How Social Causes Can Become Part of Your Brand
Brands have a unique role to play in our lives. From being superficial choices that express our style and sensibility to reflecting deeper preferences and loyalties that go beyond reason, brands occupy a space that can be personal and social. Large swaths of people can rally around a brand, and everyone has a personal origin story about the brands they love and hold dear in their hearts.
Brands are also global, and cross media and language barriers to knit into the daily threads of our life. Moreso than government agencies or public service programs, brands have an opportunity to change attitudes and behavior that can be meaningful and long-lasting.
Of course, brands exist as businesses to earn profits, but we all know that we human beings are emotional and social creatures, and we naturally seek out ways to belong and identify — even with the products we buy.
In the 21st century, we can buy pretty much anything we can afford. We can get great coffee, nice clothes, watches, good food, etc., and we rarely have to worry about the quality and effectiveness of things we buy.
So what is that added ingredient to influence our choices? It’s that magic stuff of brands that help us show and tell others - and ourselves — who we are, who we’re not, and how we want to present.
As brands continue to understand this, and a massive generational wave approaches the planet, I’m seeing more evidence that brands are moving more intentionally than ever to connect with the deepest belief systems we hold.
More than how we look and what we present, brands are opening ways that help each of us show and tell others - and ourselves - what we believe.
Should you align with a social cause? What is the risk? What is the reward? Why would it make sense for your business and your brand? These are questions only you can answer, but here are some examples of brands who have strongly and boldly connected themselves to a cause that aligns with their business and their brand.
Starbucks “All You Need Is Love” — Possibility of Peace in Our Time
This was a very simple concept from 2009. How do you get as many people representing as many countries as possible to sing the same song at one time?
Starbucks had yet to achieve the global reach they have now, but they were able to capture an idea and implement something beautiful. At a single moment, they recorded folks from around the world to sing “All You Need Is Love.” Proceeds of Starbucks drinks went to combat the AIDS epidemic in Africa, which is also a major source supplier of their coffee products.
This isn’t really controversial — who doesn’t want more love? But it shows singers from Rwanda, Israel, and other countries where there has been an overcast of violence, shining a light on the idea that there is more that brings us together than pulls us apart.
Dove “Campaign For Real Beauty” and Always “Like a Girl” — Promoting women’s & girls confidence
For over a decade the Dove Campaign For Real Beauty has been promoting a mission to help more women feel beautiful every day, and a message that asks all of us to reflect on “What is Beauty?”
Through numerous, thoughtful, and compelling ads, they have struck right at the heart of beauty standards, how we see ourselves, and what we want to show our young girls. They’ve been consistently, brilliantly, fighting for a cause that’s worthwhile and global in nature.
Here’s one from this year that’s amazing. There are tons more. Visit the Dove YouTube Channel and bring your tissues.
And, I’d argue that Always followed in the wake of Dove’s approach with their newer ads promoting “Always Like a Girl’ campaign to lift girls’ confidence. These ads ring true to the product, business, and brand, and push a social change that’s positive and uncontroversial. Who doesn’t want girls to be more confident and grow to be more confident women?
Lush — Organically-made self-care products with no animal testing
When you walk into a Lush store, it looks like a farmer’s market. The soaps and bombs look and smell yummy enough to eat...and they are! You can eat them! Because they’re made with natural and organic ingredients, the business is able to authentically promote a movement of pro-eco friendly.
And, since they never test on animals, they also promote animal welfare causes, too. The alignment of the business model and the cause is perfect, and reflected in the branding, typography, and in-store experience. The employees absolutely walk the talk, and believe in the company and the social causes they promote.
See some employees talk about their fresh handmade cosmetics:
I would argue that any business can find a cause that makes sense for their model and brand. The question is if the leadership in your brand is compelled to make a stand for that cause, and how the cause knits into the culture and overall position and messaging.
What about you and your business? Is there a cause you believe in? Does the cause make sense? Can it become something that makes your brand stronger?
I’d argue that Starbucks, Dove, Always, and Lush are extremely strong brands, and are made even stronger with their alignment of social causes. Of course, I’d enjoy your feedback.
Chris Foster has been teaching Brand Strategy and Positioning at UCSD Extension since 2009. He has lead professional workshops and presented at numerous San Diego Marketing Association events as well as national events for the Direct Marketing Association; been guest lecturer at SDSU Marketing Courses; and participated in numerous professional panels.
For the past 20 years he has worked in all aspects of marketing and creative direction for start-up, growing, and established business environments. He has a passion for helping any-sized business transform their brand so they can more authentically connect with their audience.