James Thompson
May 18, 2015

Purpose-driven branding is critical

In a consumer-savvy world, why shouldn’t brands be expected to behave with ever higher standards?

James Thompson
James Thompson

The last few years have seen a sensibility shift in terms of how brands relate to doing good. Urging consumers to take personal responsibility to avoid potential category negatives (think of ‘Drive carefully’, ‘Drink responsibly’ and ‘Seek independent financial advice’) has been normal practice for over a decade but now it is becoming increasingly common to find brands proactively championing issues that result in social benefit.

Dove’s mission to promote self-esteem in women is well known; Coca-Cola and Johnnie Walker less famously support the UN initiative Peace One Day. There is a clear trend for luxury brands to be doing the same thing: Tod’s is heavily involved in restoring Rome’s Colosseum and Gucci’s ‘Chime for change’ programme promotes education, health and justice for women.

Few people criticise brands like this for being cynical. Thomas Kosler has coined the term ‘goodvertising’, meaning “the belief that doing good for people and planet is also good for brand and bottom line”. A Nielsen study in 2014 found that consumers worldwide, but especially in Asia-Pacific, were prepared to pay more for goods and services provided by companies who “do good”. 

Millennial consumers have been labelled as more ‘civic-minded’ than their predecessors, and this zeitgeist has been sharpened by the sheer depth of the global recession and the accompanying shift in trust relationships with many institutions.

In a consumer-savvy world, why shouldn’t brands be expected to behave with ever higher standards? And as standards get higher, so will the stakes — getting this wrong could be very costly in terms of trust and reputation. 

James Thompson is global managing director of Diageo Reserve (Diageo’s luxury portfolio). Follow or Tweet him @JamesThompson1.

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