By Amandine Rodrigues
This year has started – and continues to pass – in a pretty hectic way. From Trump’s presidency to Brexit, from refugee crises to women’s rights, from slaughterhouse scandals to climate change (shall I really continue the list?!), these events have led more and more people to come out on the streets to protect their beliefs and make their voices heard. They want to contribute to a greater good and wish for a better society. But what about brands?
According to a recent study, 75 percent of millennials say it’s important that the brands they buy from give back to society¹. From niche startups to global companies, brands are increasingly taking action and responsibility to improve the way we all live together.
Good is the new green
Today, 88 percent of the people believe brands need to do more good, not just “less bad.”² And if many brands have launched interesting CSR initiatives, some take an extra step to become more and more empathetic. Mars Inc. has thus embraced a bold yet necessary move with its Sustainable in a Generation program: a plan delivering on the UN sustainable development goals and the Paris agreement, aiming to do business whilst setting goals in three key areas (people, planet, and well-being). By setting down a new way of doing business, Mars aims at doing “what is right” instead of “just doing what’s better.” Beyond reaching greater business objectives, Mars Inc. is willing to play a more meaningful role in consumers’ lives.
Consumers connect better with brands when they share their values. And honesty has become one key belief to guide a brand’s principles and actions.
Rise in debate
Even if talking politics is a risky business for brands — and sometimes, let’s face it, for people — not engaging in the debate might seem even riskier, especially in a time when consumers are more and more aware that they can vote with their wallets. The airline Ryanair thus dangerously engaged in the Brexit debate in 2016 by offering expats cheap flights to “Fly Home and Vote Remain.” By publicly taking a stand in favor of the remain vote, Ryanair was heavily criticized and accused of breaking electoral law by the pro-Brexiters. More recently the company’s CEO Michael O’Leary has threatened the European Parliament’s Transport & Tourism Committee to cancel flights between the EU and the UK, unless an aviation deal is signed soon. A strong signal sent by Europe’s first low-cost airline.
Find your purpose — and live by it
Every brand has something to stand for beyond revenue and sales. A purpose-driven brand strategy allows marketers to take positions in the cultural landscape, and better connect with consumers. Building on the “Belong Anywhere” purpose, Airbnb has taken action to house evacuees of disasters and provide for the needs of refugees and people banned from the US following Trump’s travel ban. In Australia, the brand has also staked out its position by supporting the LGBTQI community on marriage equality with the “Until we all belong” campaign.
Some people might wonder why brands dip their toes in the water of social and/or political debates such as the very recent anti-bullying campaign by Burger King.
But one can wonder: is it better to take a stand on a matter, even if it’s disconnected from your business reality, and thus raise awareness on an important topic, or remain silent? If our industry draws its inspiration from culture, and in return reflects our society’s culture, today, more than ever, brands need to shape that culture by engaging in the conversation.
Amandine Rodrigues is Senior Brand Strategist at MetaDesign Geneva.
¹Source: Forbes ”10 New Findings about the Millennial Consumer” ²Source: Predictions for the Luxury Industry: Sustainability and Innovation