How Winning Brands Demonstrate Social Purpose

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The concept of CSR is something that has been around for many years, but where it’s been seen as simply green-washing its impact has been limited.  Social purpose needs to be clearly aligned to the businesses core values and functions to be truly successful.

Studies have suggested that those business that have a clearly articulated social purpose can increase their profitability as a result.  For example, a recent report by Unilever showed that their sustainable living brands are growing 50% faster than the rest of the business.

Over the five years of the Brand Footprint report, which measures which FMCG brands are chosen around the world, we have seen clear evidence of brands with a strong social purpose being chosen more often.

Changing Perceptions

One form of highly impactful social purpose has been around removing stereotypes and stigmas.  Using the platform which they have through advertising investment, brands have successfully elevated social issues and reframed perceptions.

One brand which has consistently grown every year in the Brand Footprint ranking is Dove.  Through their Campaign for Real Beauty, which has been running for more than 10 years, the brand has sought to empower women by redefining beauty.  Dove is the top recruiting brand, adding the most ‘new purchasers’, in this year’s report.

P&G has a clearly articulated purpose around gender equality which is expressed across their whole portfolio.  Ariel, the sixth biggest Homecare brand in the ranking, originally created their Share the Load campaign in India to encourage men to take on their share of the housework. Cited by Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg as one of the most powerful videos she had ever seen, it uncovered a universal truth and went viral in 22 countries and 16 languages.

The Always Like Girl campaign sought to change the conversation around stereotypes, resulting in many awards and more than 60 million YouTube views.

Saving Lives

It might seem an overstatement to say that brands alone can change lives, but in some of the poorest parts of the world lacking basic sanitation, they really can.

With Lifebuoy, the third most chosen brand globally, Unilever is aiming is to change the hygiene behaviour of one billion consumers across Asia, Africa and Latin America. Lifebuoy has executed educational campaigns, such as World Handwashing Day, and local initiatives supported by NGOs to spread awareness about hygiene among children.   Their app-based flood warning system in Indonesia aimed to help with advice to prevent the spread of germs in times of crisis. The Lifebuoy Handwashing Behaviour Change Programme has involved developing products to suit new usage occasions, such as the colour-changing handwash indicating when germs have been killed.

Dettol is the fastest rising brand in the Brand Footprint ranking.  As part of Reckitt Beckniser’s purpose to improve health and hygiene in people’s everyday lives, the brand has supported a number of religious festivals in India.  Along with Harpic, they partnered on the religious festival Kumbh Mela last year.  Attended by 50 million people, it is the world’s biggest gathering.  A gathering on this scale puts significant pressure on facilities and can present a hygiene risk.  Dettol and Harpic educated attendees as well as giving practical support by providing sanitiser and maintaining toilets.

One long-standing campaign that over the past decade has successfully surpassed cultural barriers and achieved mass impact across the world is Pampers’ partnership with UNICEF. Since 2006, 300 million tetanus vaccines have been donated through the initiative. Its success lies in the simple, yet lifesaving, message of One Pack: One Vaccine.

Purpose is not just for Multinationals

Some of the most successful FMCG businesses coming out of what have been referred to as the BRIC economies have social purpose baked into their very core.

Patanjali is an Indian brand founded in 2006 with a mission to create a healthier society.  Their products cover everything from food to homecare.  They have doubled their penetration in the last year alone to reach 44% of households in urban India – fast becoming a legitimate competitor to multinational giants.

Latin American beauty brand Natura originated in Brazil with a strong belief in improving both society and the environment.  The brand is now available in seven countries across the region.  With its purchase of The Body Shop earlier this year it will be interesting to see whether this accelerates their growth to become a global leader.

When a brand makes a consumer feel something they carry it with them. They might tell family members about an ad that made them laugh, or a friend about a humanitarian issue brought to life through a brand. Where is done well, in a genuine way that is meaningful and memorable, it is quite clearly a strategy which can add value all round.

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