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Unilevers' Project Sunlight promises a brighter future

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MUMBAI: Earlier this year, Indian TV channels aired a TV commercial set in a village where a majoirty of children succumbed to diarrhea even before they could complete two years. It then panned to a man who walked on his hands in to a temple in gratitude of his son turning five. All this in a modern India where Audis and Lamborghinis speed across expressways. The TV commercial was a public messaging initiative by multinational giant Hindustan Unilever (HUL) and it sought to encourage healthy handwashing habits amongst children on the back of its brand Lifebuoy.

Similarly, on 20 November, celebrated world over as Universal Children’s Day, the company - no stranger to emotionally connecting with people - launched a brand new initiative christened ‘Project Sunlight,’ with an equally moving advertisement/film.

An extension of HUL’s ‘Sustainable Living Plan’ launched in 2010, ‘Project Sunlight’ aims to make sustainable living desirable and achievable by inspiring people to look at the possibilities of a world where everyone lives well and within the natural limits of the planet.

The ad film is aptly titled ‘Why bring a child into this world?’ and starts with expectant parents across the globe sharing their concerns about bringing a child into a world fraught with natural and man-made disasters, then going on to allay their fears and explain how it is the best possible time to do so.

Also launched in Brazil, Indonesia, UK and the US apart from India, ‘Project Sunlight’ is designed to appeal to people everywhere, particularly parents, encouraging them to join what Unilever (HUL's parent) sees as a growing community of people who want to make the world a better place for their children and for future generations.

As part of the launch, Unilever plans to help two million children through its ongoing partnerships: providing school meals through the World Food Programme; supporting Save the Children to provide clean, safe drinking water; and improved hygiene through UNICEF. In collaboration with UNICEF, it aims to reach out to 500,000 school children in 3,500 schools across India and set up hand washing facilities.

Said HUL CEO & MD Sanjiv Mehta in a press statement: “The launch of ‘Project Sunlight’ is a significant milestone in the history of our company. We believe that large companies like ours have to be part of the solution to the problems the world is facing. Adopting sustainable lifestyles and people using their purchasing power to make consumption choices that are good for them and good for the world are important factors in the drive to reducing social inequality and averting the worst climate change predictions – to make sustainable living commonplace.”

Guided by Unilever’s consumer insight, including new international research commissioned by the company, ‘Project Sunlight’ demonstrates that children are key to motivating adults to want to adopt more sustainable lifestyles and are a powerful influence on changing parental behaviour.

On the campaign, said Unilever chief marketing & communications officer Keith Weed: “In the first stage of ‘Project Sunlight,’ we are inviting people to take three simple actions. We want to help people ‘See’ a brighter future; in order to do this, we are inviting people to watch a film online which aims to inspire and motivate people. We want to encourage them to ‘Act’ by doing small things which, added together, contribute to a better society and environment. Ultimately, we want people to ‘Join’ the movement and become part of a growing community of like-minded people and organisations who all want to play their part in building a brighter future.”

Why did HUL choose the name Sunlight? “We chose the name Sunlight as a tribute to our founder William Lever, whose audacious vision 130 years ago to ‘make cleanliness commonplace’ with Sunlight soap inspired Unilever’s equally ambitious purpose today: to make sustainable living commonplace. Sunlight also reflects the sense of possibility and optimism which characterises Unilever’s approach,” informed Weed.

‘Project Sunlight’ will initially go live on an online hub – www.projectsunlight.com – which brings together the social mission stories of Unilever brands across the world, and invites consumers to get involved in doing small things which help their own families, others around the world and the planet. 

The film, especially commissioned by Unilever and directed by Academy Award winning director Errol Morris, inspires people to see the future in a more positive and optimistic way. The Indian version of the film has a voiceover by actor Shah Rukh Khan.

IndustrySpeak

As a parent it touched me. I would be lying if I said I don't worry about the future each time my boys were on the way. It feels good to know that someone else is also thinking about kids' future. It is very refreshing. It is a completely different way of looking at the future. Thanks to many of the science fiction novels and Hollywood blockbusters, we sometimes feel the future will be grim and tough. We all collectively have overlooked the fact that life is actually getting better every given day. And to top it all, hearing SRK, the parent, talk just makes the film more relatable. Also SRK's popularity with the masses will pull in more eyeballs to this campaign.

Abhijit Avasthi, NCD, Ogilvy & Mathers

Today, consumers buy brands for what they believe in and stand for rather than what they preach/tell about themselves. It’s important to have good karma. And to associate a celebrity with it will only propel the idea to a larger section of the population. Remember Lead India? It used the likes of Amitabh Bachchan, Karan Johar among many others, which gave it prominence.

Why bring a child into this world? is a common question on the minds of many. It is a lovely idea and shows that today, when companies are taking away from the environment; there are some who want to give back to the world.

Nisha Singhania, co-founder and director, Infectious

For a company of that stature to come and say that yes, the present looks dicey but we are working towards a brighter future, says a lot about their determination.  If one looks at the film, it shows a beautiful insight because today, couples do discuss and are apprehensive about bringing new life into the world. It might help some to rethink on the subject.

As for a voiceover by SRK, I’m not too sure if it will help the film’s reach because it is not as distinctive as Amitabh Bachchan’s voice. Having said that, it is such a beautiful film that it doesn’t need someone to help push it.

Arun Iyer, NCD, Lowe Lintas

Usually it’s corporations that need an image makeover that go heavy on CSR initiatives. For instance Shell and Exxon, whose businesses are not exactly environment-friendly, champion the cause of environmental protection. So naturally, over the years, one has grown cynical about such things.

However, the film, momentarily at least, makes one suspend the cynicism. The emotions it shows are raw, and the lack of slickness makes it work. As it doesn’t come across as manipulative, you are drawn in, and empathise with the people it features. Every parent is concerned about the world he is leaving for his children. Perhaps the ideal way to make people realise that it’s important to improve and sustain the planet is to remind them of this. By featuring expectant parents, the idea taps into this insight nicely.

Viral Pandya, co-founder and chief creative officer, Out of the Box

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