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Marketing the Rainbow

This article was last updated on Oct 23, 2022


Unilever was established in 1929 as an Anglo Dutch multinational: in 2018 it became British. Products include food, condiments, ice cream, vitamins, tea, coffee, breakfast cereal, cleaning agents, water and air purifiers, pet food, toothpaste, beauty products and personal care. Unilever is the largest producer of soap in the world. Their products are available in around 190 countries. Unilever owns over 400 brands and had a turnover in 2020 of 51 billion euros. Thirteen brands have sales of over one billion euros: Axe/Lynx, Dove, Omo/Persil, Heart (Wall's) ice creams, Hellmann's, Knorr, Lipton, Lux, Magnum, Ben & Jerry's, Rexona/Degree, Lifebuoy, Sunsilk and Sunlight. Other famous brands are Chesebrough-Ponds and Dollar Shave Club.

Many of these brands, some older than 100 years, have done Marketing the Rainbow over time, but Unilever also has done some corporate campaigns. Here are a few examples of both. 

See separate articles for Axe/Lynx, Detergents, Foods and Ice Creams

Company strategy

Unilever is one of the world’s most culturally diverse companies and is committed to developing an inclusive culture which acknowledges the contribution of all employees, regardless of their gender, age, race, disability, sexual orientation or any other background. They have a Global Diversity Board providing the overarching vision, governance and target setting for inclusion and diversity across their business.

In 2019, CEO Alan Jope shared a message of Unilever’s support and belief that every member of the LGBT+ community must be treated fairly by society not just for one moment in the year but every day, every week, every month and every year.

19 UK
19 Brighton

2019 Pride

A number of Unilever UK & Ireland brands including Lynx, Impulse, Radox, Vaseline, V05 created a range of limited-edition Pride products. Each brand worked in partnership with The Brighton Rainbow Fund, a fundraising charity who provides grants to local LGBT+ and HIV/AIDS organisations. To continue to raise awareness beyond Pride, these products were available throughout the year, not just during Pride celebrations. Lynx and Impulse were also sponsoring Brighton Pride.

They also joined Open for Business, a coalition of leading global companies to show they mean business on taking action on LGBT+ inclusion globally.

To show Unilever’s commitment to championing diversity and inclusion, and to creating a workplace where employees are able to bring their true self to work, Unilever’s headquarters in London were lit up with a rainbow flag during London pride week. The Canadian head office is located just a stone's throw away from the 'gayborhood': they painted their sign in special rainbow bands to celebrate World Pride Toronto 2014.

In 2020 Jope signed the Declaration of Amsterdam – a global statement of support for LGBT+ rights. “The Declaration of Amsterdam has a strong symbolic value for us,” says Frank Galestien, who works in Unilever’s Foods & Refreshment team and is organising some of their Virtual Pride events in the Netherlands. “Signing the Declaration is something that makes us extremely proud. This is a very important signal on how much inclusivity is valued,” he adds.

Alex Owens, founding member and corporate sponsor of proUd
Alex Owens, founding member and corporate sponsor of proUd

The Global Employee Resource Group proUd was launched in 2020. “We will be a beacon of inclusion for the LGBT+ community and allies, amplifying their voice in society and at Unilever, to enable them to be their true, authentic selves,” says founding member and executive sponsor Alex Owens, who is a VP in Unilever’s Market Analytics team.

2019 United We Stand

Unilever claimed to have a first-of-its-kind Pride campaign with United We Stand. Partnering with agency RanaVerse, Unilever saw the opportunity to turn over the status of being an “official WorldPride sponsor” to six grassroots organizations, which otherwise would not have had access to a corporate Pride sponsorship. They created films for each organization, each featuring a different ambassador. The films were directed by Tourmaline, a passionate advocate for the trans community.

The episodes are:  Tommy Dorfman x AXE x Anti Violence Project, Lachlan Watson x Schmidt's x Trans Justice Funding Project, Aaron Philip x Dove x Audre Lorde Project, Tituss Burgess x Vaseline x New Alternatives and Big Freedia x Shea Moisture x Destination Tomorrow.

2021 United We Stand, UK

For the 2021 Pride season, there was a British and an American version of this campaign. In the former one, we see a series of portraits celebrating the rich tapestry queer British life.

Aamir and Amir were the first gay South Asian couple to be married in Bradford.

Martina transitioned later in life, and felt it was the right thing to do and has no regrets.

Millie is a lesbian who proudly champions her identity.

AJ and Kai are two young trans men in their early twenties.

