This article was originally published on AdWeek.
We live in a complex world with many competing arguments for how to create a better society. Brands play an important role in forming and redefining cultural norms and values.
As Jean Kilbourne (writer, filmmaker, and activist known for her work on the image of women in advertising) said, “Ads do sell products, but they also sell a great deal more than products. They sell values, images, concepts of love and sexuality, of romance, success, popularity, and perhaps most important, of normalcy. To a very great extent, they tell us who we are and who we should be.”
Think about some of those most iconic brands of the last half century: Coca Cola, Apple, Nike. Brands have long used their marketing messaging strategies to make a cultural impact.
One of the best examples of purpose-driven marketing is Doves’ Campaign for Real Beauty that helped women appreciate their own beauty no matter their shape or size. The campaign put a critical lens up to the fashion world that glorified a kind of unrealistic beauty. Another groundbreaking campaign was Procter & Gamble’s “The Talk” for their platform My Black is Beautiful that illuminated how society unfairly treats and misdefines Black people. Both are examples of a brand taking a stance to reshape a cultural discussion.
And the buy-one-give-one model of brands like TOMS, and the trend toward eco-friendly companies that plant a tree for every purchase made, are other examples of values-driven branding.
Use media to promote values
Today, many corporations use their clout to promote values that they hold. A recent example is the companies who have pledged to assist employees with women’s healthcare if Roe v. Wade is overturned. These companies include Amazon, Bloomberg, Apple, Citigroup, Levi’s, Uber, Mastercard and many more. Other corporations have taken a pledge to become net-zero emission producers; these companies include Coca Cola and General Motors.
In light of this trend towards values-based marketing, I want to ask a new question: Why don’t marketers use their largest marketing expenditure, media, to help promote the values that they have been talking about for years, but have made little progress on?
These issues include spending on minority-owned media to help support content that targets underserved communities, as well as media companies that actively support LBGTQ+ rights or promote strategies that combat climate change.
Other issues could include supporting media companies that do not promote misinformation or disinformation, or media companies that strive to protect consumers’ data. There are many issues that could become a scorecard for how brands choose to evaluate media companies other than the traditional metrics of audience, price, data and technology solutions.
Spend media dollars with purpose
Ads can be powerful tools for reframing cultural conversations about different issues, but when brands make beautiful ads without shifting their dollars to support the values they tout in their marketing, it can confuse and frustrate consumers.
Media plays such an important role in society that brands should begin ‘values-based buying’ and hold media companies accountable for the values they promote.
Let’s say a brand creates an ad that promotes a positive message about racial equity, but that ad is aired on a media network that is actively promoting disinformation. Consumers may be left wondering: “Was the ad just a cynical marketing ploy?”
Media plays such an important role in society that brands should begin “values-based buying” and hold media companies accountable for the values they promote. If a brand truly cares about limiting the spread of misinformation/disinformation, then they should not spend their money on properties that promote it. Likewise, if a brand cares about diversity and equality, then it should use its clout to support content that has women and minorities in front of and behind the camera.
Using a brand’s media dollars to promote the values that they hold most dear is not an easy pivot when brands are fighting for market share and growth. But brands have the individual and collective power to hold media companies accountable by being mindful about where they spend their advertising dollars.
It’s an opportunity to demonstrate in actions, not just ads, what your brand actually values. And furthermore, today’s consumer will value this stance, if promoted, and reward those brands with their loyalty.
Align with values-conscious consumers
We know that Millennials and Gen Zers are very values-conscious and care about a brand’s role in society as much (and sometimes more) than the efficacy of that product.
A McKinsey Report noted, “U.S. consumer sentiment and behaviors during the coronavirus crisis (December 2021) found that 42% of millennials and Gen Z consumers cited purpose as the primary factor in changing brands. For example, they based their decision on whether a company shared their values and if employees are treated well. … A company with a clear purpose signals to both internal and external stakeholders who you are and what you stand for.”
Values-based buying can not only have a cultural impact by holding media companies accountable to socially responsible content and practices, but it can also build trust with consumers and position companies for a marketplace where Millennials and Gen Zers are the primary consumers. It’s just good business.
Consumers will remember which brands played a positive role in shaping a future where diversity is valued, wages are fair, misinformation/disinformation is in decline and our planet is safe for the coming generations.
Founded in 2005, Amobee is an advertising platform that understands how people consume content. Our goal is to optimize outcomes for advertisers and media companies, while providing a better consumer experience. Through our platform, we help customers further their audience development, optimize their cross channel performance across all TV, connected TV, and digital media, and drive new customer growth through detailed analytics and reporting. Amobee is a wholly owned subsidiary of Singtel, one of the largest communications technology companies in the world.
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