Woke-washing, re-inventing creativity and all the other things that may (or may not) be good for business

What on earth is ‘woke-washing?’

It was instanced by new Unilever CEO Alan Jope at a roundtable in Cannes and seems to mean what some brands do when they claim “brand purpose” for their own evil ends.

Unilever, of course, made much of purpose when Paul Polman was CEO, keeping its wokes well hidden. Jope (below) said: “Purpose is one of the most exciting opportunities I’ve seen for this industry in my 35 years of marketing. Done properly, done responsibly, it will help us restore trust in our industry, unlock greater creativity in our work, and grow the brands we love.”

Jope claimed that Unilever’s brands with more purpose, or fewer wokes, performed 69 per cent better than the others.

You do sometimes wonder about the marketing industry. P&G, in lauding the company’s tie-up with Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global referred to its “micro-step habit stacking” for P&G brands, which seems to mean nudging you in the direction of health and wellness (although it might not.) Arianna can spot a bandwagon two miles away.

P&G claims to be re-inventing creativity when what it might mean is recapturing the era when ads worked.

Some of Unilever’s ad campaigns have, indeed, deployed purpose to good effect – Dove for example. But Lynx has got itself into a right old muddle since it abandoned BBH’s strategy: pulling women. Although maybe you’re not allowed to do that any more.

And there are always a lot of snake oil merchants out there trying to convince us they’re good guys when they’re not. Nike’s ‘Dream Crazy’ multiple award-winner is controversial in some quarters because of the shoe giant’s corporate antics.

But this is in danger of becoming a contest over who’s got more “purpose” than the rest? Veiled in a fog of jargon.

Isn’t the real purpose of Flora margarine to spread on bread?

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About Stephen Foster

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Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.