Moving from the era of ‘talk’ to ‘do’

December 12th, 2019

Cast your mind back to 2017. It was a time when it seemed that every large brand in-market wanted to talk about their social purpose and how they, their products and straplines were going to help the world become a better place. It felt like a new era of responsibility was being ushered in by these lofty ideals, underpinned by a shared sense of optimism regarding the role of brands to help improve society.

The campaigns included McDonald’s spotlight on bereavement, Heineken providing a tonic for a post-Brexit Britain, Paddy Power campaigning creatively for LGBTQ+ rights, and Pepsi dipping its toes in social justice. It felt like every brand wanted a role bigger than selling products or services.

Yet, without exception, no matter how well executed, emotionally powerful or lauded from certain corners, almost every brand faced a significant backlash for talking about these more emotive topics. It was Pepsi who would ultimately provide the curtain call on this brief era of ‘Grand Purpose’ by delivering one of the all-time great advertising fails: appropriating the Black Lives Matter movement through Kendall Jenner and the best-dressed rioters ever captured on television. Martin Luther King’s daughter Bernice King famously quipped, “If only Daddy would have known about the power of #Pepsi”.

Two years on and 2019 sees us in a more cynical, albeit demanding time. While 65% of consumers are willing to buy or boycott a brand due solely to its social or political positioning (Edelman), trust in advertising has hit a record low of 25% – almost half where it sat in 1992 (Credos). This erosion of trust has created a credibility gap between what consumers demand from brands and what they are perceived to be delivering. If three quarters of consumers do not trust the advertising, it is of little surprise that they instantly reject forays into social purpose.

Do, don’t talk

Brands need to move away from the era of ‘talk’ to one of ‘do’. If brands want to communicate purpose, they must do so authentically, practising utility, not just for potential customers but for society as a whole. To support this shift, marketers and agencies are in the ideal position to connect what are often disparate business areas, such as CSR, product and advertising, to help unite them around a common purpose with substance.

In this world, the role of agencies and marketers is elevated. As the integrators and curators of these connected brand stories, they provide a platform not just for advertising ideas or performance strategies, but experience design, content and even product development.

Creating substance

The work surrounding Loop packaging is the epitome of ‘do’. It sees some of brands – Nestle, The Body Shop, Jacobs Douwe Egberts – put their competitive instincts aside to test a new system of common, reusable containers that can be collected easily from a consumer’s household for the purpose of recycling.

Elsewhere, Guinness, a huge proponent of diversity, has built on its amazingly successful Six Nations partnership by sponsoring Europe’s biggest LGBTQ+ inclusive rugby tournament. This is a true investment in its beliefs on inclusion and is so much more powerful than a lone piece of communication could ever be.

Integrating Communications

The Body Shop recently launched a pioneering initiative with TerraCycle, which enables the simple return and recycling of products in-store.

If a brand innovates the service or product, the content writes itself (almost).  Inspired by this sustainability initiative, The Body Shop downloaded rubbish disposal data from every council in the UK. From this, they were able to calculate the amount of plastic being recycled by each town in Britain to create a great piece of SEO PR, a recycling leaderboard that was brought to life with some beautifully illustrated graphics.

Providing Utility

Diageo is a perfect example of how to move on from a category that generally occupies the lightest touch of territories such as ‘enabling fun’. As a company, it innovates constantly to deliver utility; from chatbots that demystify whisky for the average consumer, through to Alexa skills that help people make professional cocktails.

The brand has successfully harnessed technology to deliver innovative campaigns that personalise around people’s needs; using anything from voice through to taste. And it’s not just utility for customers that it delivers – to make great whisky you need great water, so Diageo has taken that one step further by providing clean water to ten million people globally, a true investment in its beliefs.

The value of ‘do’

Moving from a stance of ‘talk’ to ‘do’ is not simply a nice thing to talk about; it also drives performance for our clients’ bottom line. As an example, Unilever’s sustainable living brands delivered 85% of its total turnover growth in 2018, growing 69% faster than the rest of the business. The success of those brands is at least partially due to the positive effectiveness impact sustainability has on communications effectiveness. Caesars, the huge casino chain in Las Vegas, segmented its CRM database to send one group information about its sustainability efforts and the other the usual marketing mailers. Those who received the sustainability advertising spent 1.5% more with Caesars than those who did not, sustainability can definitely pay.

Making the transition

Stimulating a consumer’s interest can bring to life the great work of the brands. This means taking the content often hidden on CSR pages, making it better and connecting it to the right consumers. But that is only the beginning, brands must deliver utility through experiences that connect the whole of the digital marketing ecosystem around their purpose – paid media, owned, earned, on-site and CRM. Integrated performance marketing gives people the opportunity to connect with brands on a much more interactive and deeper level than traditional media would ever allow.

If ATL was the medium of the era of ‘talk’, then the era of ‘do’ might just be driven performance marketing.

Emil Bielski, Chief Strategy Officer, iProspect

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