid impressions. And if that's your strategy, you need to shift your budget. That's not an easy thing to do. ... It takes a lot of proposals and perseverance. But it goes a long way toward backing up your strategy."

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

We need to rediscover the magic of marketing (The Guardian, Marc Mathieu)

Marketers may have lost the desire to create magic but consumers haven't – let's make marketing magic together Throughout much of the 20th century, marketing narrated the march of progress and possibility.

Invented as a brainchild of capitalism, stewarded by the vision and wisdom of the likes of Henry Ford and Levi Strauss, it played the essential role of messenger and guide as the Industrial Revolution reconstructed the world around us. It improved our lives, it changed behaviours, shaped society and created culture for the better. It was a marvellous machine.

During the latter part of the century, as all around us the world trumpeted unbridled consumption, marketing began propagating a model that often resembled "selling for the sake of selling". It was a time of excess, a time of status and stuff, a time whose favour has passed.

Capitalism is at a crossroads today and so is marketing. Three seismic shifts have forever changed the world in which we live and have ushered in a new era.

The first is sustainability; we know we must live more sustainably. This realisation is rapidly raising expectations, and prompting demands for change, both inside and outside our corporations.

The second is D&E – we have to respond to the explosion of developing and emerging markets, of urbanisation. Every two months in the developing world, the equivalent of a city the size of Beijing is created, bringing new consumers with radically new and different needs.

The third is the power of digital. Digital changes everything – its implications for transparency and empowerment will completely change every facet of business, of marketing. Today, everybody wants to be a marketer. With social media, everybody can.

These fundamental shifts have ignited a radical reinvention of marketing. And it is people – not organisations – who are driving this change. The world revolves around them, not us. We must embrace that.

That means changing the way we work. Marketers today have a unique opportunity to reinvent marketing post-sustainability, post-D&E and post-digital. But this reinvention is also a revival — one of marketing's original ideals when improving people's lives was at its core.

If we're going to tackle today's biggest challenges and win, we need a new model that feels real and human. One that people will join forces with. To do this, we must above all put people first and through the power of brands, unlock the magic of marketing.

Putting people first

If people are driving the agenda, then more than ever, we must listen to them and learn from them. Only by truly knowing them can we do what's right for them.

In a new, sustainable age, that means accompanying people in the difficult march towards sustainable living, recognizing, as M&S says, that there is no Plan B, and acknowledging that there is no better driving force than marketing to help make sustainable living commonplace.

In a digital age, that means inviting and empowering people to own our brands – their brands – and shape them alongside us. Creating marketing that is social by design. Helping people tell their brand stories, not just hear ours.

In a planet that will soon host nine billion people, that means enabling all to flourish and helping everyone access a better life – just like soap brands Sunlight and Lifebuoy did over a century ago when they helped millions of people access basic health and daily hygiene practices.

The power of brands

Brands, too, have a role to play. They are our change agents and they are most powerful when they combine a great product people can buy with a powerful idea people can buy into. Think Different. Just Do It. Wonderful products wrapped in amazingly empowering ideas.

More than ever, while we're confronted with massive change and uncertainty all around us, brands with strong ideas are essential. They will guide our lives, facilitating our move to more sustainable lifestyles for today and for generations to come. They will also be critical in shaping the culture and society of the billion people who, for the first time, are discovering a world of opportunity.

Unlocking the magic

Marketing is a rigorous craft. It's relies on numbers, but also stories. Truly great stories have an emotional thread, one that takes the logic and mastery of a well-crafted script and brings it to life with the magic of ideas, of inspiration, of imagination.

In our quest for mastery, we seem to have lost the belief in the magic of marketing. But our consumers haven't. To the contrary, they long for the chance to amplify the magic, to become the magicians themselves – on YouTube, on Facebook, on Twitter.

By inviting them to create the magic with us, we can make hard change easy and fun. Think Coke's Happiness Machine or, creating more smiles around the world or making recycling a delight.

People. Brands. Magic.

