Brands warned about risks of aligning with social causes

Brands need to understand their audiences before aligning with a social cause, warned Eleven PR and TBWA Sydney’s creative director Russ Tucker at yesterday’s CommsCon.

“You really need to know your consumer before you jump into it. Brands that have been burnt – where it has gone wrong – it’s because they haven’t road tested it on their audience or they haven’t had enough conversations with different parts of their business, I’m talking about outside of the marketing, CMO bubble, it’s actually people on the ground,” he said. 

Tucker and Millikin speaking at yesterday’s CommsCon in Sydney

Tucker, who presented with Eleven PR’s general manager Fiona Millikin, told an audience at Mumbrella’s CommsCon that brands need to assess their risks before engaging in anything polarising.

“It’s looking at that risk versus reward and taking a calculated risk whether or not it should be a space to play in.

“Where you should really look at this as well, is every brand needs a place for when things go wrong and when you start looking at crisis comms and how to react in an emergency, that’s just as important,” he added.

One of the agency’s clients, ANZ, has aligned itself with the concept of equality for a number of years. It has mainly done this through a number of activations and campaigns in the lead up to the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras and the Auckland Pride Parade.

One of ANZ’s initiatives in support of equality, GayNZ

For the last four years the company has rolled out activations such as the GayTMs, GayNZ and connected wristbands. But despite being a partner of the  have still been “polarising”, with the GayTMs vandalised in New Zealand in 2015. Millikin said ANZ only takes the risks it does because equality is a “true brand belief”.

“ANZ were willing to take that risk as a brand because they so strongly believed in equality and marriage equality in particular that they didn’t mind if there was backlash on social,” she added.

Earlier on in the session, Millikin said the way to get it right came down to three things, right brand values, right fit and a believable cause. Her agency has worked on a number of other social-aligned brand campaigns, including Skyy Vodka and Absolut’s equality initiative.

The Absolut and Sky Vodka campaign

“The most important thing to think about is the brand. What’s the brand’s heritage, where is the beliefs in the brand, where’s the values, and really importantly what our audience’s belief in values.”

But should all brands be getting on board social causes and is there a risk is not doing so?

According to Tucker, people may trust a brand less if it now doesn’t show an opinion.

“It’s almost a bit like when brands didn’t have a social media presence, you kind of just don’t trust them as much. We live in a world which is driven by transparency and trust these days and I feel like there might be certain brands out there that will not have a public opinion and that as a strategy might work for them but it’s hard to say whether that’s right or wrong. It totally depends on brand itself and what that brand stands for.

“If I put my consumer hat on, I trust the brand less if they don’t have an opinion or they don’t seem to be transparent with me as to where their values lie.”


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