What do all of these ads have in common, aside from being Grand Prix winners at the 2017 Cannes Lions festival? They are all ads from brands that take a definitive stance on a socially-charged issue. In fact, more than half of 2017’s Grand Prix winners “address some relevant socio-political issue, from immigration to women’s right.” Despite this, many brands shy away from taking a stand on social issues that could be seen as political.
While it may seem like the “safer” path to remain neutral, more and more studies show that people search out brands that support their worldview, which includes supporting causes they care about. A recent study by Havas found that “people wouldn’t care if 74% of the brands they use just disappeared,” while “75% of us expect brands to make more of a contribution to our wellbeing and quality of life.” Now more than ever, brands are facing the challenge of standing for something or risk fading into the abyss.
Define Your Brand’s Purpose, Then Stand Behind It
Studies have shown that “half of Millennials approve of brands taking a stand on social issues,” but beware: we know how to spot a fake. As Pepsi learned this summer, knowing when, where and how to voice support or opposition to an issue is tied to a deep and intentional understanding your brand’s purpose and relationship with the consumer. It’s worth noting, however, that even categorical “failures” like Pepsi’s still bore some positive results. A survey by The Drum found that “44% of people had a more favourable view of the company after watching the ad.” While this may speak to the fact that America is more divided than ever, it may also suggest that people recognize the effort made by Pepsi to stand for something, however misguided it may have been.
Despite the increasingly contentious political climate, “brands need to become part of culture to better connect with consumers.” While it sounds scary to put a stake in the ground, making a statement doesn’t have to be divisive or controversial or partisan in any way. A great example can be seen in CVS, a company committed to health and a smoke-free generation. They stopped selling tobacco products nationwide in 2014, and since then their pharmacists have “counseled more than 260,000 patients about smoking cessation and filled nearly 600,000 Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) prescriptions.” By taking a stance on smoking and health that is true to their brand, CVS reinforced its brand purpose with both consumers and employees.