Our thoughts on the purpose-led economy
Managing Director, Matter Unlimited
The Best a Brand Can Be?
A rare and treasured moment happened last week. It wasn't the "super blood wolf moon", although it was as fantastical as the name suggests. It was the kind of phenomena where people who don't work in advertising, actually want to talk about advertising (much to the delight of opinion-ready advertising professionals).
Not just advertising in general.
Gillette’s ad ‘The Best Men Can Be’.
By taking a critical and introspective look at their role in culture Gillette have decided to use their voice and media dollars to start a conversation about toxic masculinity.
With two thirds of the world’s consumers buying on beliefs*, there’s increasing pressure on brands to take a meaningful stance on polarizing issues. Beyond being the ‘right thing to do’ (which has proven in business to not always be enough), C-suites are seeing the opportunity to win consumer loyalty, bolster reputation and build a lasting legacy that can impact their bottom line and the world at large. The path to purpose is no longer the road less travelled.
The question for brands has changed from “Why should we do this?” to “How do we do it well?”
Well, glad you asked.
Don’t be a moral authority, be a catalyst for change.
The moral high ground is under a powerful public microscope. Once you take a stand you are inviting people to question why you’re allowed to take it and how you live up to it. Few businesses can weather a critical evaluation across the entirety of their operations because a perfect track record is rare. Gillette’s parent company (P&G), received immediate criticism for discouraging sexism in their ad while continuing to charge more for women’s razors. This shouldn’t prevent them from communicating their timely (and arguably overdue) point of view, but it does show the real need for a brand to communicate how they are changing themselves if they are going to ask the same of their customers.
Brands need to have the courage be honest with themselves and the world on the role they can play when it comes to social causes.
They can help amplify a values-driven message, change consumer behavior, provide data, and rally allies and industries to take action. But becoming the “expert” takes many years of commitment, evidence and progress. One meaningful ad does not suddenly transform you into a purposeful brand.
Bring credible partners with you on the journey.
Rallying experience around you is important. There’s a world of activists, scientists, community organizers, foundations and nonprofits who are doing the real grassroots grunt work on the issue your brand cares about. They can and should be your partners from the very beginning. They will help inform your message, your business practices and the actions you can take. They will also lend you the necessary credibility which will help scale your ambitions faster and more responsibly.
Given Gillette’s new message, a great example is Alexis Jones who is helping redefine manhood one locker room at a time with her organization Protect Her. Having partners like this to advise, program or implement really starts to build the systematic change required to move the meter and make tangible impact.
Recognize your power is in the doing, not the telling.
The path to purpose is a sensitive one and the approach needs to unify an entire business, not just be championed by a marketing department. While helpful, it is simply not enough to just do the “telling”.
If the eleven brands that recently pledged at Davos to recycle all packaging by 2025 had instead created consumer awareness campaigns that gave their customers helpful hints for recycling, they would have been met with millions of eye-rolls. Now they have earned their place to be a future voice in the new plastics economy.
Gillette can be applauded for committing 1 million dollars every year for the next three years to organizations who are helping boys and men “achieve their personal best”. It is a donation that managed well can make real and lasting impact, but action can extend beyond traditional philanthropy. And real action is rarely easy or convenient.
Set brand AND impact metrics
Patience is a necessary virtue when it comes to these efforts. Short term data can tell an ROI story, but the long term qualitative and quantitative outcomes are equally important to measure. Setting real KPIs for your social mission will help evaluate effort, investment and partnerships. The reporting of these results make for great storytelling opportunities and set up celebratory brand milestones where success can be shared. Over the next three years it will be exciting to see how Gillette chooses to report and track their progress.
These simple yet fundamental principles are so easily and often overlooked. But when mastered, can help guide brand bravery no matter what issue or cause your brand chooses to champion.