Unilever asks a heavy question—"Why bring a child into this world?"—in a four-minute video touting Project Sunlight, its new global sustainability initiative. The consumer-goods titan created the short film in collaboration with acclaimed director Errol Morris and many of the same folks from Ogilvy's South American office who created the award-winning "Real Beauty Sketches" for Unilever's Dove brand.
Actually, this is a film within film, as real expectant parents share their hopes and fears about the world their kids will inherit. They also react as they watch a movie that mixes footage of violence and despair with hopeful messages about the future. The tone is emotional, but positive, backed by a pensive piano cover of The Pixies' "Where Is My Mind?"
"Your child could have more possibilities of having a healthier heart than any living person today—and the same chance of a broken heart," the narrator says. "No one can escape that. … And by the time they find the right person, our children will have better chances of meeting their great-grandchildren than we ever did."
Nearing 2.5 million YouTube views in just two days, the clip clearly resonates with many viewers, such as this commenter on Unilever's Facebook page: "I cried at this video. … Righteous work! I hope more people see this video and are inspired."
Of course, not all viewers were won over. One YouTube commenter scoffed at the premise of a consumer brand helping save the world: "So they claim they 'save lives?' They make soap, people. Look, if they really cared they would invest all the billions of euros they make in profit into cancer research or something … Unilever is once again trying to take credit for something they have no business taking credit in by putting together some overdramatic commercial to fool people into thinking they are not in business to make those billions of euros."
The existential implications of the central question—"Why bring a child into this world?"—are so intense, I give Unilever points for having the guts to go this route in the first place.
But do we really need a big company to ask such questions? Is it Unilever's place to curate such a conversation which, no matter how well intentioned, is ultimately designed to improve the image of its brand and boost the bottom line?