Unilever and MullenLowe go to jail to help Omo/Persil ‘free the kids’

Unilever is taking us to the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility in Indiana, USA, for the latest stage of its ‘Dirt is Good’ campaign for Omo/Persil. As you do.

Why? It thinks childhood play is under threat, with most children spending less time outside than these prisoners, who get two hours per day outdoors. The prisoners reckon this is too little and the theme of the new campaign is ‘Free The Kids.’

We might be a spoilsport and note that the prisoners are still confined when they’re outside and the reason that many parents restrict their children’s time outside is fear they might ‘escape’ too.

It’s all part of another Unilever initiative for good, this time the Dirt is Good Child Development Advisory Board chaired by British educationalist Sir Ken Robinson. Bet Ken never thought he’d be sitting on one of those. The campaign is by MullenLowe London.

Omo/Persil global equity director James Hayhurst says: “We were shocked when we discovered that children today were enjoying as little time outside as prisoners. That is why OMO/Persil decided to make Free The Kids, to bring this issue to life, and to start a global conversation about the importance of play for children’s learning and development. It has also prompted us to think about ways we can help families rediscover outdoor play, both at home and through schools.”

MullenLowe’s Alex Okada says: “We knew a traditional idea would not be enough to provoke the debate we need around this dramatic problem. This campaign is an opportunity to give a new dimension to the Dirt is Good brand philosophy.”

Director Toby Dye from RSA says: “Everything in the film was shot for real with a tiny crew of five, under genuine documentary conditions. Staying true to the documentary approach we were open to allowing the unscripted and unplanned for occurrences of filming real life shape our finished film. I’m very proud that we have made a film that works on so many levels and have powerfully communicated the intended message in an emotionally engaging, non-judgemental way.”

Unilever will be working with Twitter’s ‘Moments’ offering, the first time it has has partnered with the social platform around its ‘best of’ offering, launched late last year.

As you’d expect with Unilever and MullenLowe they’ve touched all the bases but – is it really appropriate to use prison and prisoners to sell detergent? There are all sorts of potential pitfalls, not least seeming to be a supporter of American prisons. Not all of them are as civilised as this one.

So, do we trust them? Unilever’s Hayhurst knows what he’s doing. If memory serves he was MD of Leagas Delaney before going to Unilever. Unilever has been ploughing this furrow for at least a decade now. MullenLowe has won a number of well-deserved awards in recent years for its ‘good works’ output.

OK, we’ll put aside our doubts. Although the proof of the pudding will the scope of the ‘conversation’ Unilever is trying to spark. It’s a compelling and clever piece of communication, not least for presenting prisoners as human beings.

MAA creative scale: 8.

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