One of the biggest marketing themes and talking points of 2017 has been about driving purpose. Everybody wants to do it. Nobody wants the backlash that can accompany it. And so the questions on marketers’ minds are: how do you activate purpose the right way, to make a real statement? How do you do it in a way that doesn’t feel fake?
We did a deep dive on some of the most interesting campaigns this year at Cannes Lions, where purpose as a theme reigned supreme. Looking at some of the remarkable entries from around the world, there are five crucial takeaways that every marketer can apply to their media plan to create smart, agile, purposeful work.
1) Behave Like Your Brand
The most successful, purposeful brands are those that can make their media live up to their brand’s essence. They’re not just picking a charity or a cause because it sounds good; rather their media actions are a clear reflection of what the brand actually does and stands for.
For example, take Uniqlo Heat Tech. In South Korea, the company gave out branded insulating window inserts to 500,000 Uniqlo customers for free during the winter. The inserts increased the room temperature as much as 20% and served as free promotion of the company’s Heat Tech clothing line. It worked for the brand not just because they did a nice deed for consumers, but because it naturally aligned with the product (which is about keeping you warm). Uniqlo gained 500,000 out-of-home ads for free and ultimately saw over 200% sales growth for their Heat Tech products.
2) Embrace the Backlash
Today, some of the most successful work is coming from brands that are fulfilling social needs that might alienate some consumers. If done thoughtlessly, it can come off as shallow or fake. But when done right, the results can be game changing—both for the cause and your brand. A recent study from Refinery29 shows that 91% of all millennials will swap out a brand to go with one that has a cause. The truth is, to really have a brand POV, to make your core audience care about your brand, it might require that some people disagree with you.
The “Fearless Girl” from State Street is a great example. It was championed by many as a symbol of female empowerment. But it had its fair share of haters too – people who didn’t think it was necessary, people who were upset about its impact on the “Charging Bull” sculpture. One artist even put a small statue of a urinating dog next to it. And yet, whatever your thoughts about this statue, you can’t deny that the backlash didn’t hold it back – if anything, it drove people to double down on their support.
Obviously these days, you can’t walk into most agencies without hearing the word “data” all over the place (and deservedly so). But what’s really setting work apart—what the most advanced brands are doing—is using their data in consumer-facing ways that adds value or meaning right into their products or services.
For example, take “Meet Graham” in Australia – a model creation of what a human being would have to look like in order to withstand a car crash. The artist who designed Graham did so with the help of a trauma surgeon and an accident research engineer. They used data and research on what car crashes do to the human body to create a haunting, visually arresting piece of creative—and one that’s been adopted by the Worth Health Organization as the global face of road safety in 2017.
4) What Else You Got?
Understanding, and aligning with, the DNA of your brand is key. Without it, the work won’t do much for you. But is it possible we can sometimes be too adherent to our brand essence? Brands that have strong equity in their categories occasionally need to step beyond their positioning to refresh consumers’ perceptions in unexpected ways.
For example, in South Africa, Castrol Magnatec created Vuvuliser: the first vuvuzela horn that’s also a breathalyzer. The goal was to try to reduce road fatalities on the days of big soccer games, since the number one cause in South Africa is drunk driving. Blowing into the horn turned the end green if good to drive, red if not. It was a natural shift for the oil engine brand, from protecting engines to protecting drivers.
5) Plan for Agility
Perhaps most importantly, the number one way to activate a brand purpose is to act with purpose. That doesn’t mean you have to launch a massive Lions-honored program each time. But if you know what your brand stands for, the opportunities for you to take action will present themselves regularly. It can range from very simply donating your products during a natural disaster, to giving a voice to an artist or a creator who lacks a platform, or even just tweeting your support for someone who’s standing up for what you believe in. For example, our Huggies client has done a great job for a number of years by giving diapers or making donations to diaper networks in response to timely, crucial events or moments in culture.
Often times, these opportunities may happen without a moment’s notice. And it takes time to learn to recognize what the truly right moments for brands are. At Mindshare, we use a process called Planning for Agility to identify cultural triggers for more brand-centric messaging or consumer engagement, and then work to plan strategies in advance for the moments when brands can do good in real-time.
Ultimately, brand purpose is about more than just a one-off activation. Even the best of those can fade in time. But consistent, purposeful work can make your brand part of something bigger than itself – and have a long-term impact that’s win-win all around.
This article first appeared in www.warc.com
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