By Dani Gibson, Senior Writer

November 27, 2018 | 6 min read

When we look back at 2018, it can certainly be seen as a year for brands taking a social stand in a bid to articulate their purpose and indeed why they even exist for their consumers. Brands such as Nike, Iceland, Lush and LadBible have all made their mark, by stepping up and taking the lead in effecting change.

At The Drum Social Purpose Awards judging this year, the jury discussed why doing social good can mean good business, how campaigns can achieve more than just controversy, and how success of social good campaigns can be measured.

When you think about brand purpose, it must align to what changes you can make, according to Helen Jones, Shelter UK creative director and member of the judging panel. Giving the example of Nike, she said as a fitness brand it can make real change within the sports industry, to fitness and to how people feel about their bodies and themselves. If another brand were to just jump on the health bandgwagon instead because it’s the trend, it will backfire quickly.

Authenticity, she said, is key. And if the only ROI is about selling your product, your audience will see through that.

“We're in an age now where people can jump from product to product so easily and change their minds. Everything moves so quickly. Loyalties are important. If you have a brand purpose which is believable, true and authentic, you're more likely to gain a longer-term loyalty,” added Jones.

The judges all agreed that because of social media pressures a lot of brands seem more risk adverse than having authentic principles. And therein lies the contradiction.

According to Julie Fairclough, senior marketing director, EMEA at GroundTruth someone like Nike and the recent Kaepernick campaign, gives other brands confidence. “It takes a lot of bravery to be welled to your principles but to see Nike do it, and to have that happen, does set the tone for everyone else,” she explained.

Can doing social good help brands tackle consumer cynicism?

Although there is cynicism when it comes to brands doing social good and brands need to take care in not being seen to be jumping on the social good bandwagon, the judges felt that our industry needs to be progressively doing social good better. Dixons Carphone group head of corporate social responsibility, Kesah Trowell said: “Particularly as more people who are working in the creative industries are that way inclined and those who are buying the products are likely wanting to buy into products and services that have got good social purpose at its core.”

Showing your humanity to the consumer can only help brands, added Bola Gibson, head of community engagement at TSB. Gibson gave the example of KFC. For her, when it ran out of chicken, its apology almost made up for it. The fast-food chain took out full page adverts in newspapers for shutting down its restaurants in the UK because of chicken shortage. The bright red advertisement showed an empty bucket with the chain's initials scrambled to say "FCK" on it, alongside an apology.

“From that disaster, they made people remember that there are humans behind the brand by showing their sense of humour which made them more relatable,” she said.

Looking to prove the ROI of social good

It appears that investment, and indeed the appetite, for brand to do social purpose initiatives is on the rise. But how do we measure the success of such campaigns? How do you measure ROI on something that is focussed on it’s social impact more than financial gain?

Trowell acknowledged that this can be difficult, however the brands that support brand purpose are heavily invested in not letting it become a fad. “You're trying to do good and a lot of people you talk to, they know it's good for retention, they know it's great thing, but would love to see more evidence. It would be great to see more joined up evidence rather than just sentiments and little things,” he said.

“But cannot run a company just on financial profits alone,” said creative partner at the Good Agency, Reuben Turner. For instance, businesses like Unilever, who have shifted the way in which they report and what they focus on, have seen their sales go up.

“There's an age-old problem we need to get over - which is doing good is at the expense of business. You need to turn that around, it's the opposite. Just focusing on short term profits can maximise your shareholder value, but this is bad for business in the long term, and that comes out in the advertising and communication.”

Also, consumers want to be part of something bigger and they want to have purpose. Particularly millennials, said Fairclough. “They are striving to be part of something bigger, having purpose in their jobs. It's about giving something back and having some sort of impact in something they believe in. Which is why businesses need to be able to have that.”

Chair of the judging panel and head of global media partnerships at Diageo, Jerry Daykin concluded that one business that really stood out this year was the behemoth Procter and Gamble, that has managed to forge a number of new partnerships with organisations like The Queen Collective, Katie Couric Media and Free the Bird, to drive equal representation of women across the creative supply chain. “P&G have done a phenomenal job, particularly with gender equality. From reshooting some of their adverts to removing ads from circulation where they don't think both genders are positively shown.” These initiatives, he said, have not only created an impact on its own marketing and communications but have managed to trigger the rest of the industry into action.

The Drum Social Purpose Awards will take place in London on 29 November at The Postal Museum in London, alongside The Drum Advertising Awards. You can purchase your ticket to the event now.

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