Commentary

Consumers See Through Insincere Brand Activism -- So, Be Authentic

Purpose-driven marketing had a field day with the linking of pink ribbons with breast cancer awareness. Companies found that if they put a pink ribbon on something, it boosted sales. The idea that purchasing a product with a pink label on it was helping to eradicate the disease fed the pink frenzy.

Then cynics began to see brand activism around breast cancer awareness less as an advocacy mission and more as a money-making business.

In recent years, a lack of transparency has called the campaign into question. Some activists claim the money trail of funds to research is impossible to track. Others say the movement brings awareness without any tangible action or education to help the public.

These days, purpose is at the core of many companies' mission and vision, and smart brands involve their customers in everything from ideation and testing to storytelling and campaign creative.

But people are savvy to marketing techniques and public relations spin, so businesses must have a proven track record of acting in the interest of the social good. Otherwise, they are just throwing their money — and leverage — down the drain.

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According to Accenture Strategy's 2018 report "To Affinity and Beyond: From Me to We, the Rise of the Purpose-Led Brand," 62% of consumers will reward companies that take a stand on issues.

With the advent of social media and reality television, millennials and Gen Z understand the power of the wallet more than previous generations. It might begin with words, but it ends with making large organizations conform to their beliefs, which can be done through consumerism and capitalism.

If customers do not buy your social stance, they will go elsewhere.

For example, the NFL claims to be committed to doing its part to solve issues surrounding players and sexual and domestic violence, but it appears to be more focused on conducting damage control. Just look at the cases involving Reuben Foster, Kareem Hunt, and others. As a result, women are tuning out.

Facebook has found itself in a similar situation as it launched a campaign focused on making the world more open and connected. The campaign has done little to dampen concerns stemming from research that the company might have played a part in increasing isolation, outrage, and addictive behaviors. It face-planted amid an outcry about how user data was harvested for political purposes. It also got involved in data-sharing partnerships with at least four Chinese electronics companies, including one that has close ties to the Chinese government.

When purpose-driven marketing is done right, it can change how your company is run and help consumers see you in a new light. Heineken, for example, took on water conservation by using less water as a standard practice and providing funds for freshwater resources in underserved communities in South Africa.

Similar to Heineken, companies have to use authenticity and transparency to guide their advocacy programs. Instead of becoming purpose-driven overnight, businesses need to invest as a corporation before asking consumers to help. After all, consumers can donate their money to a charity in whatever way they choose.

More than ever, companies need to go beyond direct consumers and think about improving the world at large. It is important to establish why your brand came to be and reinforce that mission as your company scales. Becoming purpose-driven will soon be table stakes, not simply a nice-to-have addition to business practices.

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