At Unilever these are the beacons on our journey of reinvention: we call it "crafting brands for life". It embraces the challenge of Unilever's Sustainable Living Plan – to double the size of our business while reducing our overall environmental impact – and holds true to our original ideals, back to the times of William Lever, when we first crafted marketing to improve people's lives.

It's an exciting time to be a marketer. Not easy, but exciting. We all have an incredible opportunity, a responsibility, through marketing, to shape how we will live our lives for the generations to come.
To reinvent marketing for life.

Marc Mathieu is the senior vice president for marketing at Unilever – follow the firm on Twitter @unilever_press

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Honourable marketing makes business sense (Marketing Week, By Ruth Mortimer)

Marketing needs to be a “noble” profession, claims Marc Mathieu, senior vice-president of marketing at Unilever. He warns that the profession has become about “selling for selling’s sake” and that it needs to move beyond a pure commercial stance to promote products that “create progress and improve lives.”

Mathieu’s declaration is a brave stand given the pressures placed on marketers in this global economic climate. Everywhere I go, senior executives are telling me that their roles are increasingly about hitting set financial targets and proving their worth as money managers. Few people are willing to talk about marketing in such emotional and socially conscious terms as Mathieu.

Yet this idea of marketing as a craft rather than a job is precisely why the discipline is so valuable to businesses. Mathieu says that “marketing is at its best and much more interesting when you are thinking about real people whose lives you can improve.”

Marketers are the voice of real people within organisations. They have feedback from customer services to make sure they are offering consumers the right products and services. They pore over research into what people think, believe, behave and do. The finance director already knows whether customers are buying or not. The marketing director knows why people are buying (or not). That’s a subtle but important difference.
Consumer understanding is what will help UK brands break into the growing Brazilian market. The country has 192 million consumers with a middle class of around 91 million holding considerable disposable income. These people have cash and they want to spend it on British brands.

Not only has the economic might of Brazil outstripped that of the UK for the first time in recent months, but many consumers there are logging onto the internet regularly. Diageo’s Latin American marketing and innovation director Olga Martinez Garcia says that people are “leapfrogging trends - for example, people are jumping straight from not having used technology at all to having smartphones.” This means it is cost-effective for brands from Britain to attract large numbers of Brazilians through digital marketing methods. It’s a win-win.

Brands like Diageo and Unilever already know that understanding insights from markets such as Brazil will be vital to their businesses in future. To achieve commercial growth, they must understand the motivations and needs of people.

These businesses know that while marketing is about helping a company make money, it must also be about creating the society in which those businesses can operate and have a long and prosperous future.
As Mathieu puts it: “If we really believe that corporations have a key role to play in driving social economic and environmental progress, marketing has a big role to play.”

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Randi Zuckerberg interviews Keith Weed, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, Unilever (by Michelle Laird)

Randi Zuckerberg interviews Keith Weed, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, Unilever at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland 2012.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012


Unilever today announced the launch of The Unilever Foundation, dedicated to improving the quality of life through the provision of hygiene, sanitation, access to clean drinking water, basic nutrition, and enhancing self-esteem.

To help achieve the Foundation’s mission, Unilever has formed partnerships with five leading global organizations that are committed to creating sustainable change worldwide: Oxfam, PSI, Save the Children, UNICEF and the World Food Programme.

The Unilever Foundation is a key action that Unilever is taking to help achieve its goal of helping more than one billion people improve their health and well-being, and in turn, create a sustainable future.

“We live in a rapidly changing world. One where populations are growing, water is becoming increasingly scarce, and where food security is a growing issue. Unilever is committed to addressing the unmet social needs that our business can play a unique role in helping to solve. This is especially true in developing and emerging markets where we have deep roots,” said Keith Weed, Chief Marketing & Communications Officer at Unilever.

“We aim to double the size of our business while reducing our environmental impact and deliver increased social value. Together with our partners, we will deliver life-saving solutions as we work toward achieving these ambitious goals,” he added.

The challenges of the 21st century are increasingly complex:

  • Over 1 billion people do not have access to safe drinking water.

  • More than 3.5 million children under 5 die annually from diarrhoea and acute respiratory infections.

