Can marketers successfully create purpose-driven campaigns with genuine social impact and still meet commercial results? That’s the question Campaign posed to a group of the UK’s leading marketers at a lunchtime session during the recent Media360 conference.
Charlotte Crook, managing partner, strategy and planning at Merkle, the customer experience management specialist agency, started with the environment: the climate crisis is both a significant problem the ad industry contributes to and an opportunity for the industry to take meaningful action, while balancing with the needs of consumers in a cost-of-living crisis:
“[Our recent research suggests that] 86% of consumers want to see a change around environment and purpose, compared to just 76% concerned about the cost-of-living crisis. There’s a clear need for consumers to see brands change how they approach environmental issues. There is often a perception that consumers choose price and product over purpose, but really it should not be a choice of one or the other. We need to encourage behaviour change around existing products and find relevant territory in which a brand can drive meaningful change.
However, Crook outlined the importance of making it easy for consumers. Dentsu research found that only 39% of consumers will support combatting climate change when it’s convenient to do so, so tying your campaigns back to something achievable and showcasing the benefits of behaviour change is critical.
Rob Ellison is head of brand & advertising at Smart Energy GB – a non-profit campaign that increases smart metre awareness and the benefits of smart meter use to both customers and the environment. He said: “Our campaign is at an interesting stage. Over half of homes now have smart meters. So, we’re now into a phase of targeting those people who are less keen about switching."
Convincing people to do something they're against is hard. But linking economic issues and environmental benefits creates a potent message. He added: "The cost-of-living crisis is showing up in the consumer data. If you can tie a campaign for social good into things people are really feeling, you can achieve your goals.”
Rebecca Shears, CMO at the credit app TotallyMoney, said that looking at the bigger picture had an impact: “It’s about convincing people to focus on that long-term sustainability. In finance, people are desperate for cost-of-living support."
But short versus long-term is a common marketers' dilemma, let alone a consumer concern. Shears added: "I have the tension of wanting to get our brand message out there while the commercial team just wants to sell more credit cards. [There's a] long-term brand strategy and there’s tension between how much money I can spend on brand messaging and getting the sales message out.” And this tension has an impact on advertising with purpose.
Losing the consumer trust
Crook asked the guests how the industry could get ahead of consumers by tackling its carbon footprint before it threatens the sector’s relationship with the public.
“If you use the IPA Media Carbon Calculator you’ll find that a £10,000 campaign emits less carbon than flying to Chicago and back, which is mad,” said Toby Benjamin, managing director at Merkle Media. “But sustainability questions at the pitch stage are often seen as token questions. The company putting out the RFP isn’t interrogating its agencies in the same way that it is for other parts of the brief.
“We have to raise the profile of environmental issues. And there are meaningful ways you can drive change. There are really interesting businesses, such as [third-sector online ad agency] Good-Loop, that prioritise these issues and still deliver the results for clients.”
Finding the authentic purpose
Pamela Brown, CMO at Vodafone Smart Tech, and Vicky Handley, retail marketing comms & media lead at Lloyds Banking, both talked about the importance of diversity and inclusion in marketing, moving away from the environment.
“Many British families are black,” said Handley, “but all too often, production crews use putting a black family in their ad as a tick-box exercise. Asian and southeast Asian people, on the other hand, remain under-represented. It shouldn’t be like that. We need consistent diversity across every touchpoint.”
“It’s such an important point,” replied Brown. “It’s not just about putting the right people in front of the camera. It’s about getting the right people behind it too. We have been on a big mission. All of the teams that work in my department and Vodafone more broadly have to be truly diverse.”