Greenwashing: Unilever laundry detergent ad campaign banned in the UK

Image: Unilever

The campaign in question first started airing in 2020, on TV and on online platforms. It is called ‘tough on stains, kinder to the planet’.

The advert shows children in white T-shirts with the Earth printed on them picking up litter on the beach and planting trees after watching news about environmental harm such as ocean plastic pollution and forest fires.

As this happens, a voiceover states: “We all know change has to happen, but real change doesn’t happen in the comments section. Hashtags won’t plant trees. Tweets won’t clean oceans. For real change to happen, we need to roll up our sleeves and get dirty.

“And, at Persil, we’re changing too, with our main bottles made with recycled plastic, and a new formulation with plant-based stain removers. Persil – tough on stains, kinder to our planet.”

This final claim, “kinder to our planet”, saw the ASA receiving complaints for viewers. The argument was that the campaign did not explain how the full life-cycle of the product and its packaging were more environmentally sustainable than its predecessor.

Unilever argued that the advert clearly stated that the product is housed in packaging made using 50% recycled plastic content and explained the new product formulation. It also stated that encouraging customers to wash at 30C rather than 40C, as this advert does, reduces the lifecycle impact of the liquid.

The ASA also questioned why children at tree planting and beach cleans were shown. Persil representatives said these scenes were representative of its ‘Dirt is Good’ projects, which are run to encourage children to take part in outdoor activities.

“In the context of the entire ad with several messages relating to environmental issues, we considered the meaning and basis of the claim “kinder to our planet” was unclear,” the ASA stated. It confirmed that the advert will need to be pulled on the grounds of potentially misleading consumers and failing to substantiate environmental claims.

The ASA’s ruling adds: “Although we acknowledged Persil were undertaking actions to reduce the environmental impact of their products, we had not seen evidence or analysis to demonstrate the overall environmental impact of the featured liquid detergents over their full-life cycles, compared with Persil’s own previous products or other products, in support of the claim ‘kinder to our planet’”.

Unilever has stated that it is “disappointed” with the ruling and will undertake further work to improve sustainability-related communications with shoppers.

In related news, earlier this week, Austria’s advertising standards body ruled that one of Austrian Airlines’ recent campaigns, which promoted ‘carbon-neutral’ trips fuelled using sustainable fuels, was greenwashing.

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