Commitment to the cause: why brands need to make a stand, not a social stink

Everyone in the media and marketing world knows how easy it is for brands to make gaffes, as they clumsily try to align themselves with the latest cause célèbre, usually via a ham-fisted social post.

And instead of receiving respect, they quite rightly receive nothing more than ridicule.

But this doesn’t mean that brands can get away with sitting on fence.

For those that do, splinters will be the least of their concerns. Instead, they risk becoming irrelevant.

People have never been more willing to share their views, from what they love to what they hate, on what they bought, or what they ate.

Yes, some of it is just noise, clutter, or people complaining in a social-media echo chamber.

But within this, there are a multitude of major causes that are deserving of brand support – be they social, environmental or ethical.

Despite this, many brands hesitate to jump into conversations around social issues, instead burying their activities in wordy and little-read CSR reports.

And in a sense, they are right to be wary, because for brands who are seen to be lacking commitment to a cause, or simply jumping on a bandwagon, the inevitable result is a consumer backlash.

Nevertheless, consumers actually want—and expect—the brands they love to support them in the causes they care about.

We recently conducted a Brand Love Index Survey with Kantar, which found:

  • 62% of consumers want brands to make a stand on equality and diversity
  • 59% of millennials want brands to support women in leadership and close the gender pay gap.
  • 61% of millennials expect companies to support the environment.

In these cases, brands have the opportunity to drive the debate, or risk becoming the negative focus of it. But the challenge is always to secure authenticity. And to my mind the solution, at least in part, lies in content marketing.

Brands can communicate a more complex and meaningful message through content marketing, with text, video, multiple images and more.

While other approaches may also work, the risk is that a lack of coherence and depth can leave brands open to accusations of opportunism.

The best examples are integrated, genuine and effective.

One great example is the Stella Artois and National Geographic’s “Buy A Lady A Drink” campaign. For every Limited-Edition Chalice sold, Stella Artois helped Water.org provide five years of clean water for one person in the developing world.

What followed was an integrated, multi-channel campaign that included custom content on NG.com, that sparked awareness, advocacy, and conversation about global water shortages.

Closer to home, multinational ingredient company Cargill has been effectively deploying content to show how it is bringing to life the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.

It has a wealth of content, each of which links to the UN goals it relates too.

So, for example, stories showcasing how the company works with Swisscontact to improve the health outcomes of cocoa farming communities in Sulawesi, Indonesia, by providing nutrition and health training links back to the ‘Zero Hunger’ goal.

In this scheme, community members learn how to grow vegetable gardens while also gaining access to diverse sources of nutrients through maintaining fish ponds.

The quality and depth of the content in both of these examples reinforced the fact that these social missions were well-thought out, genuine and capable of making a lasting difference. And consumers can tell the difference.

We found that 61% of consumers don’t mind if the content they see is branded, as long as it’s good quality—content that’s original, actionable, informative, thought provoking and visually appealing.

Contrast this to where brands simply seek to align themselves with a social campaign via methods that are deemed to be gimmicky.

So, regardless of whether you are advocating for an issue close to heart, or simply showing your support for those who do - content marketing is a powerful way you can deliver your message authentically while building a lasting connection.

And if you are going to make a stand, it’ll need to be for more than a day to make a difference.

Rico Chan is managing director, Oath Hong Kong, Japan and INSEA.

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