Persil ‘kinder to our planet’ claim booted out by ASA

persil 2Unilever has become the first high profile victim of a new crackdown on so-called greenwashing, after a major campaign for Persil which featured the strapline “kinder to our planet” has been banned for misleading consumers over its environmental benefits.

The first version of the TV ad was actually devised by MullenLowe in 2020, a decade after the launch of Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan. The latest execution opened with an image of a beach strewn with litter and plastic, and then a boy viewing that image on a TV.

A voiceover stated: “At Persil, we know that change doesn’t just happen in the comments section,” as the ad showed a woman writing “#plantmoretrees”, and scrolling through social media and clicking ‘Sad’.

It then featured children collecting plastic litter from rivers and ocean waves on a beach, followed by a shot of muddy hands and a boy in a boat wiping his hands on his T-shirt. The voiceover stated, “For real change, we all need to roll up our sleeves and get dirty.”

Text on the screen stated that the product “removes stains at 30C”, with the Persil bottle made with 50% recycled plastic.

The ad then showed children in sunlit outdoor scenes running through white sheets hanging to dry and then a field with trees, also with on-screen text stating, “Tough on stains, kinder to our planet. Dirt is good”. It ended with an image of three Persil bottles with text alongside an Aloe Vera bottle stating “new”, and text at the bottom of the screen stated, “dirt is good”.

Just a single viewer complained to the Advertising Standards Authority, challenging whether the claims that Persil washing liquid was “kinder to our planet” were misleading and could be substantiated.

In response, Unilever’s main argument was that the ad showed how its liquid detergent was “kinder” to the planet because it saved energy by cleaning in fast washes and at lower temperatures. It also said it was “kinder” because the product used recycled plastic.

Persil said the initiatives were part of Unilever’s wider Clean Future programme, launched in 2020, which aimed to eliminate fossil fuels and ensure net zero carbon emissions in cleaning products by 2030. As part of that, its their liquid detergents were formulated with lower dose volumes and higher concentrations, and dosing balls had been removed, which had significantly reduced their use of plastic.

These arguments, however, did not wash with the ASA. In its ruling, it stated: “We acknowledged that the ad highlighted the liquid detergent products were effective at removing stains in cold washes at 30oC in quick 60-minute cycles, with bottles that were comprised of 50% recycled plastic. However, we considered the basis of the comparative claim ‘kinder’ was likely to be ambiguous to viewers.

“The ad did not state or explain the basis of the comparative claim, such as whether the advertised liquid detergents were ‘kinder’ in comparison to Persil’s own previous products or other products. While the ad highlighted the benefits of the detergents – being effective in cold and quick cycles, and the use of recycled plastic – it was not clear if those were new or recent developments, and whether they were specific to the advertised detergents or applied more widely to Persil’s range of products. One of the featured products was also labelled as ‘new’, but not the remaining two.

“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.”

In addition, the ASA said Unilever did not provide any evidence that such claims were based on the full cycle of the advertised product, in support of the claim “kinder to our planet”.

The ruling concluded: “The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Unilever to ensure that the basis of environmental claims was clear in future ads, and that such claims were based on the full lifecycle of the products, unless stated otherwise.”

In response, a Unilever spokesperson said the company was “disappointed” with the ASA’s ruling, adding: “We are committed to making on-going improvements to all our products to make them more sustainable and will continue to look at how we can share this with our shoppers.”

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