  • One child dies every four seconds from preventable and treatable diseases.

  • 2.6 billion people lack access to improved sanitation.

  • An estimated 925 million people suffer from chronic hunger.

“Two billion times a day, somebody, somewhere, uses a Unilever brand. Our global reach and scale, coupled with a deep understanding of what triggers consumer behaviours that can lead to a sustainable future, uniquely enable us to drive long-term scalable and systemic change,” added Weed.

The Unilever Foundation will be working with its Global partners on a number of life-saving initiatives:
The Unilever Foundation’s partnership with Oxfam will improve lives around the world through programmes designed to empower individuals and deliver good nutrition and clean, safe drinking water.

According to Barbara Stocking, Oxfam Chief Executive, “Unilever and Oxfam have been working together across the world for quite a number of years so we are pleased to be working with Unilever with the new Foundation as it is set up. The first way that we are going to work together is in the UK, providing food parcels to the very poorest people and helping them move from surviving to thriving. We are looking forward to extending that worldwide, focusing on two pillars core to Oxfam’s work on tackling poverty and inequality – the rights of women and access to clean drinking water.”

In supporting PSI, the Unilever Foundation is making a tangible contribution to improving the health of children and families through delivering behavioural change interventions focused on hand washing, clean drinking water and sanitation. ”The launch of the Unilever Foundation represents the best of what is possible in Davos,” said Karl Hofmann, President and CEO of PSI. ”By pooling ideas and resources, private companies and health organizations can improve the health of millions of children and families worldwide. PSI is excited to be working with Unilever, a company that recognizes – and values – the economic impact of good health.”
The Unilever Foundation is working with Save the Children to save and improve the lives of children around the world. This will involve improving access to health workers and life-saving vaccines, and ensuring more children and mothers are reached with high-impact health and nutrition programmes. The partnership will also provide a platform to catalyse a global movement and generate the public and political will for a global breakthrough on child survival. Jasmine Whitbread, Chief Executive of Save the Children International, said “Save the Children is proud to be selected as a partner for the Unilever Foundation. This partnership will help us to deliver transformational change to millions of children’s lives around the world through our EVERY ONE campaign. Each year 7.6 million children die needlessly of preventable illnesses. The support from Unilever will bring us a step closer to ensuring that a health worker is within reach of every child, life-saving vaccines are available for all, and children have enough food to grow up healthy. Combining our global reach and joint mbition – we can give children the chance to fulfil their potential.”

The Unilever Foundation and UNICEF are partnering to improve sanitation in developing countries through UNICEF’s Community Approaches to Total Sanitation (‘CATS’) initiative, a behaviour change program that promotes good hygiene practices, helps create demand for access to toilets, and raises awareness of the sanitation crisis. “By investing with communities in sanitation, this partnership is helping us break one of the last taboos in public health – open defecation – and demonstrating real leadership for the private sector,” said Anthony Lake, UNICEF’s Executive Director. “Improved sanitation could prevent the deaths of over one million children each year so these investments have enormous potential for the future health and strength of their societies.”

The Unilever Foundation is also partnering with the World Food Programme (WFP) in Project Laser Beam, a public-private partnership that aims to create a scalable and sustainable model to improve nutrition, health, and livelihoods in Bangladesh and Indonesia. “With millions of children around the world suffering from malnutrition, there has never been a better time to take action on this truly solvable problem,” said WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran. “Project Laser Beam is investing in the next generation by ensuring that our children grow up healthy and strong. The knowledge and expertise of partners like the Unilever Foundation help make this goal a reality.”

Additionally, the Unilever Foundation is also working with other organizations worldwide by providing a combination of direct funding, expertise, products and employee support that help to help address country-specific needs primarily aligned with the Foundation’s mission.
For more on grants and grant writing, visit Grant Pros.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

British brands show what it takes to stock the shelves in India (FT Magazine, By James Fontanella-Khan in New Delhi and Louise Lucas in London)

In a decrepit grocery store in Mahmudabad, a small city in the northIndian state of Uttar Pradesh, one product stands out on its cluttered shelves: cans and cans of Horlicks.

