Unilever finds itself in the dock over potentially misleading “greenwashing” claims in its ads. and not from usual UK industry regulator the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) but the far more powerful Competition and Markets Authority (CMA.)
The CMA is currently investigating food brand owners accused of hiking their profits at the expense of consumers. Unilever br4ands include Dove, Marmite, Knorr, Comfort, Magnum, Hellmann’s and Domestos.
CMA CEO Sarah Cardell says: “More and more people are trying to do their bit to help protect the environment, but we’re worried many are being misled by so-called ‘green’ products that aren’t what they seem.
“So far, the evidence we’ve seen has raised concerns about how Unilever presents certain products as environmentally friendly. We’ll be drilling down into these claims to see if they measure up. If we find they’re greenwashing, we’ll take action to make sure shoppers are protected.”
Unilever says it’s “surprised and disappointed” with the CMA’s announcement and denies its claims are “in any way misleading.”
It says: “Unilever is committed to making responsible claims about the benefits of our products on our packs and to these being transparent and clear, and we have robust processes in place to make sure any claims can be substantiated. We will continue to cooperate with the CMA and fully comply with further requests for information.”
All of this will be nasty Christmas surprise for the consumer goods giant, which has already had to backtrack on its “purpose-driven” marketing after a volley of ridicule when investor Terry Smith pointed out that the real purpose of Hellmann’s was “salads and sandwiches.” CEO Alan Jope departed after a failed bid for GSK’s consumer products division, now Haleon.
Purported green credentials are another important plank of its recent marketing and further big changes could be in store if the CMA finds against it.
Other advertisers and agencies will also be concerned at the CMA’s involvement after years of dealing with industry body the ASA. Many UK consumers have lost faith in big companies, including some supermarkets, as they have increased profits through the cost of living crisis. Unilever has increased some of its prices substantially and ads are now in the firing line.