What are brands doing to encourage positive social change?
Reducing plastic waste with a new policy
A very recent and topical example of change comes from supermarkets. Arguably, hugely to blame for the increased use of plastics, many supermarkets are now attempting to counteract some of the damage, starting with the introduction of the plastic bag tax in 2015.
The World Economic Forum tells us in 2025 our oceans will contain more plastic than fish, which is a sobering fact. Since the implementation of the bag tax, single use plastic bag sales have reportedly fallen by 86%, which is hugely positive.
Promoting emotional wellbeing through core vales
When it comes to mental wellbeing, Dove is a doing a lot to promote self-esteem in women. Research shows some campaigns created by the beauty and makeup industry can fuel insecurity while promoting warped images of beauty through the use of photoshop and editing.
Dove is challenging this by focusing on creating campaigns promoting self-esteem, equality and championing change through their Self-Esteem Project. The brand cares about more than monetary gain; it’s values of promoting self-esteem deeply rooted in everything they do. And they’re making a difference, having educated around 20 million females to date, with an admirable goal of 20 million more.
Setting the standard for product testing
Animal testing, deforestation and climate change are issues customers actively value as important, thanks to a few powerful brands leading the way. As audiences increasingly become activists for change, so too do brands.
Lush was founded on the belief that using animals to make – or test – products was wrong and, since their inception, they have helped lead the way for other cosmetic brands to be more environmentally conscious. By shifting their ideals into the mainstream, they helped influence the decisions of the average consumer.
The relationship between brands and their purpose
The founding purpose
Gandy’s Flip Flops was built around a positive message and set up by two London brothers orphaned by the Indian Ocean Boxing Day tsunami in 2004. They returned to London without shoes and this tragic story fuelled them to provide shoes for the less fortunate. It was this story of integrity and morality that led them to become a challenger brand to Havaianas and they’re now one of the biggest outdoor clothing companies in the world.
The moral barometer
Levi’s was founded in the 70’s and always believed in originality and creativity. They set up a foundation that provides access to music education for areas that need it most, giving young people a platform to express individualism and creativity.
The CRM policy
Salesforce operates a one, one, one model, meaning 1% of its resources, time and profit goes to the Salesforce.org foundation. The foundation puts technology into the hands of non-profits and educational institutions to help accelerate their impact. They have also created a CRM framework for others to follow who don’t know how or where to start.
The profit for purpose
Some companies use business profits to fund a social movement. The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, for example, has had $51.6 billion injected into it, and their latest mission is to cure the world of Malaria using profits from their companies.
A fair warning; don’t be a band-wagon brand
Unfortunately, there are also examples of companies that selfishly use a social issue as a sales advantage.
An example is when brands want to create a campaign alongisde an awareness day, such as International Women’s Day, in order to capitalise on its economic potential. Fine if female empowerment is at the heart of what they do, but if you look at their business and realise just 1% of SMT leaders are female, they have no supportive maternity pay and no female leadership programmes, suddenly it seems a lot less relevant.
Five ways brands can (and should) support social change
1. Be real
This may go without saying, but many brands still need reminding of this. Be a person; people want to connect with things and have an outlet for their beliefs and values, so provide that for them.
2. Show your roots
If you have a story to tell, tell it! People may relate to it or feel connected to it.
3. Do more than expected
Always think about what else you can be doing beyond the minimum. All supermarkets must charge for bags now, but Iceland has gone beyond this, as the first to pledge they will eventually remove all single-use plastics from their own branded products.
4. Be genuine
If you care about something, you must live it with integrity BEFORE shouting about it. These values must be at the core of everything you do, not just to suit a campaign or seasonal trend.
5. Lead the way
Be a brand that is ahead. Those who have made the most social change are brands taking the leap forward first. Find a value that is true to you and create change that means something for your brand and customers. Don’t wait for someone else to set the tone, do it yourself!
What you can do to drive social change
As marketeers, we might struggle to control whether a brand pushes for commercial value or social change, but what we can do is work with them to live and breathe their values and be genuine.
As individuals, we can drive improvements by pushing for government changes that force brands to look at what they’re doing and how they can improve. We have more power than you might think!
Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the power they have to influence social change, so it’s time for brands to start acting on it.