'Brands shouldn't focus on their products' - Cicero & Bernay director

Campaigns should also tap into social issues, says Sarah Longbottom, the PR group's director of strategy and planning.

A recent Deloitte survey revealed what has been growing increasingly clearer, namely that millennials and Gen Zs will support and utilise companies that align with their values.

Younger generations are actively supporting businesses that make a positive impact on society. Even more interestingly, many will not hesitate to reduce or end a consumer relationship when they disagree with a company’s business practices, values or political learnings.

According to Sarah Longbottom, Cicero & Bernay's director of strategy and planning, in an age when millennials now make up the largest part of the workforce and will soon also become the biggest consumer group in many countries around the world, brands that demonstrate an understanding of the younger generation’s mentality are more likely to make that all-important connection with their audience.

"More major brands are turning to campaigns that focus not on their actual products, but on social issues, from gender empowerment and equality to sustainability and the environment," said Longbottom. "No wonder, when 84% of millennials are saying that making a positive difference in the world is more important than professional recognition."

But, she said, it’s not enough just to look as if a brand is supporting a cause.

"Transparency and authenticity are key. Millennials need to believe the brand is genuine and not just chasing the numbers. It’s easy to fact-check every claim, story and presentation of products and services in front of us. By being transparent, a brand can engage their audience with the story of the journey and allow them to become part of that process."

With several awards already in the bag at Cannes Lions 2019, Nike’s mobilising campaign ‘Dream Crazy’, featuring ex-NFL footballer, Colin Kaepernick, is an outstanding example of a brand tapping into social issues, says Longbottom.

"The campaign paints a picture of those who have suffered discrimination in sport as heroes, with Kaepernick urging us to push the boundaries even further. His question at the end of the film addresses Nike’s customers directly: ‘So don’t ask if your dreams are crazy, ask if they’re crazy enough’.

"The use of Nike’s branding is extremely subtle throughout the film and there is no mention of any of its products. This is an inspirational campaign where Nike uses its weight as a respected global brand to talk about an issue that affects millions of people around the world."

This confident approach exemplifies Nike’s authenticity as a brand that has a history of talking about discrimination in its marketing and working alongside athletes, says Longbottom.

"It is obvious that Nike has an innate understanding of what social issues will resonate with its hugely loyal customer base and is not afraid to push boundaries."

Another campaign that focused on a social issue rather than a product is #LikeAGirl, says Longbottom.

"Proctor & Gamble’s Always brand launched its #LikeAGirl campaign back in 2014, but it’s still relevant today.

"Results from Always following the launch revealed that 94% of those surveyed agree #LikeAGirl has encouraged girls to be more confident and 70% believe young girls are now more confident playing sports," Longbottom says.

"Stats like these show how such a campaign can cause a demonstrable shift in consumer behaviour."

Longbottom says brands that put social issues at the heart of their PR and marketing are seeing the bigger picture - and the results speak for themselves.

"Millennials are labelled as caring more about making a positive impact on society than baby boomers and other generations, but campaigns that appeal to emotions cross generational boundaries and can affect everyone if the emotion hits home."

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