Close-Up: Can brands help build communities?

Could brands give a lasting momentum to Cameron's idea of the Big Society, Matt Williams asks.

Even the sceptics couldn't fail to be enthralled by the royal wedding. "It was Britain doing what Britain does best," people claimed, and you'd find it hard to disagree. Leading that argument was David Cameron. The "uniting of the nation" - and the street parties that went with it - lent some credibility to his "Big Society" idea, where communities work together to help make the UK great again.

But with the wedding now consigned to the past, the challenge is on to maintain that community spirit. And a new survey by the integrated agency G2 Joshua showed that at least half of all Brits believe that household brands can play a key role in doing this.

"In these tough times, people are craving the chance to be part of a community again, and they are looking to brands that form part of their everyday life to help them do that," Tim Hipperson, the chief executive of G2 Joshua, says.

According to the survey, supermarket brands have played the most significant role so far in forming a sense of community. Tesco, which places its initiatives such as "Computers for Schools" at the heart of its ad campaigns, topped the poll, well ahead of Waitrose in second and Morrisons in third.

Languishing at the bottom of the pile was Innocent, Nike and Red Bull; a brand that only 5 per cent of those surveyed believe helps contribute to a community spirit.

"Supermarkets have a head start because they're a place in the community you regularly visit, so consumers are prepared to build up a loyalty to them and trust them," Hipperson says.

Morrisons, in particular, has been a brand that has seen the benefits of building links with communities. In 2009, the chain introduced "Let's Grow", a scheme that saw it go into local schools to teach children about the benefits of fresh food.

The campaign was so successful it won the IPA Effectiveness Grand Prix, and Morrisons now puts its community initiatives at the forefront of its advertising campaigns.

"Our community campaigns have helped us become a brand that is important to all areas in the UK, rather than just being perceived as a northern brand," David Hewitt, the brand manager for Morrisons, says.

But community campaigns don't just suit supermarkets. Bill Brock, the founding partner of AnalogFolk, argues that it's not impossible for other brands to engage with their community, they just haven't done it well so far.

"The problem is that brands think that sponsoring a community event is enough," he says. "But there's a huge difference for a brand such as Adidas between sponsoring a five-a-side league and providing facilities to create one."

Meanwhile, Ben Gallagher, the marketing director of Nike's Girl Hub initiative, which focuses on building relationships with girls in developing countries, warns that for community campaigns to work, brands must fully commit to the cause, and even be prepared - like Morrisons - to put their work at the forefront of their ad strategy.

"Brands need to show they want to do it, not that they're just ticking a corporate social responsibility box," he says.

But if they do it properly, it is clear that engaging more personally with a community can see a brand reap rewards. "In this climate, brands need to focus on human wants and needs rather than consumer wants and needs," Dylan Williams, a partner at Mother London, says. "Brands that have done this best always tend to enjoy greater success as a result."

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"The transition and change of UK culture has been enormous in recent years. People are now craving the chance to be part of a community again, and I'd say that now, with the 24/7 research panel that is social media, there is no greater time for a brand to tap into that.

"What agencies and brands need to do is start listening to communities about how they want to change things for the better, and then react to that. If they can actively work with them to bring about change then that will help them build up greater trust and stronger relationships."


"Morrisons, like other brands, was once very much about the bottom line and driving footfall into stores. It was a big decision for us to shift our advertising focus to community spirit and initiatives such as 'Let's Grow'.

"But getting children together to teach them about food was a perfect way to connect with our community and reinforce our 'freshness' proposition.

"And we're now seeing success with it by building that spirit into our mainstream advertising, such as the 'Let's Grow' TV ad and the Andrew Flintoff spot."


"Brands can establish local community relationships that are mutually beneficial. Take retailer brands - the smarter retailers know that embracing a degree of localism will deepen relationships with consumers.

"But this is easy. The commercial case can be made in terms of improved sales, profits and shareholder value. It gets harder when the business case conflicts with the community need.

"When, say, the cost economies derived from standardised formats conflict with a community's fears about identikit high streets. When community friendliness might mean making a little less profit. This is when we see who really means it."


"As marketers, the word 'community' was almost unspoken until social media growth brought it back into the vernacular.

"But at AnalogFolk, we preach about the physical - brands need to get people together, and not just on a Facebook page. What brands such as Skittles have done on Facebook is great, but they're not creating communities. It's not a shared value of experiences, it's just people interacting with a campaign. There are huge opportunities for brands to do this. If you look at sectors such as banking, there's a whole issue of trust that could be helped by building more personal communal relationships. But they haven't yet done it as well as they should."