I remember the first time I saw the line of Secret's "Mean Stinks" deodorants while running through Target, and I actually stopped in my tracks. What is that? Is it a mistake? Wow, the brand is taking a bold stand against high school/college bullying and that is the manifestation of the campaign on pack. When I returned to my laptop that evening, I became obsessed with Mean Stinks - the booming online community, the blue pinky challenge, celeb endorsements. Brilliant.
Procter & Gamble's spokesperson explained the effort by saying, "We're more than just products and brands, but we're actually doing something meaningful for our consumers." Secret isn't the only P&G brand making such great social strides – take a peek at Tide's Loads of Hope or Dawn's Save Wildlife efforts.
It's been a while since Mean Stinks launched, so I was curious to see how other brands take on a variety of issues:
• Water conservation. Jeans, a staple in every teen closet. Unbeknownst to me, each pair of jeans uses roughly 3,000 liters of water during its lifetime, from the cotton crop to the denim production to dozens of home washings. Levi Strauss has recommended a number of consumer behavior changes to help conserve the planet's water – from freezing jeans to eliminate germs/dirt (instead of washing) to washing in cold water only to washing less frequently. It even changed the care tag to say so, and Levi's goes out of its way to suggest donating unwanted jeans to Goodwill.
• Domestic violence. This is an incredibly important lesson to teach our teens early on to ensure they spend their time in healthy, happy, non-abusive relationships. The folks at Fifth & Pacific (Lucky Brands, Juicy Couture, Kate Spade, formerly Liz Claiborne) founded Love Is Not Abuse, an incredible organization dedicated to educating kids, teens and adults about dating abuse. It includes curriculums for teachers, apps for parents, statistical research, and an active online community.
• Healthy food choices. The National Restaurant Association and HealthyDining teamed up to launch the Kids LiveWell program, dedicated to helping parents and kids select healthy menu options when eating out. There are 19 restaurant chains (over 30,000 locations) that participate by offering better food options for children on their menus, focused on fruit/veggies, lean proteins, whole grains and low-fat dairy, and limiting unhealthy fats, sugars and sodium. Brands like IHOP, Friendly's, Burger King, and even Joe's Crab Shack signed on when the program launched mid-2011 and have continued to lead the effort of better nutrition for our kids.
• Electronics recycling. The Federal Government teamed up with three major electronics manufacturers – Sony, Dell, and Sprint – to promote environmentally responsible recycling of e-waste. This effort ensures that recycling practices are not harmful to either the environment or human health.
Who isn't a fan of cause marketing and overall better practices? Of course, that is when it's authentic, weaved into the DNA of a brand, target audience appropriate and successfully rallies consumers to act. A few things marketers should take note of when building a brand's Corporate Social Responsibility message:
• According to a 2013 Cone Communications study, over 90% of global consumers say they are likely to switch brands to one tied in with an important cause (assuming price and quality are comparable).
• The same Cone Communications study states that 70% of global consumers are confused by brand messaging that speaks about corporate social responsibility.
• An earlier version of the Cone Communications study reports that more than 90% of consumers are curious about what brands are doing to "make the world a better place" and want to be heard by the brands themselves.
• Recent Nielsen research reports that 50% of global consumers are open to paying more for brands that give back.
So, the good news is that cause marketing certainly resonates. It only adds to consumers' rationale to support and, better yet, purchase a brand. The challenge is how to clearly communicate the message in a succinct, compelling manner and create a two-way dialogue with consumers.