There were encouraging sounds from Advertising Week Europe last month about brand purpose. Not least from Paul Polman, the former Unilever CEO, who called on advertisers to “bring the humanity back” and argued “we’re in such a rat race… we’ve forgotten to do the things that are the foundations of society.”
It’s a shame then that some of Unilever’s own brands seem to lack that humanity. Take Lux, for instance, which has for the most part stuck to its specialist subject of beauty since it launched in 1925, but is now clambering onto its soap box.
Lux launched a new brand purpose encouraging women to defy stereotypes. Females everywhere can breathe a sigh of relief, because a bar of soap is on a mission to “inspire women to defy judgements and to dare to express their femininity unapologetically.” Sadly, no amount of rose blossom will mask the stench of the woke washing going on here.
To many, this will look like a brand in panic mode, wondering what ersatz social issue it can desperately nail its colours to. In the stampede to grab a cause, philosophy or mandate which can lend it substance, any sense of brand individuality is being trampled into the dust.
Lux is by no means alone here, it’s just another brand on the woke bandwagon. Many advertisers have had to learn about the dangers of adopting a phoney brand purpose the hard way. Pepsi’s crass trivialisation of Black Lives Matter, Brewdog’s ghastly ‘Pink IPA’ beer for equality and Dove’s women-shaped bottles, are just a few of the marketing fails that this race for purpose has resulted in.
There are other ways to assert your relevance than just slapping on a fashionable hashtag and hoping for the best. Brands must always keep their personality and what makes them distinct and top of mind.
Lux could be doing something that is directly relevant to its brand, will get people talking and still achieve some good for people and the planet. In that way, it could actually make an impact or, to use Polman’s words “do the things that are the foundations of society.”
Water scarcity is a major global issue. By 2025, two-thirds of the planet could face water shortages, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Growing awareness of this has given rise to a new beauty category called ‘waterless beauty,’ with brands starting to promote their credentials in this area and producing waterless skincare products.
Lux could champion this cause. Water is a luxury in itself, and who better to say that than Lux? The brand could be encouraging us to shower a little less and to think of showering and the products we use in the shower as more of a luxury. A campaign like that could help people reconsider the amount of water they use and re-evaluate Lux as a brand instead of seeing it as yet another ‘we have a conscience, honest’ pretender.
The other option, of course, is to watch any credibility Lux could have had as an iconic brand with a long heritage disappear down the plughole.
Paul Domenet is partner and communications creative director at Free The Birds.