'The day I visited my son' (above), which will appear across the brand's owned properties including a new global YouTube hub that also launches today, draws the viewer in with a mystery. As two real-life mothers speak about bringing up their adult sons—one an astronaut and the other a convicted criminal—the film refuses to reveal which man was raised by which woman. In doing so, the work deftly forces viewers to confront their own tendency to judge.
A far cry from Comfort’s traditional focus on functional benefits, the work signals a “laddering up to a more emotional level," Yves Geisenberger, Unilever's global brand VP for fabric conditioners, told Campaign Asia-Pacific.
“We felt the need to engage at a higher level than we did before,” he said. “And through a lot of connections with consumers, we identified that the benefit of Comfort is well beyond freshness or softness, but is in fact on an emotional level. And this is the benefit that we encapsulate in our new brand signature, ‘An extra dose of love’.”
Ogilvy Singapore developed the film from a brief that expressed the brand's new point of view, which was formulated by Unilever and Ogilvy in London, said Rahul Gupta, managing partner and regional operations director, Unilever, for Ogilvy & Mather Asia-Pacific. “This piece of work is the brand’s way of helping to relieve some of the modern-day pressures that moms are under,” he told Campaign Asia-Pacific, “Because everywhere you look, everywhere you turn, there’s this massive pressure on moms to be perfect mothers.”
The brand wants mothers to know that the little things they do (such as adding fabric softener to the wash) truly matter, while being perfect in every way is an unfairly high standard, Gupta said. The Singapore creative team came up with the idea of juxtaposing the archetypes of success and failure (astronaut and criminal) and the approach of not revealing the relationships.
“Let’s stop judging, you know?” suggested Eugene Cheong, Ogilvy & Mather Asia-Pacific's chief creative officer (pictured). “Mothers have enough worries. It’s the least the brand can do as a service to render to its core consumers.”
Geisenberger said the brand’s point of view was not easy to “parse in a way that is spot on”, but the Singapore team nailed it with its idea of not giving away whose mom is who. “We want to genuinely pass a positive message without being judgmental, without adding to the pressure that is out there,” he said. “And I think that is a very clever way to do it, and I immediately bought into it."
Cheong said the team believes the brand has landed a big idea that will elevate future communications. “We hope this will inspire and nudge the Comfort brand to an even better place,” he said. “This is really important, because we need the brand to be progressing.”
Although consumers will continue to see material highlighting product benefits, the new direction will inform all future work and will be localised and brought to life in many ways, Gupta said.
“It’s a very rich platform that can be infused with very different messages,” Geisenberger said. “Also, from a product development point of view, it's something that we've shared with the whole R&D team and the factories so that we can really embrace this in everything we do."
The brief came out of a great deal of research, Geisenberger said, including a revealing deprivation study—in which fans of the brand went without it for a couple weeks and shared their resulting feelings.
"There were so many testimonials of moms saying what they missed, and how they felt a bit unhappy to send the kids to school with a uniform that was less well taken care or comfortable, or with the impression that they haven’t been adding that little love or doing the best for their family,” he said. “They couldn't wait to come back to the product. So while some still see this product as a nice-to-have, as an addition to the laundry process, it became quite obvious that once you are a user of the product, it's an integral part of the process and an addition that is not only solving a problem, but also bringing some good emotionally."
At the same time Gupta said, research underlined the pressure mums face. “Mothers, whether it was China, Vietnam, the UK, or Brazil, have the same questions, the same apprehensions, the same doubts about whether they are being perfect mothers,” he said.
Asked whether the brand worried about negative reactions from people who might say the film lets the prisoner’s mother off the hook too easily, Gupta and Cheong said the film was not subjected to any kind of testing and praised Unilever for the courage of its convictions. ”We feel that anytime a brand does work that has a clear point of view, there will be—in fact there should be—some people who do not agree with that point of view, because if you didn’t, then it wouldn’t be a point of view,” Gupta said.
For the record, the ad takes place in the US because that was the only English-speaking country where the agency could locate an astronaut-mother pair.