Brands can’t have it both ways. If they want to be prominent in our lives, to evoke warm feelings, to attract our money, they need to make a real and positive contribution to society. And in a world full of burning issues, from Black Lives Matter to climate change, there are plenty of opportunities for them to shift their weight to where it can make a difference.
Making it more complicated for them, and rightly so, is the fact that the old staples of greenwashing and meaningless expressions of support - as skewered by YouTube video game critic Chris Franklin - don’t make it past today’s switched-on consumers. In 2018, 57% of UK consumers were defined by Edelman’s Earned Brand study as belief-driven buyers, who routinely avoid and boycott brands based on the stand that company takes on social issues [source: Edelman 2018]. That number had risen by 50% in a year, and it is presumably still rising.
Plenty of brands, of course, do walk it like they talk it. A client of ours, family-owned German company Johann Spielmann GmbH, makers of the Landpark organic water and fruit drinks, uses water that has taken up to 600 years to filter through 100 metres of rock. They take the ‘organic’ side of what they do extremely seriously, and are certified by an independent control institute as one of very few mineral waters in Germany that is authorised to describe itself as ‘Bio-Mineralwasser’.
Meanwhile, another Appetite client, the Swedish packaging giant Tetra Pak, is one of only 2% of companies who reported to global environmental charity CDP in 2019 to receive an A score for climate action. In June 2020, the company made a detailed commitment to net zero carbon emissions across its operations in ten years, and net zero emissions across the value chain by 2050.
Brands don’t go to those lengths just to look good, but in a world where these things matter, it is important to let consumers know that you’ve done the hard work. So in both these cases, we’ve experimented with ways to allow them to communicate and educate.
Tetra Pak wanted a fun quiz to test users’ knowledge about recycling and Tetra Pak's environmental impact. Through a mobile app accessed through a QR code on the packaging, players could see trees growing when they answered questions correctly. With perseverance, they could grow a forest.
We have created mobile platforms that host several games and quizzes and played out the story of the product through enjoyable experiences - again focused on sustainability and myth-busting. The tone was an easy-going fusion of education and gamification, with additional lead generation for the client, and prizes, free samples and discount codes for consumers.
Some brands play out their principles on a large canvas. Amid the Black Lives Matter riots, Lego didn’t simply do the anti-racist tweet - they used it to pledge $4m to organisations supporting black children and racial equality. Ben and Jerry’s took a similarly thought-out approach with a four-point plan to attack white supremacy.
But not every brand is required to grab the headlines. We think all brands should decide what they do care about and really care about it. Then they should communicate it with their consumers and do their best to spread the message.
This is a well-informed world, and it is a turbulent one. Consumers see through weaselly box-ticking and hollow virtue-signalling; they want brands to do something genuinely good. Exactly what to do, and how to do it, is what brands need to start thinking hard about. Talk to us and we’ll do our best to help.