Just as the internet has made it easier for brands to communicate with audiences across the world, it has also raised the public’s awareness of different social issues. As such, consumers are now far more discerning about whether they give their support to a brand: a survey conducted by Sprout Social found that 66% of consumers believe that it’s important for brands to take public stands on social and political issues.
If a brand is seen to be tackling social issues, the results can be extremely positive for them - with MediaCom finding that 49% of people (and 60% of people aged between 18 and 24) would pay more for brands that openly support causes that are important to them.
Perhaps because the adoption of a social cause can be so beneficial to a brand’s bottom line, audiences are on the lookout for insincerity. Take heed of the overwhelmingly negative response to Pepsi’s 2017 “Live For Now” ad campaign: it drew vaguely upon political tensions and the theme of police violence, and was widely criticised as tone-deaf and insensitively trivialising. Eventually, it generated such a widespread level of disapproval that it was swiftly pulled.
On the other hand, making a clear socio-political statement is also high risk. Nike’s recent ad campaign with former NFL player Colin Kaepernick - though receiving a far more positive overall response than negative - is still an example of how engagement with controversial and polarising contemporary issues can run the risk of alienating (and thereby losing) significant portions of a brand’s audience.
The fact remains though, people appreciate brands that use their wealth and power to promote positive change. How best to focus on this then, whilst steering clear of patronising or alienating audiences?
Not only are audiences generally more socially conscious nowadays, they are also - according to a according to a 2017 report by the Edelman Trust - unprecedentedly distrustful of businesses. It’s important therefore for brands to take tangible action in their socially-minded content, rather than just posturing and making vague promises about improving the world.
One ideal way for brands to do this is to engage with issues that directly relate to their product and brand identity. Volvo, for example, recently worked on producing a short film - ‘The Unseen Ocean’ - that documents the efforts of a primary school teacher to educate children on ocean conservation, living sustainably, and embracing the environment.
Considering the increasingly widespread calls for the automotive industry to address its environmental impact, the subjects covered in this film are particularly relevant to Volvo as a company; and can help to reassure consumers that they are taking action to address these problems.
Sprout Social’s research found that social media is by far the most effective outlet for this kind of content, over other major channels of communication like TV or print advertising. This makes sense, considering the importance of clarity and sincerity in this content: social media platforms are not just a means of broadcasting to an audience, they are also a means of establishing a dialogue, which brings us nicely to…
Just as it’s important to communicate clearly, directly, and honestly with your audience, it’s also important to think about what issues resonate with them, and how your content can involve them in addressing these issues.
A recent campaign by Kenco sought to combat gang violence in Honduras, by offering education and support to help vulnerable young people find work as coffee growers. Kenco’s short advertisement features a call to action, encouraging its viewers to follow the stories of the people that the brand supports. Ultimately, this means that, when consumers buy Kenco’s products, they can feel that they themselves are contributing to this wider cause.
The way that we consume is evolving - going further away from buying just for convenience, and towards the idea of “voting with your wallet” - there has never been a better time to think about how to offer your audience not only products, but a mission they can be part of.