Marketing in an age of social change: 5 of the best cause-related campaigns

Times are changing. So much so, it sometimes feels like we’re hurtling into an unknown future on a tide of discontent. In our new digital age, the 24-hour news age, the social media age – where our collective voice reverberates around ever-expanding social networks – this discontent is made public rapidly and resoundingly.

This cloud of anger is in part symptomatic of unprecedented challenges, hopeful struggles and widely changing attitudes. The facts seem to suggest that we’re more aware and subsequently more invested in the issues facing society today. Take climate change, for instance – most of us are aware of Greta Thunberg and her tireless activism, which has likely played a significant role in recent poll findings showing that 85% of adults are now concerned about climate change. This is a notable shift from 2013 when just 60% were concerned and as many as 34% were not concerned at all.

With the corporate and political worlds becoming ever more entwined, consumers are becoming more aware of social issues and more demanding of brands. As Mintel’s British Lifestyles: A New Understanding of Corporate Ethics report sums up:

“The consumer understanding of corporate behaviour has become far more nuanced in recent years, and brands are being held to a higher standard than ever.”

Increasingly, brands are being expected to demonstrate their ethical credentials and to show that they’re actively contributing to positive outcomes in society. Lights are being cast more frequently on the businesses causing damage in the shadows.

With this clamour for transparency, the corporate world is expected to adhere to the principles of a newly informed generation, who are engaged with a range of pressing social issues, from women’s rights and equality to racism and climate change.

This shouldn’t be about brands reluctantly being backed into a corner and forced to become ‘woke’, however. Half-hearted bandwagon-jumping will be met with fierce reproach, as is the new norm in the social world. Just look at the ferocious online reaction to Gillette’s ‘The best men can be’ campaign, which attempted to challenge toxic masculinity, but fell short of the mark by most accounts.

Authenticity is key. Brands have an opportunity to effect change and to strongly align with this new generation of socially aware citizens, but they must avoid cynically exploiting social issues.

There are debates as to whether corporate brands can truly advocate for social causes given their profit motives, but there’s plenty of evidence to suggest positive conversations and the mainstreaming of social issues can arise from marketing campaigns.

With all of this in mind, here are some recent campaigns that we believe strike a good balance…

SportEngland – Fit Got Real

Citing fear of judgement, lacking confidence and not having enough time as some of the pressures stopping women from being as active as they should be, SportEngland launched the This Girl Can campaign in 2015. With 40% of women aged 16 and over not active enough to get the full health benefits of sport and physical activity, the long-running campaign aims to address this with an encouraging, inclusive message. Its third phase, Fit Got Real, intends to build on previous successes by “specifically reaching out to women of all backgrounds and ethnicities who feel left behind by traditional exercise.”

SportEngland – This Girl Can

Iceland – Rang-tan

One of the biggest advertising stories in the run up to last year’s Christmas celebrations was Iceland’s festive TV advert, which was pulled after being deemed to have breeched political rules. The discount supermarket chain had struck a deal with Greenpeace to appropriate a short film highlighting rainforest destruction and the endangering of orangutans at the hands of palm oil producers.

Earlier in the year, Iceland had pledged to remove palm oil from all of their own-brand foods and despite the ad being pulled from TV, it went viral online, receiving over 65 million views. This prompted a petition signed by over one million people to overturn the ad ban, which gained celebrity endorsement from the likes of Stephen Fry and James Corden along the way.

Iceland – Rang-tan

Greggs – Vegan sausage roll

The Economist recently branded 2019 ‘the year of the vegan’ and this shift in millennial food habits has become so ingrained in the zeitgeist that famously meat-dominated high street food chains and fast food restaurants (see Burger King and KFC) are amongst the latest to crash the meat-free party. Whilst some of these vegan introductions have the distinct whiff of jumping on the bandwagon, one of the UK’s favourites, Greggs, have come out on top in the socially savvy stakes.

In typically 2019 fashion, it all started with a tweet. Professional contrarian and often furious tweeter, Piers Morgan, sent the Greggs’ vegan sausage roll campaign spinning into overdrive earlier this year – after Greggs launched their first vegan offering in conjunction with Veganuary, Piers promptly tweeted, “nobody was waiting for a vegan bloody sausage, you PC-ravaged clowns” to which Greggs pithily responded, moments later, “Oh hello Piers, we’ve been expecting you.”

Millions of video views, widespread national discourse, huge queues at stores and soaring share prices followed. Such was the vegan sausage roll’s success, Greggs are now working on vegan versions of all their bestselling products.

Greggs – The Vegan Sausage Roll

Nike – Just Do it

In 2016, American NFL player, Colin Kaepernick, became well known around the globe for kneeling during pre-match US national anthems. This was in protest against police brutality and racism in the USA and hundreds of players joined the movement in subsequent games.

In 2018, Kaepernick became the face of a campaign marking the 30th anniversary of the Nike ‘Just Do It’ motto, alongside the quote “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.”

Nike – Just Do It

Late last year, Nike in the UK also responded to Raheem Sterling speaking out against racism in the media and in sport by featuring a similar ad along with the quote, “Speaking up doesn’t always make life easier. But easy never changed anything.” The Manchester City and England footballer had previously criticised MailOnline for racial bias in their reporting.

Wading into these highly controversial political situations may have been a risk for the brand and whilst people will argue that Nike are simply a corporation using political issues for profitable gains, it’s important they stood up in such high-profile circumstances and helped to propel these issues into the mainstream.

Adidas – She Breaks Barriers

With women making up 40% of all sports participants, but only receiving just 4% of all sports media coverage, Adidas launched the global She Breaks Barriers campaign. Importantly, their objective is to create tangible change. Speaking to Glamour, Senior vice president of global purpose at Adidas, Nicole Vollebregt, says, “We believe that through sports, we have the power to change lives. For us, it’s about providing better access, removing gender stereotypes, and creating visibility.”

Adidas – She Breaks Barriers

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