THE BLOG

The Return of the Christmas Ad: Coca Cola, John Lewis and... Unilever?

03/12/2014 11:02 GMT | Updated 01/02/2015 10:59 GMT

Children love winter because it signifies the end of school and, the approach of Christmas. Retailers love winter because their sales get a festive-induced spike. And observers and analysts of all things marketing love this time of year because we get........festive adverts. There's a Christmas advert for everyone:

• Christmas enthusiasts get the Coca Cola advert that signals the beginning of the festive season

• Middle aged mothers get the emotional onslaught that is the John Lewis Christmas advert

• The nostalgic-types can even backtrack their favourite Irn Bru adverts on You Tube

However, this winter there is a new advert of interest, but not one aimed at the demographics shown above.

This year, Unilever advertised its corporate brand on UK TV for the first time. The advert focuses on sustainability in a bid to fight child hunger through Unilever's Project Sunlight, and integrates famous speeches by Martin Luther-King and Ghandi with a range of young sustainability activists.

The advert itself is great - pulling on emotional and intellectual strings - and shows Unilever in a favourable light within the remit of CSR. But this is not what makes it an interesting advert. Unilever's foray into corporate brand advertising reflects a changing shift in how the corporate world is thinking and operating.

You Can Run, But You Can't Hide....

Corporate entities used to hide behind their customer-facing brands. Then the Internet arrived -making this more difficult. Then Twitter arrived - and this made corporate shielding nearly impossible. The two have grown hand in hand and with more and more brands using consumer channels - television, social media, in store experiences, e-commerce and online review sites - we now have a transparent society where corporations cannot hide anymore. Unilever's TV campaign represents recognition of this shifting paradigm - corporate identity is now a customer-facing facet of a business.

Take it at Face Value

When we think corporate, we stereotypically think: mid-forties male, straight-faced, clean-shaven and garbed in suit and tie. Unilever's advert makes great steps in humanising corporate identity by pulling it in two completely opposite directions. By highlighting speeches of historical significance, Unilever are displaying their recognition for great human rights leaders, and by transferring to snapshots of youthful speakers, whom the advert is focused on, they show they care about the population of tomorrow. The key crossover is that at not one point does the advert show the aforementioned corporate stereotype, but instead focuses on faces of the everyday person as representing Unilever's beliefs.

The Closing Gap

This repositioning of brand identity sees the gap between consumers and large corporations narrow. By promoting activities designed to improve society and engaging with consumers in environments that are familiar to them, corporations can appeal to a consumer's emotional side and appear more human. Advertising success is no longer measured in the standard terms of increased awareness and lead generation, but in how it relates to the consumer on a personal level. With this, corporate capital is no longer related to product sales or a brand's market share: it is embedded in a reputation economy. But it isn't enough to just claim to be ethically focused. The transparency of a digital world means corporations can seldom use CSR as a revenue driver and must be seen to truly develop CSR programmes for social benefit - and Unilever have recognised this.

Unilever's foray into corporate TV advertising has more to it than meets the eye. It resembles a shift in how the corporate world communicates. Another example of this P&G's 'Thank You Mum' campaign of 2012, followed by Unilever in 2014, indicates that the corporate big guns are as concerned with Acacia Avenue as they are the Square Mile. A key driver of this is likely the recognition that corporate identity is now as purposeful a business attribute as brand equity.

Going forward, as society continues to spread its digital wings further, with the general public being given increasing potential to act as amateur social commentators, the reputation economy will face more challenges. Resultantly, I anticipate more corporate TV adverts hitting our screens in the future.