We asked top social impact agency professionals to weigh in with their predictions for brand purpose initiatives in 2018. This is the first in a two-part series sharing their insights.
Unsurprisingly, three of the trends focused on the importance of companies taking visible and strong stands on socio-political issues. According to Cone Communications’ 2017 CSR Study, 70% of Americans believe companies have an obligation to take actions to improve issues that may not be relevant to their everyday business.
Social Impact Trend #1: More Brand Gaffes
We all watched with mouths gaping as Pepsi released an ad this past year in which Kendall Jenner joyfully joined an unidentified street protest and then seemingly broke the tension between protestors and the police by opening a can of Pepsi and offering it to a cop. Pepsi quickly apologized and pulled the ad.
“We’re going to see more brand gaffes in 2018,” asserts PUBLIC Inc.’s Phil Haid, “perhaps not on the same scale as Pepsi, but there will be more mistakes”.
With more brands rising to respond to consumer expectations that companies take bold stands on important issues and the “slim margin of error” afforded by today’s social media environment, Haid says more missteps are inevitable due to issues of legitimacy, alignment and authenticity. “The good news is that the reason we’re going to see more bloopers is because we’re seeing more businesses and brands recognizing that social impact is part of how they have to do business today.”
Haid’s advice to mitigate these potential potholes? “You have to know your issue and the relationship your company has to it to ensure legitimacy and resonance. Consumers have to be able to understand, in the blink of an eye, why the company is supporting and engaging in the issue. If not, you’re doing something wrong.”
“You also have to be courageous and unapologetic if you’re going to take a strong stance on an issue,” says Haid, citing Ben & Jerry’s and Patagonia as brands that care deeply about their issues of choice and communicate authentically in a way that resonates with their customer base.
Social Impact Trend #2: Brand As Activist
Fenton’s ACTIO Group President Scott Beaudoin agrees that brands will continue to take an increasingly visible role on controversial social issues and sees it as an evolution of the purpose movement. According to Beaudoin, “These purpose-focused initiatives started out years and years ago as transactional marketing initiatives. In recent years, they’ve evolved to become more corporate-driven with socially responsible business practices leading the way. The next step we’ll see in this evolution is a values-driven approach led by brand activism.”
Beaudoin mentions brands like The Body Shop that have been activists for years, but notes, “Now this activism is reaching more traditional brands” and cites efforts like ‘Don’t Let Labels Hold You Back’ from Pantene Philippines, revealing the double standards women face in the workplace or Heineken’s ‘Open Your World’, encouraging people with dramatically different opinions to share a beer and bridge their differences.
Beaudoin says that those brands getting it right, “have a belief that their consumers care about important issues, create efforts authentic to their core values, believe passionately in the issue themselves, and ensure their stance mirrors what’s going on in the business.”
Social Impact Trend #3: Walking The Talk
According to Cone Communications’ Alison DaSilva, 2017 was a year for redefining corporate social responsibility. Cone’s research demonstrated that 87% of Americans would purchase a product because a company advocated for an issue they cared about and more than two-thirds will refuse to do so upon learning the company supported an issue contrary to their beliefs.
Although social issues were omnipresent in 2017, we also witnessed several companies fall down in doing so. In addition to the Pepsi example above, DaSilva offers State Street Global Advisor’s ‘Fearless Girl’ statue, which drew wide accolades as a symbol for female empowerment when installed defiantly facing the Wall Street bull. Ironically, several months later, the company agreed to pay $5 million to settle a highly-visible lawsuit asserting the company underpaid female and black employees.
DaSilva says, “Consumers are willing to dig deeper and learn more about a company’s business practices. Companies need to be extraordinarily transparent and dig deep into their own organization to ensure they’re truly ‘walking the talk’ with issues on which they’re taking a stance.”
Critical questions to answer, according to DaSilva are, “What issues can you authentically advocate for? Are you willing to be transparent? What is the commitment of your senior executives? Are you ready for backlash?”
More to Come In 2018
According to our experts, activism will continue to grow in prevalence and importance in 2018. Now more than ever, solid strategy, careful due diligence and bold communication are critical for companies looking to meet the expectations of consumers in our dynamic and ever-changing world.
Click here for part 2 of this 2018 Social Impact Trends series.
Originally posted on Forbes.