Do Nestlé’s Sensuous Ice Cream Ads Comply with Their Ethics Test?

A version of this post was recently featured on the CSR Reporting Blog

nestle adAn Israeli ice cream ad has folks riled up for its sensuous nature.

Joya ice cream is produced by Osem, which is 63.7 percent owned by Nestlé. Before I offer my thoughts, I have to let you judge for yourself. A screen shot from the ad is available to the right, and the ad itself — proclaiming Joya ice cream the hottest ice cream around — is below.

I have to wonder how this kind of marketing passes the ethics test at Nestlé.

Beyond the fact that this ad serves only to make me personally resolved NOT to try Joya ice cream,  I wonder why these companies need sex to sell dessert. Does fabricated sensuality really entice buyers?  When corporate marketers air an ad featuring a voluptuous woman lustfully sucking on a phallus-shaped ice cream bar, to attract a man’s attention, does that really move product?

I sought another opinion from a respected colleague who is an expert in corporate and business communications. This is what he said:

“I recall putting the issue of responsible marketing to the director of sustainability who was speaking at a conference one day while his company was running an ad featuring almost voyeuristic images of a woman’s body that bore no relation to the product being sold. His reply — to the effect of ‘It wouldn’t happen if I was in charge of marketing’ — spoke volumes about the lack of integration of sustainability into day-to-day practices, which is so often claimed by corporations. How companies approach marketing is emblematic of the way they understand consumers but so often merely seeks to plug into stereotypical, out-dated attitudes in order to grab (men’s) attention for the brand name.” – James Osborne, Senior Partner, Lundquist

Nestlé’s Consumer Communication Principles is a four page document that prescribes the way Nestlé companies should develop and air marketing content. It states: “The Nestlé Communication Principles have been defined as the highest standard on which all marketing and communication to consumers must be based.” Here are some of the principles:

  • The content of consumer communications must reflect good taste and social responsibility in accordance with each country’s laws and regulations and voluntary codes and standards. Although standards will vary from country to country, it must not display vulgarity, bad manners and offensive behavior and there must never be an intention to shock or offend.
  • Advertising content must not depict attitudes that are discriminatory or offensive to religious, ethnic, political, cultural or social groups.
  • Advertising should avoid exploiting media events that could be in bad taste.

Nestlé is no stranger to ethical problems. In fact, it’s one of the corporations that exemplifies the most extreme levels of emotion, as, one the one hand, the most boycotted company in the UK, and on the other hand, the most admired for its’ work in “creating shared value” and advancing global food science and technology for the benefit of everyone. A quick internet search brings up a host of ethical issues over the years related to different parts of the Nestlé business, including a recent $680,000 fine for anti-competitive marketing tactics in the coffee business.

In fairness, Nestlé claims to be addressing many of the concerns of stakeholders around the world with several supply chain assessments, and a host of other initiatives under the CSV banner, as you can read in the 2013 Nestle Shared Value Report. The company even made a bold commitment to no deforestation traceable palm oil, after the Greenpeace campaign disaster that had everyone associating Kit-Kats with bloody orang-utan fingers.It seems that as soon as one ethical problem dies down, another one crops up. This ice cream advertisement is, in my view, poor judgment and poor ethics. If the marketing is in bad taste, I wonder if the ice cream comes with a bad taste too.

Perhaps it’s time to refresh that set of consumer communication principles and get the folks that market ice cream at Osem up to date with today’s values and Nestlé’s commitment.

Elaine Cohen

Elaine Cohen is a CSR Consultant and Sustainability Reporter, founder/manager of Beyond Business Ltd and author of the CSR Reporting Blog

One response

  1. This ad (unfortunately) wouldn’t stand out in the U.S. as being particularly racy!

    There is an interesting story here about how closely subsidiaries adhere to the parent company’s rules and regulations. Does Osem need to live by Nestle’s code of conduct?

    In the case of sustainable companies like Ben & Jerry’s, Plum Organics, and Tom’s of Maine, it’s a good thing that the subsidiary gets some leeway to operate in a manner that is different from the parent. I don’t have the answer but I think it’s an interesting question from a sustainability point of view.

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