2021 United We Stand, USA

Determined to enact real change for Pride Month 2021, Unilever pledged to improve the municipal equality index of five cities in the US rated among the worst in terms of conditions for LGBT+ people. They picked five of 17 that scored 0 on the index, while places like Los Angeles and New York scored the maximum 100. Through United We Stand, local organizations in the five cities – Monroe in Louisiana, Moore in Oklahoma, Clemson in South Carolina, Florence in Alabama and Southern Missouri – will be supported by Unilever year-round, beyond the month of Pride.

It took them until 2015 to launch their first corporate campaign, which was later followed by multi-brand activations.

2015 New York Pride

Unilever U.S. celebrated PrideFest NYC and #LoveWins by showing its pride and changing the iconic U logo to a rainbow design on their website, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn. Unilever also welcomed all U.S. employees to show their Pride by changing their social avatars to the new logo for the weekend.  During the Pridefest Unilever employees, in partnership with Ad Council's Love Has No Labels initiative, manned a tent where visitors could stop by and take pictures at a .gif photo booth and learn more about Unilever's commitment to Diversity & Inclusion.


The rainbow packaging was complemented with an equally bold set of POS material. Two of the largest Superdrug stores hosted a unique Pride Tunnel shopper experience, created in collaboration with POS specialist InContrast and experiential agency N2O. Giant archways and connecting walls were lined with themed product displays, forming an impressive walk-through centrepiece in each store. POS elements for smaller stores were similarly themed, with vivid rainbow floorstands drawing attention to the exclusive Pride-packaged product range. Every item carried clear messaging that encouraged shoppers to ‘Take Pride in You’. 

Early print ads, starting late 19th century, have often contained images or text that would now be perceived quite differently. Interestingly, this is often the case with soaps - like Ivory and also Unilever's Lux. This ad from 1944 could be qualified as 'gay vague', if only by the image of the two men - speaking about soap and 'movie queens'! - and the use of the word 'sissy'. But the conversation is uber-masculine soldier speak: "Here's a soap with a machine gun sweep... Mows down dirt, grime and grease with effortless precision... But "taking dirt for a ride" is as far as the ride goes. For while Lux Toilet Soap acts as quickly and is as deadly to the foe, it leaves the victim's surface smooth as a movie queen's skin... Pure skin joy, that's what it is! Lather quick and plenty. And does that lather get it goes after! ... And speaking of movie queens - Lux Toilet Soap is their particular pride and joy. Practically all the stars use it to save the surface!

But it's no sissy soap - It's swell, effective, real soap - As fine as the buck-a-cake French stuff you can't afford. Try a cake... it only costs ten cents! And once you've dipped your beezer in a bucket of Lux Toilet Soap suds, you'll never let a lesser soap touch your hide." And so said Lux...

The beginning...?

2022 United We Stand, UK

To celebrate the individual stories of lived experience, Unilever and Superdrug once again teamed up with filmmaker Jess Kohl to capture the changes and growth in the lives of the ‘United We Stand’ queer group who featured in the campaign last year: Aamir & Amir, Martina, AJ & Kai and Millie. The ‘United We Stand’ short-film campaign aims to shine a light on the intersectionality of the UK’s LGBTQ+ community.  The theme of continuity echoes the long-term partnership between Unilever, Superdrug and Switchboard.

Over the five years of their partnership so far, donations to Switchboard have funded over 266 volunteers, and amounting to over 7,000 calls, instant messages and emailed answered.

2022 United We Stand, USA -

Joy is Paramount

For 2022, agency Ranaverse worked with Unilever U.S. on its fourth year of United We Stand. Through five partner organizations, programs focused on fighting conversion therapy, HIV decriminalization, youth homelessness, anti-bullying, mental health and wellness services, and nutritional support for the LGBT+ community. The program will also work to fight anti-trans legislation across the U.S. given the recent increase in proposed legislation targeting LGBT+ communities. Tourmaline film - entitled Joy is Paramount - brought together organization representatives from last years content, in a celebration of power, joy and abundance.

The content was amplified via PR and influencers. 20 Queer Leaders, with a reach of 21.8m including Big Freedia, Sasha Velour, Jackie Cox, Landon Cider, Lady Shug, Latrice Royale and more. PR coverage highlights included Advocate, LGBTQ Nation, The Root, and Ad Age. Ranaverse also produced an internal Perspectives on Pride panel discussion as well as a Disco Pride Celebration for US staff.

Case study: Unilever

Corporate campaigns

Branche: Cosmetics & fmcg