How to Master Socially Conscious Advertising … by Not Advertising at All

Most brand marketers know they should be socially conscious. Of course. The most effective way these folks can do their job is by remaining conscious of their customers’ needs, wants and values. But therein lies the problem. This “socially conscious” aim traditionally remains in service to convincing people to spend money on products. Basic Marketing 101.

In reality, if you want to transform customers into brand evangelists, marketers should sell the ethos of their brand … not their product. You want your audience to “buy” into the heart and soul of your legacy and values. Only then will the same people support your long-term business.

In short, what if mastering socially conscious advertising meant not advertising your product? At all.

Brands must brush up on the reasons for their very existence, and elevate how they view the function of advertising—to sincerely connect with audiences and incentivize them to support their mission. The first goal out the door should not be tied to profit margin.

I have this conversation time and again with executives across a variety of industries. This inspired me to create a high-level roadmap they can use to craft purpose-driven campaigns:

Do the work.

For marketers with no experience in impact, a foundational component is sincerity. When embarking on a brand-sponsored impact storytelling, sincerity is only possible after you’ve dedicated time and energy to bridge your company’s legacy/values ​​with a social issue. Before crafting a purpose-driven campaign, ask: Do we have the right to participate in this conversation? Could the past/present reality of our brand get in the way of our desired goal?

To do the work, enlist external experts with a background in social impact. Ideally, they’ll audit your company’s policies, speak with team members and customers, and deduce how your product or service positively/negatively impacts the world. Now, this exploration may result in a recommendation to make internal changes before embarking on the campaign. But have no fear! Now you get to create change where it matters most: inside your company. You can always move forward with an external campaign, but only when you’ve earned the right to talk about it.

Stop selling products. Enrich lives.

Nobody cares about your KPIs. Most folks are bombarded by adspeak 24/7 and have the tools to see right through the puffs of smoke from Don Draper’s Luckies. Instead of pushing manipulative tactics to turn over SKUs, what if you could detach from the dated construct of commercial content existing to drive sales?

Before you blame me of being too woo-woo, remember we’re at the conclusion (hopefully) of a global pandemic. We’re all yearning to connect and feel something deeply human and true. If you want to create purpose-driven stories that resonate with people from all walks of life, show them you understand this reality and want to add value to their lives without seeing them as a dollar sign. Human beings long for regenerative relationships rooted in understanding, growth and compassion. Why can’t this exist between brands and customers?

Over the past few years, marketers have embodied versions of this approach, with some even forgoing logo or product placement in their brand-sponsored storytelling. In 2017, Matthew A. Cherry’s “Hair Love” Kickstarter raised nearly $300,000 for a film boosting body confidence and celebrating the relationship between Black fathers and daughters. While Dove helped finance the Oscar-winning short, there was no Dove branding in the film. Unilever made sure Cherry’s culture change took place. They even co-founded the CROWN Coalition, pledging $5 million from Dove towards advancing hair discrimination legislation nationwide.


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