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Social Good Advertising: Genuine or Just a Gimmick?
We’re seeing it everywhere– just last month, social good advertising was a hot topic at Cannes Lions. Brands’ marketing tactics are changing to give Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) a starring role — or connecting “purchase with purpose”, according to Unilever’s multinational CMO, Keith Weed. It’s happening for good reason too. With greater income and access to information, customer sentiment is drastically changing and dictating how brand messages resonate. The return on investment from celebrity endorsements has declined and consumers want to see “real people” in ads that support social and environmental causes.
Brands have found success in taking on social and environmental issues that align with their product—Pantene with female empowerment and Chipotle with organic, non-GMO food, to name a few. 90% of Americans say they are more likely to stay loyal to brands that support social causes. Today, the challenge for brands is to connect their products and social causes seamlessly, delivering on a sincere brand promise for their consumers. They are taking out the grandiose statements and getting more simple and personal with their messaging, as they deliver these campaigns to skeptical, socially conscious millennials. Here are some trends in cause marketing and our take on them.
1. Marketing to women: Empowerment or “pinkwashing”?
This trend was seeded by Dove, when it launched its “Real Beauty” campaign in 2004. The message then and now is loud and clear—brands are broadening their definition of beauty to be more inclusive and less body-conscious. More recently, other female product brands have joined in with targeted ads, such as Always’ “#LikeAGirl” campaign says it’s not offensive to do something “like a girl”. Similarly, Under Armour’s “I Will What I Want” celebrates female athletes overcoming the odds to achieve their goals.
But in a crowded market, it is becoming increasingly challenging for brands to set their products apart with feel-good messaging while trying to increase market share. And consumers are fully aware that every tear-jerking ad has a motive: “People are happy with the idea of brands aligning themselves with a social issue—just as long as they are making a genuine positive contribution,” according to Kate Cox of Havas Media.
Employees Brand Advocates
Diverse employees can be a powerful resource for brands when it comes to CSR messaging. Consumer-facing employees are at the frontline of brands’ efforts to do good, but the execution of lofty ideas makes all the difference. Starbucks controversial’ “Race Together” campaign was spearheaded by CEO Howard Schultz encouraging employees to encourage conversations about race relations with customers. The lukewarm response to the campaign should remind brands that personal values expressed by the leader of the organization don’t necessarily trickle down to employees at the front-line—especially with challenging, sensitive issues. And it’s important to align the brand’s own values with loyalists’ perception of the brand. Starbucks’ values of equal opportunity are expressed best with its college tuition program for employees, not with a hashtag that addresses a sensitive issue.
3. Millennials are key engagers
Millennials are looking to be partners in creating the brands they love—but they’re also looking for a good cause. More than 85% of millennials say their purchasing decisions depend on the responsible effort that a brand is making—and makes them more likely to recommend the brand to others.
Chipotle, popular among millennials, created a short animated film called “The Scarecrow” to educate consumers about industrialized food production, sending a message about its own sustainable practices. It was a tactic to get millennials to be less wary of “brands that perpetuate themselves”, according to Chipotle CMO Mark Crumpacker – and it worked because it wasn’t didactic and contained no grandiose slogans or commitments to changing the world. It currently has over 14 million views on YouTube and won three gold Cannes Lions in 2014.
4. Direct, simple messaging works best
Brands are also finding ways to boost CSR efforts through cause marketing—aligning with a non-profit cause, often integrating this into their business for mutual benefit. This kind of marketing is most successful when the social benefit is simply communicated. TOMS shoes ties an easily-identifiable benefit to every purchase, with its “One for One” promise that every time a TOMS product is purchased, a person in need is helped. TOMS aren’t exactly cheap, but 26% of millennials are willing to pay a higher price for a product when it is associated with a good cause. TOMS campaign is simple and not in-your-face and its main product—simple, one-style-fits-all shoewear—matches that. The brand has become a vehicle for its cause, with consumers coming to associate TOMS with poverty alleviation.
So what’s next?
Consumers’ purchase decisions are increasingly accounting for social responsibility, and brands have to keep the same in mind when marketing to them. To get consumers to believe their commitment to CSR, brands should look beyond their marketing strategy and integrate social causes into their business as well. CSR should become a core business principle and not just a messaging tactic for brands to really resonate with consumers.