A. Khan, the owner of the roadside shop, says the traditional British drink manufactured locally with malted barley and buffalo milk is a bestseller. “Kids love it and mothers prefer it to more sugary drinks,” he says.
The success in India of Horlicks, which is owned by the UK-based pharmaceutical companyGlaxoSmithKline, is not limited to the small northern city.

Horlicks, first introduced to India by returning Indian soldiers who had fought with the British Army in the first world war, enjoys blockbuster sales across the country, overtaking popular drinks such as cola from Coca-Cola and Pepsi in terms of sales, and is second only to Bisleri, India’s best-selling water brand.
Horlicks’ success played a key role in boosting GSK’s non-pharmaceutical products sales in India by 19 per cent last year, compared to the 1 per cent sales rise in the US and a 1 per cent drop in Europe in the nine months to the end of September 2011.

However, the soothing beverage is just one of many products once manufactured in England, Scotland and Wales that have become de facto Indian consumer goods thanks to their overwhelming success in Asia’s third-largest economy.

Besides GSK’s Horlicks, the shelves of India’s predominantly small, family-owned shops are filled with UK brands.

Cadbury’s chocolate bars, Unilever’s Lifebuoy soap, Reckitt Benckiser’s Dettol disinfectant, ITC’s Gold Flake cigarettes and Woodward’s Gripe Water are ubiquitous.

The success of these brands and the groups that make them – many of which have since listed in India – have spurred newer UK consumer groups to make a push into the fast-growing economy.
United Biscuits, maker of the quintessentially British brand McVitie’s digestive biscuits, set up its first plant in India in 2009. The company is now looking to build a strong distribution network to reap the same results as its more established competitors.

However, Neelesh Hundekari, head of lifestyle practice at consultancy AT Kearney, says that replicating the success of Horlicks and Cadbury, which is now controlled by Kraft of the US, will be a tough task.
“It’s not easy to build a trusted brand in India,” says Mr Hundekari. “You need to understand Indian tastes, as we are a very diverse country. It also takes time to build a distribution network as India’s retail market is fragmented. To succeed in the long term you need to be very patient.”

The UK brands are thriving in India predominantly because they have an established long-term presence in south Asia, with local manufacturing facilities and localisation of their products. For example, Horlicks offers specific flavours, such as cardamom, and additional vitamins for the Indian market.
Unilever attributes the longevity of its Lifebuoy soap, which it says is used in 140m households in India and boasts an 18 per cent market share, to a combination of its social mission, distinctive pink colour and marketing.

The soap was born out of the Public Health Act in late 19th-century Britain. Many of the challenges at that time – booming population, migration from rural to urban areas, swaths of slums with poor sanitation – can be found in today’s India, creating “huge health problems which frankly could be solved by the humble bar of soap”, says Keith Weed, chief marketing and communications officer at Unilever in the UK.
The strength of these older brands has led many Indian consumers to consider them more as Indian rather than “Made in Britain” products.

“Many of these brands have been in India for decades, in some instances even before independence [in 1947],” says Arvind Singhal, chairman of Technopak, an Indian retail consultancy.

“The success of these companies is that they have become Indian to your average consumer here ... and their products are also tailored for a domestic buyer,” he adds.

A bar of Cadbury chocolate or Lifebuoy soap can be found in as many as 50,000 of India’s 600,000-plus villages, inhabited by the majority of the country’s 1.2bn population, as well as Mumbai’s crowded Dharavi slum, one of Asia’s largest.

"All companies have established strong distribution networks and their reach goes way beyond the big or mid-tier cities; they have gone deep into rural areas ... [and have] done things the hard way but it’s rewarded them,” Mr Singhal says.

“To crack the Indian market takes time; if you are in a rush you are bound to fail,” he adds.

