Unilever, Carrotmob put down roots to increase consumer influence

Unilever, Carrotmob put down roots to increase consumer influence

 Photo of a bunch of carrots by Kaye Lee via Shutterstock

A scrappy social venture organization is joining forces with one of the world’s largest consumer packaged goods companies to increase the influence of consumers on sustainable consumption.

Carrotmob -- which organizes crowdsourced “buycotts,” in which consumers use their purchasing power to push businesses towards sustainable-minded actions -- has brokered a partnership with multinational powerhouse Unilever.

“We want to scale it to factories and big policies,” said Brent Schulkin, Carrotmob’s founder. Schulkin started the carrot-instead-of-a-stick approach in 2008, when a small liquor store in San Francisco installed more energy-efficient lighting after customers “mobbed” the store by shopping on a designated day.

Since then, the organization has worked with its widespread network of “carrotmobbers” to spearhead over 250 campaigns in 20 countries with small and medium-sized businesses.

Under the Unilever partnership, Schulkin said, Carrotmob consumers around the world will determine what action they would like Unilever or one of its brands to do -- and dialogue with the company to reach an agreement on an action that the company is willing to take after a given amount of money is spent on a target product.

The first campaign will be decided upon within a year. Though it hasn't been determined how Carrotmob’s constituents will select the focus of the Unilever campaign, Schulkin said that he could imagine some sort of a webinar where consumers will discuss what products they want to support, along with the actions which will be taken as a result of reaching certain sales goals of those products.

One example of a potential campaign, Schulkin said, is that the company could commit to increasing the proportion of cage-free eggs they use in a brand of ice cream depending on how many consumers support the campaign.

“A widely practiced mantra within Unilever really embodies the spirit of Carrotmob and what we are trying to accomplish through our partnership: Small actions make a big difference,” said Unilever Shopper Marketing Manager Lou Paik.

Unilever approached Carrotmob with the idea of a partnership, Schulkin told GreenBiz.

“They’re interested in finding new approaches to marketing where they engage with a crowd,” Schulkin said of the company’s motivations. “They look at what we’re doing and they see it as the future of cause marketing –- they just believe that this model is where they’re going.”

Carrotmob campaigns create “emotional bonds” between a company and consumers, Schulkin said. “It’s [a benefit] for Unilever if they really want to have an authentic relationship with these customers…when consumers say 'Here’s what we want to do' and a brand responds, it doesn’t ring hollow -- they’re not being spoon-fed.”

The organization had been approached by other potential partners in the past, Schulkin said, but the organization decided to collaborate after taking into consideration the company’s reputation for sustainability.

“Carrotmob may quite possibly change the way we all do business; at the very least, they will make the world a better place while trying,” said Paik.

Currently, the organization is working on a campaign with Northern California-based Thanksgiving Coffee. The coffee roaster has pledged to invest in transporting its coffee beans via wind sail – an action that would eliminate pollution generated from bunker fuel during cargo transport – if Carrotmob consumers buy $150,000 of its coffee.