Unilever brand strategy / positioning case study

Unilever Brand Strategy Analysis

FMCG Food; FMCG Non-alcoholic beverages; FMCG Household products; FMCG Personal care & beauty

Owner of the brand:

Key competitors:
Procter & Gamble, Nestlé, Colgate-Palmolive, The Kraft Heinz Company, Reckitt Benckiser Group

Brand essence

Making sustainable living commonplace and helping people to look good, feel good and get more out of life.

Brand values

Sustainability, responsibility, integrity, trust.

Brand character

Bold, pioneering, global, human, inclusive, serious.

Dominating archetype

Unilever’s portfolio consists of more than 400 FMCG brands “helping people to look good, feel good and get more out of life”[1] and representing such categories as food, non-alcoholic beverages, personal care and beauty and household products. Similarly to Procter & Gamble, for decades Unilever had been a textbook example of a house of brands company, making a clear distinction between its corporate brand (Unilever) and a number of independent consumer brands (e.g., Lipton, Knorr, Dove, Axe / Lynx or Hellmann’s). Until 2010, there was no underlying theme connecting the brands and consumers were often unaware that the different products they were buying were, in fact, being sold by the same organization. This strategy was changed when Paul Polman was appointed CEO in 2009.


During his 10-year tenure (2009-2019), Paul Polman proved not to be a typical CEO concerned mostly with the company’s short-term profits. Despite his financial background (he used to be CFO at Nestlé[2] ), Polman made himself known for believing that sustainable business practices can lead to profitability. It wasn’t a particularly popular view among financial analysts, but he wasn’t put off by that. He took a few bold strategic decisions, ensuring that everybody in the organization was focused on delivering long-term value. For example, he got rid of quarterly reports and made the company CMO responsible not only for all of Unilever’s marketing and communications activities, but also for the company’s “sustainability agenda and the Unilever Brand”[3](thus making sure that the sustainability and growth objectives were not separated). Polman’s unusual approach seemed to be effective – the brands regarded as sustainable by Unilever were regularly reported to grow  faster than the rest of the business.


Today, Unilever is the benchmark for a purpose-driven organization. Its purpose, defined as “making sustainable living commonplace”[4], appears to be something more than an empty marketing slogan. It is substantiated by concrete changes in the company’s operating model as stated in the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan[5]. The plan was introduced in 2010 and its objective was to double the size of the Unilever business by 2020, while reducing its overall environmental footprint (by half) and improving its social impact. Keith Weed, former CMO, believes that the USLP is the differentiator of the Unilever brand: “The USLP is of course a way of doing business but it’s also the reason to believe, the differentiator ultimately of the Unilever brand. It was always there to build a true story. We didn’t want to have borrowed interests or be sponsoring this and sponsoring that. Fundamentally, when we came to tell the truth about the Unilever brand, it had to have real robust content.[6]


The aforementioned changes in strategy have affected not only the Unilever corporate brand, but also its individual consumer brands. Some of them were purpose-driven brands before the transformation of the corporate brand (e.g., Dove and Ben & Jerry’s), while some had their strategies turned around to be more in line with the overarching “sustainability agenda”. For example, Axe (Lynx) went through the repositioning process in 2016. For years, it stood for “male irresistibility” and was often accused of being sexist; now, it wants to be an empowerment brand, celebrating men’s individuality. It is also worth noting that currently, Unilever plays a more prominent role in the communication of its individual brands. No longer invisible, it has become a proper endorser with the ambition to become “the trust mark of sustainable living”[7].


Although the actions taken by Unilever could be interpreted as typical of a Caregiver brand (caring for the environment and the well-being of communities, employees and consumers), the Hero archetype seems to be more dominating in Unilever’s narrative. Unilever acts and communicates like a company on a mission to make a world a better, more sustainable place. It sets goals and deadlines, measures its efforts, reports milestones and promotes constant improvement.

Most important campaigns

1. “Futuremaker: Jane Wurwand” (2019)

2. ”Imagine What You Could Do…” (2017)

3. “What Could You Create?” (2017)

4. “Unilever Sustainable Living Plan – Year Six Update” (2017)

5. “Empowering Women” (2015)

Official brand statement:

On any given day, 2.5 billion people use Unilever products to feel good, look good and get more out of life – giving us a unique opportunity to build a brighter future.
Great products from our range of more than 400 brands give us a unique place in the lives of people all over the world. When consumers reach for nutritionally balanced foods or indulgent ice creams, affordable soaps that combat disease, luxurious shampoos or everyday household care products, there’s a good chance the brand they pick is one of ours. Seven out of every ten households around the world contain at least one Unilever product, and our range of world-leading, household-name brands includes Lipton, Knorr, Dove, Axe, Hellmann’s and Omo. Trusted local brands designed to meet the specific needs of consumers in their home market include Blue Band, Pureit and Suave. Whatever the brand, wherever it is bought, we’re working to ensure that it plays a part in helping fulfil our purpose as a business – making sustainable living commonplace.

Interesting facts:

Unilever’s logo includes 25 icons, each representing a theme important to the company (e.g., a hand, a tea leaf, a spoon or a fish).[9]

In 2015, Paul Polman received the UN´s highest environmental honour, the “Champion of the Earth Award”.[10]


1. Food Navigator on the vision of Unilever’s new CEO, Alan Jope
K. Askew, “‘Growth Is Our Number One Priority’: Unilever’s New CEO On The Need To Move Beyond The ‘Mass Market’ Model”, Food Navigator, Feb 2019,

2. Interview with Matthew McCarthy, VP of Foods, Unilever North America
“Purpose First: Matthew McCarthy, VP Of Foods, Unilever North America”, Brandchannel, Jun 2017,

3. Campaign on why Unilever sustainability brands drive growth
B. Willan, “Why Unilever’s Sustainable Living Brands Are Driving Growth”, Campaign, May 2017,

4. Fast Company on why Unilever focuses on sustainability
L. Jack, “Why Unilever Is Betting Big On Sustainability”, Fast Company, Sep 2015,


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