Strategic Marketing

The New Enlightenment: What Experts Are Doing About Branding

Health conscious advertisement made by Nike, picture of escalator being block by a 'crime-scene type' tape that has the Nike tick on it, and the stairs on the right as the only accessible option so that they ... Just Do It!

How Being Socially Aware/Active Could Improve Your Branding: 

Marketers, companies and customers the world over will acknowledge that times and attitudes are changing. How we view the world is different now, our concern for our present and our future is more prevalent than ever before.

In April 2015, GFK conducted a survey which found that out of 28,000 consumers, 63% said they only buy products and services that appeal to their beliefs, values and ideas. Whereas beforehand brands attracted custom by recognition and the perception of a guaranteed experience, one’s ethics have become the most important factor determining consumer decisions. Perhaps the recent recession created a buyer’s market, but purchasing based on a conscious choice is certainly a stepping stone on to the path of enlightenment.

Infographic explaining the benefits of starting a social enterprise

What is enlightenment? It is defined by Immanuel Kant as the emergence from one’s own self-imposed nonage, in other terms it’s to have and to be confident in one’s own knowledge without another’s guidance.

What does this mean for businesses and consumers? For businesses and their brands they need to make sure they are on a positive path and their marketing reflects that. The language and imagery must always be honest in advertising, but today more than ever, they must resonate characteristics such as truth, integrity and transparency from the very core of their corporate culture. For consumers, it is their responsibility with today’s opportunities, to demand change. From the ingredients listed on the back, to news stories and online reports, it is much easier today to discover the effects purchasing decisions have on the wider world. Understanding this, is a move towards enlightenment.

BBC World: See both sides of the story billboard advertisement.
BBC World: See both sides of the story billboard advertisement.

A recent example would be the decline in meat sales such as beef and pork. Media articles condemned the products to having links to various cancers after reports by the World Health Organization. The sale of processed meat was later hit hard, there were reported to have been many factors contributing towards this. One cannot refute the power of social media and the rapid distribution of such information. Following the 2015 horse meat scandal, many more people are concerned with what they eat and are making educated and informed choices. Coinciding with these events can be a significant increase in vegetarianism and ‘flexitarianism’ (a new trend to reducing meat consumption with non-meat alternatives). Due to the decline in meat-eating, over 400 million fewer animals were slaughtered for the food chain.

Infographic with stats on water consumption of plant and animal agriculture compared.

In this case, whether it is health considerations, animal welfare or other reasons, an industry is at the whim of consumer choices, consumers that read information and make conscious decisions. Thus, the more enlightened people become, the more such industries will decline. On a personal note, on a recent visit to a wholesale store, I chose not to buy anything at all when I discovered the retailer had a water tank for the sale of live crabs and lobsters. I made an enlightened decision based on my values through non-purchase. This is of-course a single and personal example, but what’s not to say many more act in the same way for similar principles? Such decisions can, and indeed already are changing the commercial landscape.

Developments in the consumer landscape include Fair Trade, non-animal tested, Rainforest Alliance approved, organic, non-GMO, gluten-free, lactose-free, free of preservatives, etc. Some of these alternatives have been in existence for years, but they’re increasing in demand, proving that consumers don’t just want change, they demand it. Today’s consumers have access to information at the press of a button, and are more than happy to share with the world. Also with the development of micro technology, fly on the wall style exposés are abundant on platforms such as Youtube, offering alternative perspectives to mainstream media. Bearing this in mind, while there is nothing wrong with marketing ‘gloss’, using it to cover a darker truth will not bare well with consumers who will not tolerate deceit. Their reactions will likely be social media campaigns against a brand, or further still, non-purchase or both.

An example of an enlightened brand would be supermarket chain Aldi-Sud. They made the decision to prohibit the use of neonicotinoids on any of their fresh produce across Europe. These chemicals have been proven to kill bees, a hard-working life form essential for all life, that are constantly under threat by controversial biotech firm, Monsanto. Whether it is a reactive move by Aldi or indeed a proactive choice, it is a real step in the right direction.

Aldi-Sud bans bee toxic pesticides in produce production

So, enlightenment, what does it mean to businesses and brands? There is a consensus that today’s Millennial audience are brand loyal and that brands make a contribution towards their lives. Yes, brands have perceived characteristics that some identify with. However, recent findings discovered that only 7% of Millennials believed that brands positively contributed towards their lives. Despite the trends and hash-tags thrown around on a daily basis, today’s educated consumers are not so much concerned with how popular a brand is, but more the contribution they make to their own lives and that of the wider world. Those that show support to a cause to life thrive with success. Recent examples include Kenco’s Coffee Vs Gangs campaign, helping the youth of poorer South American communities stay clear of gangs and violence, and the Guinness Made of More series depicting the life struggles of international rugby players. These brands show qualities of enlightenment, not by simply reaching out to their audience with an emotional message, but for making life connections and acknowledging that life can indeed be challenging. These are the times and situations which people relate to, or emphasise with. This is the key to success behind these brands.

Image of Kenco Coffee vs Gang initiative

Those who relate to these powerful messages feel they and the brand are making a positive contribution to the world. However, like all steps of progress, the idea of enlightenment has attracted its fair share of bandwagon jumpers. There has been no end of taglines and gimmicks to cast an image of a more ‘human’ and ‘wiser’ side to brands, all of which could be regarded as insulting and/or inappropriate. Recently Car Rentals released Glen The Guru, tying in spiritual awakening and enlightenment into a good choice of renting a hire car. Casino brand 32Red Casino brought out the tedious Good to Wow and sinking further, Go Ahead’s cringe-worthy ‘snack enlightenment’. There are countless examples of these advertising atrocities, even taking the forms of posts and tweets, but all have the same undesired effect. The examples put forward are the productions of marketeers, perhaps exploiting a new understanding or applying poor taste of humour. One thing for certain is such ad campaigns are comparatively short-lived.

Cup of CoffeeAnother pitfall to avoid is the image of insincerity, from the unwillingness to change and apprehension towards transparency. Sometimes, bad moves can simply be mistakes, but when a brand is in the public eye, sometimes these are more difficult to recover from. Coffee giant Starbucks got criticized for its 2015 Race For Life campaign, promoting openness about racial issues. It was deemed opportunistic. Though one could appreciate an attempt to tackle inequality, their recent issues in Saudi Arabia for not serving women oozed hypocrisy. On the matter of sexism, online auction site Ebay got criticized for payment differences between male and female sellers. Remember the statistic how 63% of customers buy according to their ethics. These same people would happily take their money elsewhere.

Graphic representation of the gender pay gap by Bloomberg
Source: Bloomberg

In conclusion, what do we know of enlightenment? It is self-evident that it is a two-way process. Both the consumer has the responsibility to demand positive change and brands have the obligation to supply those changes and where possible to innovate ways for a more positive way of being for the collective. For a business, one must understand that enlightenment transcends beyond the eco, social and services promises. It is more than a quick campaign to help reduce a carbon footprint or save lives in the developing world. While these are all positive steps, true enlightenment is a ceaseless process, it is demanding and requires genuine empathy. Like a spiritual accomplishment, one must experience or witness unpleasantries to reach a new understanding. As some say, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

To sum up enlightenment and the future of brands perfectly are the words of Mahatma Ghandi; Be the change you wish to see in the world.

Writer: Charlotte Mills

Editor: Derin Cag

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About the author

Charlotte Marie Le Hardy

Charlotte Marie Le Hardy

Managing Director of Witch (Creative Brand Consultancy) & Lecturer at Suffolk New College.