It started with Kendall Jenner

This measly BLT isn’t going to solve discrimination against the LGBTQ community – it’s not real. But do you remember the Pepsi ad, when Kendall Jenner solved racial inequality around the world with a single can of Pepsi?

Then there was the often-maligned filet-o-fish from McDonalds, which proved to be the only link between a troubled young boy and his recently deceased father. And we can’t forget Heineken, who bought worlds together; left and right, anti and pro, transgender and transphobic, to settle their differences and share a beer. More specifically, a Heineken.

Now we have Oasis.

But Why?

The cause-based approach has arrived, taken flight, and peaked, and now other brands are ready to take aim and shoot it down. The first missile coming in the form of a double-ended bottle and a brutal campaign line, from Oasis.

But is cause-based marketing really a bad thing? Should brands take a stand on social and societal issues? Or should they concentrate on what advertising used to be about, selling products and services?

There is always going to be an element of scepticism when a brand comments on social and societal issues. Brands represent businesses and businesses usually have one aim. To make money. Everyone knows this – including your customers. These suspicions will always remain. It’s a fact of life.

It’s the job of the brand and its marketing campaign to convince the viewer that this isn’t simply about profiting off the back of a cause. Unfortunately, this is something which the majority of brands have done terribly… But not all of them.

In 2017, Skittles removed the rainbow from their packaging to show support for Pride Month, after explaining that “this Pride, only one rainbow deserves to be the centre of attention – yours”. And although there was some criticism around white skittles being perceived as racist, the campaign was widely celebrated.

And we will have all seen the #LikeAGirl campaign from Always.

So how did these campaigns get it right when others have got it so, so wrong? Here are the four considerations we think are important when taking a cause-based approach.

Honesty.

The most obvious and arguably most important, as it’s the element that is most often called into question by customers. In order to run a successful cause-based ad campaign it’s important that you’re actually doing it for the right reasons.

Sounds obvious but it’s not always the case. Starbucks recently came under fire for its lofty brand purpose (to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighbourhood at a time) which is completely undermined by the company’s apparent refusal to pay its taxes (although brand purpose is potentially another subject altogether, the theory holds true).

Relevance.

This isn’t a mandatory requirement like ‘honesty’, but I feel that when a cause is relevant to a brand or a brand’s target audience, it makes the campaign far stronger. Relevancy gives the brand a reason to be there, a reason to say something. If that cause has a negative effect on the brand’s target audience then its intervention can really help to make a difference. A lack of relevance can often make it look like the brand is just clinging to the cause for the benefit of their bottom line.

The recent ‘Is it ok for guys…’ campaign from Lynx which focused on the pressure that young men face to ‘be a man’ is a great example of a brand focusing on a cause which is massively relevant to them and their target audience. This also potentially acts as an acknowledgement that they were part of problem a few years ago.

Humility.

One of the big problems I have with both the Pepsi and McDonald’s campaigns mentioned before is their distinct lack of humility. The saviour in both of these campaigns is the brand itself. McDonald’s provides the only link between the boy and his deceased father, while Pepsi believe that the racial tensions in America could be solved by a single can of, you guessed it, Pepsi. Not only does this lack any sort of class but it also trivialises and undermines the issues in question.

Brands need to think about the role they play within the cause they are addressing, and unless they are making a significant difference, then they should really consider whether they’re helping the situation at all. Which leads me on nicely to the final consideration…

Action.

It’s all good and well talking about these causes, but if you’re not going to put your money where your mouth is then how are you helping? Simply raising awareness of an issue isn’t enough. We were all well aware of the racial tensions in America before Kendall Jenner got involved.

Brands need to take action and make a difference. This is why I have the upmost respect for the Skittles and Always campaigns. Skittles donated 2p from every pack to LGBT charities, whilst Always runs a puberty education programme and donated feminine hygiene products to girls in UK schools in an attempt to end period poverty.

And those initiatives from Skittles and Always, amongst the many other brands who have backed up words with actions, are the reasons why I believe cause-based marketing has a place when it’s done properly and with the right intentions.

Brands have an incredible amount of power, influence and resource. They have the potential to make a difference, to help create positive changes. So, should they use this power, influence and resource to tackle social and societal issues? Absolutely.

And this isn’t just about saving the world. We all know advertising isn’t solely about selling products and services, as I previously stated. It’s about creating emotional connections between brands and customers; moving people, changing behaviour, the art of persuasion. And a cause-based approach allows brands to create stronger, more meaningful, longer term relationships with customers – well beyond the powers of any special offer or celeb endorsement.

The issue here is that we’ve often focused on the brands that get it wrong. The execution, rather than the thought and thinking that sits behind it. Some brands do abuse this, there’s no doubt it. But let’s not discredit an entire movement because of a few opportunists and the misguided. Let’s instead focus on and celebrate those brands who take a stand against social and societal issues and make a difference. Bravo!