Aline San­tos flies the flag for di­ver­sity move­ment

The Unilever vet­eran ex­plains how, by work­ing to­gether, busi­nesses can en­sure ‘un­stereo­types’ be­come the norm

Campaign UK - - NEWS - By Sonoo Singh

Unilever has taken its push against stereo­typ­i­cal im­ages of women and men in ad­ver­tis­ing to new lev­els with the “Un­stereo­type Al­liance” as it tries to gen­er­ate a last­ing move­ment.

The al­liance, un­veiled at Cannes Lions, brings to­gether sev­eral of the world’s big­gest ad­ver­tis­ers in­clud­ing Unilever, its ri­val Proc­ter & Gam­ble, Mars and Di­a­geo, as well as tech gi­ants Face­book and Mi­crosoft.

It fol­lows the launch of “#Un­stereo­type” in 2016, a global ini­tia­tive for Unilever’s 400-plus brands to move their ad­ver­tis­ing away from stereo­typ­i­cal por­tray­als of gen­der.

That the ini­tia­tive has come to fruition at all is seen by many as a trib­ute to the en­ergy and drive of its ar­chi­tect, Aline San­tos, Unilever’s ex­ec­u­tive vice-pres­i­dent, global mar­ket­ing.

San­tos said the Un­stereo­type Al­liance, which is in part­ner­ship with the United Na­tions En­tity for Gen­der Equal­ity and the Em­pow­er­ment of Women, is rooted in the need for “ur­gent ac­tion”.

She said: “The am­bi­tion is that un­stereo­typ­ing be­comes the norm and not the ex­cep­tion. The fact that Unilever has got the in­dus­try in­volved means we are very se­ri­ous as a busi­ness to see progress when it comes to help­ing shape per­cep­tions to re­flect re­al­is­tic por­tray­als of men and women.”

The even­tual aim, San­tos added, is to ex­pand be­yond its found­ing mem­bers and gen­er­ate “a move­ment” across in­dus­tries.

San­tos de­scribed her­self as “fly­ing the f lag for un­stereo­type”. She con­tin­ued: “Not just when it comes to the way we do ad­ver­tis­ing but also the way we ac­ti­vate our prod­ucts, how we in­no­vate, the way we treat our peo­ple and the way we act in the so­ci­ety we live in.”

Talk­ing and mak­ing things hap­pen come easy to this “loud­mouthed Brazil­ian”, as San­tos called her­self. One of her first tasks this year was at the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum meet­ing in Davos, when she launched re­search on “the un­stereo­typed mind­set”, urg­ing busi­nesses to recog­nise that stereo­types, so­cial norms and un­con­scious bias con­trib­ute to the gen­der gap.

The study, which in­ter­viewed more than 9,000 men and women across eight mar­kets, re­vealed that out­dated stereo­types and so­cial norms are pro­hibit­ing pos­i­tive change.

The sub­ject is clearly close to San­tos’ heart. The Unilever vet­eran, who was handed an ad­di­tional di­ver­sity and in­clu­sion re­mit last year, was part of the Dove global brand team when “Cam­paign for real beauty” was cre­ated. She also led the “Dirt is good” work for Per­sil.

Re­flect­ing on how she ap­proaches mar­ket­ing chal­lenges, San­tos said: “Be­hind ev­ery good idea, you need con­vic­tion and pas­sion. ‘Dirt is good’ is such a pow­er­ful idea but it faced re­sis­tance both in­ter­nally and ex­ter­nally. This was a brand that was dy­ing, with di­min­ish­ing mar­ket share, and is now one of the big­gest in our port­fo­lio.

“The brand’s phi­los­o­phy that chil­dren should be given the free­dom to be cre­ative was not an easy sell, but we be­lieved in it pas­sion­ately and that is what drove the cam­paign and, ul­ti­mately, sales. As busi­nesses, we need to ex­pe­ri­ence the ten­sions of so­ci­ety and its peo­ple, and aim to solve those.”

“Ex­pe­ri­enc­ing ten­sions” to un­der­stand the cus­tomer is some­thing San­tos rev­els in. As a mar­keter in Brazil, she once per­suaded her team to spend a few days in the fave­las to ob­serve be­hav­iour and habits, which helped them de­velop a sham­poo for wavy hair.

San­tos said: “This kind of ex­er­cise is what gives you con­vic­tion and com­pels you to find the brand pur­pose that doesn’t make peo­ple shout: ‘What the hell do you think you are do­ing?’”

She cites a cam­paign for hy­giene brand Lifebuoy that pro­moted hand­wash­ing us­ing soap in ru­ral In­dia: “Talk­ing to mums in In­dian vil­lages, we re­alised how poor san­i­ta­tion con­di­tions and cer­tain so­cial and cul­tural prac­tices meant chil­dren were dy­ing. This forced Unilever to put money be­hind the cause that re­ally mat­tered.”

Unilever has said it wants to make its ad­ver­tis­ing work harder, cut­ting the num­ber of ads by 30% and its agen­cies by 50%.

San­tos ar­gued that com­pa­nies must com­bine profit with pur­pose. She pointed out that Unilever’s “sus­tain­able liv­ing” brands are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly im­por­tant to the com­pany, grow­ing more than 50% faster than the rest of the busi­ness and ac­count­ing for 60% of growth in 2016.

And this fo­cus on pur­pose ap­plies to gen­der too: “I’m sens­ing ur­gency around these is­sues. Busi­nesses are not stupid and un­der­stand there is a com­mer­cial im­per­a­tive to in­crease di­ver­sity ra­tios. The myth that there are not enough women to hire is just bull­shit.”

For San­tos, progress – es­pe­cially when it comes to projects such as “#Un­stereo­type” – will only hap­pen when more di­verse lead­ers are al­lowed into the in­dus­try to lead the agenda for change.

“The myth that there are not enough women to hire is just bull­shit”

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