We’re in Aline Santos Farhat’s office at the Unilever headquarters, a light and airy suite with a view over São Paolo. We’re lucky to be in town at the same time as Aline: as OMO’s Global Senior Vice President, she seems to be constantly on the move.

OMO Dirt is Good - Aline Santos Farhat - CoolBrands Around the World in 80 Brands
OMO Dirt is Good – Aline Santos Farhat – CoolBrands Around the World in 80 Brands

“It’s part of the job, since OMO is present in more than 70 countries,” she says as we sit down at a large round table. “I have to liaise with all the local marketing departments and make sure that the brand messaging is in tune across the board so that the brand potential is truly unleashed.”

“And what is that message?” I ask. “Last time we met you told us briefly about OMO’s Dirt is Good campaign, but how do you develop such a concept to suit your widely diverse markets across the globe?”

A truly global brand

“This is exactly the question Unilever faced back in 2002,” Aline says with a smile. “We had a product with over 40 different brand names worldwide, all with their own packaging, positioning and advertising.”

She pulls up a set of slides on her iPad and shows us the different brand campaigns from the early 2000s. It is immediately clear that OMO’s message in Brazil was quite different from the brand image of Surf in India, Skip in France or Breeze in Thailand, which in turn seemed to have little to do with the brand positioning of Persil in the UK, Ala in Argentina or Rinso in Indonesia.

“Wow,” says Maarten, “talk about a challenge! I see what you mean: the brands were very diverse in their messaginLogo CoolBrands Womeng.” “Yes and no,” says Aline as she shuts down the presentation and turns back to us. “Yes, because the messages were so out of tune with each other that there was no global positioning – no strong single message.”

The threat of commoditisation

“But on another level, OMO and its sister brands were just detergents telling the same old story that dirt is bad, with nothing to distinguish OMO from the rest of the market. OMO was sending out more or less the same message as everyone else, using the same language and the same images. That is a great danger in this market: the threat of commoditisation.”

As Aline explains this, I try to think of recent detergent campaigns and realise that I can’t clearly remember a single one – they all seem to blend into a single ad about micro particles deeply penetrating fibres and lifting away stains, and mothers hanging bright white sheets on clotheslines.

“You’re right,” says Maarten, “if you think about it, all the detergent brands’ messages were the same, promising ‘stain removal’, ‘best ever results’, etcetera… it was all totally forgettable.”

OMO Dirt is Good - Aline Santos Farhat - CoolBrands Around the World in 80 Brands
OMO Dirt is Good – Aline Santos Farhat – CoolBrands Around the World in 80 Brands

Brand with a purpose

“Exactly,” says Aline. “Unilever realised that we needed to take a different approach: we needed a purpose. We didn’t want to just be talking about ketchup stains anymore; we wanted to ladder up from a product to a human idea. We needed a relevant message that mothers would remember even after the laundry was folded away in the cupboard. Brands without a greater purpose have no future in today’s competitive market.”

“And this is where Dirt is Good comes in!” I say. “I’m starting to see the genius of this strategy. Dirt is Good conveys a radically different message and instantly distinguishes you from the rest of the market. It is an intriguing message from a detergent brand, so it grabs consumers’ attention.”

“That’s right, but it’s only one part of it,” says Aline with a confident smile. “Cleaning children’s clothes was nothing new, and if we just celebrated the enjoyment of getting dirty, the brand would never have become so successful. Instead, we started promoting the idea that there is some deeper benefit to be had from getting dirty. We conducted global research directly with mums to help us really understand their concerns, so we knew this idea would resonate with them. With a line that ‘There’s no Learning without Stains’, OMO started to show how getting dirty is an integral part of children’s development.”

The right to play

“We are encouraging mothers to let their kids play, explore and discover. Let them dig into the sand and the mud, make paintings, climb in trees, play football – anything that will stimulate their minds and help them grow mentally and physically. The message to mothers is: ‘You take care of your child’s development, we will take care of the laundry.’”

“Very cool,” says Maarten, “from being ‘just another detergent’, you are now taking a stand for children’s rights and really engaging in a global debate.”

“It has been a huge challenge, but also a great success that has resonated globally in all the very diverse markets we operate in.”

“Yeah, so tell us how you translated this core concept into advertising campaigns in different markets,” I say.

Aline immediately opens up another set of slides on her iPad. “In Africa and some parts of Latin America, we showed children overcoming their fears and getting dirty in the process.

“In Vietnam, the brand has such an iconic status that we managed to influence the government and change the school curriculum with our Dirt is Good campaign. Now kids in Vietnam get recess during the school day, and therefore time to play and develop,” says Aline.

“In the UK, our PR film featured a little girl baking a cake. She gets her clothes all sticky in the process, but she is thrilled to be mixing the ingredients and decorating the cake all on her own.

“By telling these small personal stories in local contexts, we really struck a chord with mothers and built up huge brand loyalty at a global level. Obviously, this great brand purpose has to be supported by a great detergent,” Aline concludes, as she shuts down the presentation.

Child development okay, but what about the profit?

“So what has this meant for sales?” Maarten asks. “Does engaging in a deeper purpose like child development actually translate into tangible growth?”

“Absolutely, all you have to do is look at the figures: in less than a decade OMO has seen double-digit growth year on year, from less than $400 million to over $3 billion. It has become one of the biggest Unilever brands.”

“Wow,” I say as I look at Maarten and then back at Aline, “the ultimate proof, if we still needed it, that dirt really is good!”

© 2012 CoolBrands – Around the World in 80 Brands



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