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Unilever

Becoming more than the sum of parts

Every day someone chooses to bring a Unilever product into their life. Actually this happens 150 million times a day, across 150 countries.

So Unilever is big. But they also have a history of doing good. Port Sunlight, a model village in north-western England, was built in the late 19th century by Lever Brothers. Named after their most popular brand of soap, Sunlight, it was borne of a desire to provide decent living conditions for factory workers.

Too big to succeed

As times moved on the corporate world evolved and Unilever became a holding company, all but invisible to the shopper in the aisles. But things had moved on again and companies were now much more in the public eye on issues of social responsibility. Increasingly, people wanted to see the face behind the product and the days of the silent, city-facing holding company were numbered.

Unilever were also in possession of an unwieldy brand portfolio. They were trying to manage 1,600 disparate products that didn't all relate to each other, or to their history of doing good. It was clear the company was too diffuse, with an abundance of brands and no unifying driver of growth. So the opportunity was there to do something that connected the products as well as bringing Unilever out of the shadows, towards their customers.

The visible hand

We had worked with Unilever companies as far back as 1969. Now we were helping them change from being a hidden owner of brands to become a much more visible business, developing a singular idea that would lead the way: "adding vitality to life."

We worked on dozens of projects to put vitality right at the heart of the organisation, from designing workplaces, to transforming the recruitment process, to showing their people how to pass on the stories that would bring the idea to life. We even helped Unilever to invent new products and projects that delivered on the promise of vitality.

Something to measure up to

This idea was taken deep into the heart of Unilever. Together we developed a 'vitality key', which identified the key components of ‘vitality to life’. Any product or communication would now be evaluated against this and the product range was trimmed from 1,600 to just 400 brands – those that could really live up to "adding vitality to life".

We worked with individuals and teams across sourcing and distribution, as well as marketing, and in cases where they did not sit so well with "adding vitality to life", the ingredients of products were actually changed.

It was a very close relationship with Unilever and its businesses. We worked with the executive, we worked with the heads of the four business units and we workshopped with groups of hundreds of people across the geographical regions.” Brian Boylan, Wolff Olins
A public face

All of this internal change within the organisation needed to be reflected externally. So we created a fresh visual identity to complement their new profile, at the core of which was a logo that featured 25 different icons representing their many brands. Seen from a distance, the U-shaped logo is solid and unified. It is only on closer inspection that the inherent diversity and constituent parts become evident. Supporting the logo was a new, handwritten wordmark, adding warmth and humanity to this notion of vitality.

You could now expect something from a Unilever product, rather than just know that it was a sister product of this or that.” Brian Boylan, Wolff Olins

Unilever businesses across 100 countries of operations, from China to Argentina, embraced the vitality brand idea. It was used to guide decisions on which businesses to invest in, which to exit from and where to innovate. In turn this yielded great financial results: over the course of 2004, Unilever's leading brands grew by 3.7% under the "Vitality Mission" while operating profit grew at an average of 15% a year, for four consecutive years.

The logo, with wordmark, now appears on every Unilever product, on shelves throughout the world.