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The days when a brand’s main responsibility of selling products and generating profits are over. According to a brand study published by Edelman, nearly two-thirds of consumers around the world today are belief-driven buyers who place principle over product within their purchasing habits. Now more than ever, customers, especially younger generations, are turning to brands that stand for and invest in social causes they care about and believe in. However, does this mean jumping on every or any social cause is the right strategy to adopt?
Take the month of October, also known as Pinktober, as the perfect example. Given that October is internationally celebrated as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we are prone to seeing brands and organizations run campaigns to raise awareness about the life-threatening disease, while also generating funds for charitable initiatives relating to the cause. From fashion and beauty, to food and beverage, the landscape turns pink for the month as a large number of brands step up to support the cause. However, is turning pink or running pink-washed promotions enough -or even appropriate- if it doesn’t truly support the cause?
It is true that, if done right, championing a social cause can create a strong impact on communities. But, if done wrong, a potential backlash can be foreseen, and a brand’s image is at risk. As public relations (PR) professionals, while we aim to keep clients and brands happy, we must, as consultants, also sensitively navigate briefs and strategies that not only deliver optimum results, but are also relevant and thoughtful. Here’s how:
1. Assess before you jump This isn’t just limited to championing social causes, but also jumping on the bandwagon and capitalizing on trends without taking a step back to assess. When strategizing for any campaign, a set of questions must be asked to properly outline objectives and conceptualize tactics. Does this campaign or activation aid the cause we want to support, and how? While most causes need increased brand awareness, the majority require brands to support the bottomline through donations, research, medical support, and more to actually make a concrete difference. So, before you decide to launch a capsule collection, or host a beautiful event, take a step back, and question whether or not what you’re doing adds integral value to the cause.
2. Put yourself in other people’s shoes To put it more professionally, understand your audience’s insights, and seek to forge a positive emotional connection with your consumers. All campaigns linked to social causes are built on emotion and trust between the brand and its customers, and so, one needs to be more diligent, and make the effort to speak to people directly impacted by the cause, and listen to what they have to say. So, whether you’re proactively looking for campaign ideas for brands you represent, or answering a client brief, prepare yourself to answer critical questions such as: who are the people we’re looking to address in this campaign? Are they being positively impacted by it? What might be their response to this? Where are they seeking the most support? What are the things they are most sensitive about? The list goes on.
The Bread Exam/Khabazte? campaign launched as a partnership between the American Univeristy of Beirut Medical Center (AUBMC), Spinneys Lebanon, and the Lebanese Breast Cancer Foundation is one that answers all these questions, navigates cultural sensitivities sensibly, ignites emotional connections, and addresses a cause that I, as the daughter of a breast cancer survivor, am personally passionate about. Based on strong audience insights as well as adequate market and cultural research, the impactful campaign did not only raise awareness of a critical cause, but also included a direct and science-backed call to action across multiple virtual and on-ground platforms.
3. Remember the core of what you do If there’s one critical thing we at Atteline pride ourselves on, it would be the fact that we are extensions of the brands we represent. We act as advisors, protecting our brands, and navigating any potential hurdles that might impact their reputation- even if this sometimes means pushing back on briefs brought to the table. Remind yourself and your team members that brands hire you for your expertise, and that they need to trust that you’re able to make rational decisions when it comes to sensitive situations.
Additionally, don’t be afraid to include your team, as well as individuals from outside your organization, in your thought processes for such initiatives. This helps you gain fresh perspectives to build your plan accordingly. Don’t be afraid to move away from your current set of audiences because, while your audience may be niche, the cause you’re looking to adopt isn’t. As PR professionals and brand consultants, any conversations we have around social causes should ideally start with “What are we doing to help?” and “Does this align with our brand value?” If the conversation doesn’t answer any of these questions, then it is best to stop right there, and rethink.