Now more than ever, we see “brands taking stands” – challenging both the status quo and their competitors. It’s a popular phrase, and an evolving idea in today’s social and political moment, not to mention over the past decade as corporate responsibility and sustainability has risen in prominence to the C-suite and beyond. In an upcoming webinar, we’ll be diving into the data to share what Nielsen knows about consumers’ sustainability preferences. There is far from one definition of sustainability--or one story of success--that truly encapsulates the full opportunity for existing and challenger brands.
Consumers tell us they look beyond the surface of the products they purchase to understand the brands behind them. Our research bears this out--consumers are putting their dollars where their values are, spending $128.5 billion in the U.S. in 2018 alone on sustainable fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) products. Determining whether a brand aligns with your values often means more than a cursory look at the brand’s website or a glance at their Instagram page. Consumers are looking for more in the moment when they decide whether to go through with a purchase or not.
Our research has shown that transparency wins with consumers, but the imperative for brands to take a stand requires more than simple disclosure. This isn’t just about sharing your full list of ingredients but going deeper into how you source your products--and taking steps to actively support the workers who make that supply chain possible. It’s not just sharing your company’s diversity and inclusion performance but doing more to invest in a robust talent pipeline that connects across varied communities.
For these efforts to be truly authentic, following through on these commitments outside of the spotlight is even more important than what you communicate externally. In short, it’s imperative that brands who want to take a stand build these efforts on the bedrock principles of transparency and authenticity--with real investments to support both.
"People want to associate and buy from brands that stand for more,” said a consumer we interviewed at AdWeek 2018. “It's less than what people consider corporate social responsibility in terms of programs, and more brands that have a personality and stand up for something,” remarked another. This video shows additional responses from other consumers we recently interviewed.
But how can a brand display a real personality that consumers will want to buy into?
Take Secret Deodorant's recent #IdRatherGetPaid campaign. Sure, the star-studded commercial features the product, but the content of the ad is far more than a programmatic showcase of the brand’s corporate social responsibility efforts. In fact, it doesn’t go into that level of detail at all--it’s not until you read about the efforts supporting the campaign that you realize how comprehensive Secret’s commitment is, including work with outside organizations to help women advocate for equal pay. Instead of sharing a rundown of Secret’s history of direct engagement, the ad showcases the brand’s personality by highlighting a broader social issue--and sharing useful information with consumers about that issue as well.
The piece also brings Secret’s own efforts into a sometimes-uncomfortable spotlight, as the narrator sings a line that reads as both an unfortunate social truth as well as a tongue-in-cheek joke that Secret’s in on. “I would rather make 20 more cents and get the same paycheck as gents than hear a song with a message in it that makes me feel better for three minutes.”
This approach is akin to Patagonia’s commitment to sharing its progress as a company. While Patagonia is often cited as a sustainability leader, the company website opts for transparency about their journey over accolades: “We can’t pose Patagonia as the model of a responsible company. We don’t do everything a responsible company can do, nor does anyone else we know. But we can tell you how we came to realize our environmental and social responsibilities, and then began to act on them.” Progress and authenticity win out over the illusion of perfection.
This all gets to another aspect of what consumers cite as important in all of this: core values, defined by one consumer as “what is important to [the brand], how they treat their workers, and how their product is made and created.” At the brand personality buffet, there’s no shortage of options for brands looking to showcase what they stand for.
Image credit: Procter & Gamble
Julia Wilson is Director of Global Responsibility & Sustainability at Nielsen, where she is responsible for its global environmental, social and governance (ESG) strategy, ongoing stakeholder engagement, and external reporting. She was a recipient of City & State NY’s “Responsible 100” for 2017.