Friday, 3 February 2012

How ‘good’ does a shampoo need to be? (Financial Times, By Gillian Tett)

In today’s world CSR programmes have become a useful salve for a troubled corporate conscience

Until recently, I thought that Unilever was a company whose primary purpose was to make products such as shampoo. No longer. Last week, I chaired a panel of business leaders on the sidelines of theWorld Economic Forum in Davos. And during that debate, entitled “The Future of Business”, it became clear that most business leaders do not really want to talk about the grubby financial realities of business these days, or, at least, not at Davos.

Instead, Keith Weed, the charming head of marketing at Unilever, earnestly outlined the social and environmental initiatives that Unilever is now pursuing to help the 2 billion consumers who apparently buy its products each day. Whereas the company used to think of corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes as separate from core business, he said, these days CSR is at the core of everything it does.
Similarly, Novartis, the pharmaceutical giant, is now devoting considerable energy to bringing health initiatives to poor people around the world, even at a loss. Daniel Vasella, its chairman, told the panel that this makes him “very proud” (never mind the commercial side of Novartis’s work). Meanwhile, T.K. Kurien, the head of Wipro, the Indian technology group, explained that his company is also expanding its social programmes in response to employee demand. “Young people in India used to be happy to have a job. But now they are aware [of social issues] – they don’t want to work in something such as defence, but [in] something like health.” And these companies are not alone: a senior employee at Bloomberg revealed that CSR pages are now one of the fastest-growing sections of its data terminals. That is apparently because investors are clamouring for information about companies’ CSR programmes, be that in relation to “responsible” shampoo – or anything else.

Is this a good thing? Some observers think it is. Nadine Hack, executive-in-residence at IMD business school in Lausanne, for example, firmly believes that companies should be applauded for being more socially engaged. After all, she argues, companies are so powerful these days that there is little hope of addressing societal problems – environmental, economic or anything else – without their support. Conversely, when corporate muscle is engaged, the outcomes can be powerful: when, for example, Coca-Cola started battling Aids in Africa, it had an extraordinary impact.

But there is a powerful counter-argument, too: some business leaders retort that companies would actually do better to focus on their primary function – namely the business of making money – and leave governments to worry about those bigger social goals. After all, governments are elected to make countries better, so why do unelected company executives feel any duty to reach into other areas of life? “The fact that companies are doing all this CSR stuff just shows that government has failed,” muttered one British manufacturing executive.
My views lie somewhere between these extremes: I think that companies should recognise their wider impact on society, but I also think that it is primarily up to governments – not companies – to set the rules and pursue wider social aims. In other words, I don’t want Unilever to trash the environment with high-margin shampoo, but I expect the government, not Unilever, to set environmental standards, penalise miscreants – and tax Unilever to help the poor.

But whatever I (or anybody else) thinks of the merits of CSR, my experience of Davos suggests its strategic importance can only grow right now. That is partly because governments are blatantly failing to pursue many of their core responsibilities, forcing companies to step in.

But a second, related, factor is that company executives themselves are getting scared of wider social strains. Just before this year’s Davos meeting, for example, a survey from the World Economic Forum showed that “income disparity” heads the list of issues that Davos Man thinks will threaten global stability this year. That is stunning, since income disparity never even featured on that list until this year (it was previously dominated by concerns such as the “asset price collapse”, “oil shock” or “fiscal crisis”).

Corporate executives do not have any easy answers to this. As Wipro’s Kurien observed, with commendable honesty: “We [in business] can all see the problem of income disparity, we just don’t know what to do about it.” But, in today’s world, nobody wants to sit on their hands; somehow, they need to be seen to be doing something. Hence the appeal of CSR, in Davos and beyond; in today’s world, it has become a useful salve for a troubled corporate conscience, if not a quasi amulet that companies like to wear as a protection against the evil eye (or, at least, future social strife).

And somewhere along the way, CSR is delivering some genuine good for people who need help – at least, I fervently hope so. Either way, it provides something else to ponder on the next time you buy a bottle of commercial shampoo.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Unilever sets out ambitious sustainability goals (Food Navigator)

Unilever has announced the launch of The Unilever Foundation, an organisation that the Anglo-Dutch food and household care group said is dedicated to enhancing the provision of hygiene, sanitation, access to clean drinking water, basic nutrition in emerging countries.