Skip directly to content

A Huge International Corporation Explains the Meaning of Life, and It Will Make You Cry

Unilever's Project Sunlight ad campaign beautifully evokes our collective fears and hopes for the future.


Perhaps it was because they had the money to hire one of the most successful ad agencies on the planet, but Unilever really hit a home run with its debut ad for the Project Sunlight Campaign.  



First aired on Universal Children's Day, the ad depicts several hopeful, soon-to-be parents, all reacting to the question "Why Bring a Child Into this World?"    They describe the deep sense of responsibility and the hopes they have for their children, and after being shown a short video with scenes of environmental disaster, war, and extreme poverty, tears fall as they consider the global challenges their children must face.  


But the ad takes a brighter turn, as Unilever explains the advances in science, medicine, and engineering that will help to solve many of these problems.  But, warns the ad, we must make the decision to use these tools for the greater good, and for its part Unilever has started Project Sunlight, through which the company promises that it will be "helping 2 million children through its ongoing partnerships, provide school meals through the World Food Programme; supporting Save the Children to provide clean, safe drinking water; and improved hygiene through UNICEF.”   On the project's website, it appears as though Unilver is also partnering with the Rainforest Alliance to certify that its cocoa beans come from sustainable sources, and with the Nature Conservancy to promote its "Turn of the Tap" program to encourage water conservation through shorter showers.


Overall this is a great statement, and a powerful reminder about why we are all here: to make the world a better place for future generations.  Whether Unilever will deliver 100% on its promise to do more good than harm is unclear as the company has, in the past, fallen far short of this goal.  But by making this promise in such a bold way, Unilever is inviting us to demand that the company keep these promises and hold them to a higher standard, and that's important.


Unilever is one of many big companies that has made moves towards greater corporate social responsibility (CSR) in recent years, and there is evidence that socially responsible practices resonate well with consumers.  One privately-funded study found that  "42% of how people feel about a company is based on their perceptions of the firm’s corporate social responsibility."   There is an increasing awareness that, given the global reach of corporations and the ever-increasing demand for consumer goods, CSR is critical to our own survival.  Without a corporate philosophy that includes good stewardship of human and natural resources we will inevitably reach an "dead-end" where progress is no longer possible because we've exhausted our resources and/or are engulfed in ever-widening conflict.  


The ad is so powerful because, one some level, most people are aware that we all have the responsibility to act to keep the worst from happening, and hopefully to make things better for our children.


What You Can Do: Be a Better Consumer


If you want this ad to be more than an empty corporate promise, stay informed and vigilant about the corporate practices behind the products you buy:


Check Out Project Sunlight.  Hold Unilever to its promises.


Download these apps to check out the ethics and CSR "score card" on products:

  • Buycott scans the barcode of a product and gives you information about the company that created it.  It will then cross-check the product owners against the companies and brands included in campaigns you've joined, in order to tell you if the scanned product conflicts with one of your campaign commitments.
  •  The Good Guide lets you search by product, giving scores of how "good" the corporation behind it is using data about its performance related to health, environment, and society indicators..


Follow the best and worst rankings in Corporate Social Responsiblity, and support the best while avoiding the worst.


Support organizations like Greenpeace that track the environmental practices of corporations, and the International Labor Rights Forum, which challenges sweatshop conditions globally.  


-with thanks to Swetha Venkataramani for bringing the video to my attention.