This year, brand competition over truly ethical marketing will increase
For The Drum's Predictions Deep Dive, Ross Crump of the Kairos Group argues that in a market increasingly driven by competition over ethical standards, advocacy will become key to brand success.
Is this the year that actual ethical marketing becomes a true differentiator for mainstream brands? / Clay Banks via Unsplash
In 2023 brands face multiple hurdles, most notably due to the rising cost of living and consumers being more conscious of how and where they spend their money. The need for a strategic, robust approach to marketing is stronger than ever. Although more innovative digital trends will likely surface throughout 2023, it’ll be ethical marketing that takes a leading role and grabs everyone’s attention.
Show me the receipts
Brand investment in ethical marketing and business practices will be put under the spotlight in 2023, particularly on social media. The heightened need for transparency and accountability will put more pressure than ever on companies. The implications of business practices on society and how they reflect brand values will be under rigorous examination, particularly by morally conscious generation Z and Alpha consumers; those brands that speak the loudest through their marketing efforts will be under the microscope.
With younger audiences being the most socially aware and tech-savvy generations to date they will be looking for ‘the receipts’. Brands need to invest in, and practice, what they preach.
With the shift to actual ethical marketing, brands face a challenge from multiple angles. How do we reach and connect with audiences who so clearly care about their values and beliefs? How do we achieve this while using social media as one of our main forms of digital interaction, at a time when the social industry is so volatile and open to scrutiny?
Brewing up a storm
Consider one incident from late 2022: Brewdog’s attempt to promote itself as the socially conscious ‘anti-sponsor of the World Cup’. The idea came with good intentions, with 100% of revenue made from Lost Lager sales during the tournament being donated to “registered charities that demonstrably and directly help those who have been affected by human rights injustices and violations in Qatar.”
However, the campaign was overshadowed by accusations of poor business practices. After stating that they would still be showing the World Cup in their bars, and following years of controversy including news articles around poor treatment of staff, what could have been a powerful message ended up with shouts of hypocrisy at Brewdog from social media users.
Brewdog isn’t the first brand to set tongues wagging though and it won’t be last. Live-streaming giant Twitch faces constant backlash for its inconsistent approach to dealing with issues on the platform, as well as the creators it seems to support. Just last year the platform attracted negative attention for having (though later removing) controversial non-profits LGB Alliance and United Daughters of the Confederacy on its list of approved charities. And we can’t forget the issues around Meta and Cambridge Analytica.
Social pratfalls and advocacy
In a survey from McKinsey & Company, 70% of gen Z respondents said that they try to purchase products from companies they consider ethical. 80% stated they refuse to buy goods from companies involved in scandals. As a result, we’ll likely see a shift in the content that brands are sharing.
Personally, I hope we see brands sharing content that openly and honestly reflects their situation and values. The Pratfall Effect highlights the importance of openness and transparency when it comes to our flaws. Brands that have hidden away in the shadows fearful of the skeletons in their closets have an opportunity to highlight their turnaround through acknowledging their shortcomings.
To this end, we’ll see the rise of the ethical social account. Communities will expect to see more considered marketing from brands demonstrating their approach to bettering society, and how it translates to business practice. Long gone are the days of brands painting over their poor practices with a charity donation or planting trees.
With this, advocacy will become the greatest driver of success. Brands who are able to actively engage communities on social media via sustainable ethical means will not only satisfy those data touchpoints around gen Z consumption. They’ll also support them in achieving their bottom-line targets. Marketers need to invest in community-driven marketing, not only using creators to talk about their products and services.
2023 is the year that brands can really start to make a difference with purpose-driven strategies. With brands already moving away from advertising on Twitter due to Elon Musk’s takeover and gamers starting to strongly call out the practices and decisions of Twitch, it’s likely that we’ll start to see an almost ‘one-up-manship’ between brands who try to stand out as being the most conscious of their customers’ views and values. With the access to brand information on social media, it will be the brands who make meaningful changes to the way they operate in society that will truly succeed.
Check out our Sustainability Predictions hub for more takes on the year ahead.
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Led by experts with more than 100+ years of gaming and media industry knowledge, Kairos Group comprises multiple entities including Kairos Media, Kyma Media and Horizon Union.Find out more