Brand Stand: Show Us Your Mission
For our second Visual Trend of 2019, we’re looking at a big shift in the relationship between consumers and brands — these days, a stellar product or service is not enough to inspire customer loyalty. More and more, people spend with their values in mind, and brands need to take a stand.
For brands with a history of bold messaging, a Brand Stand can mean sparking controversy about social issues (Nike, we’re looking at you). But a successful stand doesn’t need to be controversial. The best issue-forward campaigns extend a brand’s existing message, and that can mean focusing on values most of us share. Compelling Brand Stands tackle everything from the benefits of dads bonding with their kids, to the ways we can protect our natural resources.
So how does the Brand Stand trend translate into the visual world? It’s all about choosing images that communicate a company’s commitments — whether they focus on eco-friendly practices, social justice, diversity, or another cause that resonates.
Over the course of the last year at Adobe Stock we’ve seen queries for “recycling” grow by 53 percent, “sustainability” was up 50 percent, and “social responsibility” increased by 43 percent. The most effective visuals connect a brand to the beliefs that move its customers. For a glimpse of the kinds of issue-forward images that are on the rise right now, check out our gallery of Brand Stand-inspired Adobe Stock and contributors with a mission like the Ocean Agency and TONL.
Consumers vote with their dollars
Just how widespread is the Brand Stand trend? A recent study from Edelman found that 64 percent of consumers around the world, across age groups and income levels, make buying decisions based on a company’s social or political stance.
The study also found that buyers were just as likely to plan a purchase after reading a message about a brand’s social or ethical commitments as they were if they viewed a message about the product itself. And when a company took a stand, respondents said they were more likely to advocate for that brand.
These numbers show that Brand Stand has grown from niche to mainstream interest. One of the driving factors is social media. Consumers feel empowered to express their points of view, and it’s easier than ever for them to follow — and comment on — brands’ ethics. They’re using their loyalties to build the world they want to live in. When they shop, they’re voting for change.
Brands show ’em what they’re made of (and how)
When it comes to taking a stand, one strategy is to offer transparency about how products are made. Organic foods, a large and still-growing market, are one of the most notable examples. Sustainable apparel is on the rise, too. In a recent survey, nearly 25 percent of US adults said they’ve purchased sustainable apparel, and a third said they would be willing to pay more for sustainably produced clothing.
Another of consumers’ top apparel concerns is fair wages and rights for workers. So it’s no wonder that major clothing brands are taking human rights seriously. Levi’s, for example, works with its suppliers to implement programs to help workers with financial, health, and family needs.
In a clever approach to transparency, Fogo Island Shop, makers of furniture and other home goods, created an Economic Nutrition Label. Modeled on the Nutrition Facts you find on your groceries, Fogo’s version tells consumers where the money from their purchase goes and how it benefits the community.
Take a stand right where you are
Impactful Brand Stands happen when companies understand which messaging fits their business and their brand. Consider Toyota’s eco-friendly billboards for the Mirai fuel cell car — the ads are wrapped in a smog-absorbing material that cleanses the air of pollutants. Or Patagonia’s donation of its $10 million tax-cut to environmental causes. Madewell promotes sustainable swimwear made from recycled bottles and Adidas touts shoes built from ocean plastics. Even Pampers is taking a stand, warming our hearts with their funny, cuddly “Love the Change” ad that celebrates fathers taking an active role in child rearing — including changing diapers!
These Brand Stands are successful, not for stirring things up, but because they tap into the brands’ purpose and elevate causes everyone can get behind.
Some brands walk a little closer to controversy by baking activism in from the beginning — and the best ones have build lots of customer loyalty along the way. For example, Ben & Jerry’s has proven its commitments over the years with transparent donations to the causes they support and specialty flavors that raise awareness. Save Our Swirled flavor moved 300,000 people to petition for environmental causes in 2015 and in 2017, Home Sweet Honeycomb encouraged ice cream lovers to support legislation to help resettle refugees in Europe.
Video source: Jarrod / Adobe Stock.
Likewise, Tom’s has had a social mission from the start, donating shoes to those in need. So last year, when the company promised a donation of $5 million to help end gun violence and allowed visitors to send postcards to Congress directly from the Tom’s website, consumers knew right away that the company was committed. 58,000 people sent pro-gun-control postcards in the first 12 hours.
Of course, some of the most talked-about Brand Stand campaigns come with a dose of controversy. When Nike created its Colin Kaepernick campaign, they sparked plenty of conversation — some of it adoring and some not so much — but the brand also saw a surge in value. The campaign was a perfect match for a bold company (their tagline is “Just do it,” after all). This year’s follow-up, the equally powerful “Dream Crazier” ad, features Serena Williams calling out gendered double-standards in sports. The ad launched during the Oscars and went viral in a flash.
When Gillette jumped into the #MeToo moment with its “The Best Men Can Be” campaign, they took a risk, but it was the kind of Brand Stand that sparks a cultural conversation. While consumer responses were mixed, the campaign had a clear, compelling connection to the brand. As Gillette explained, “…as a company that encourages men to be their best, we have a responsibility to make sure we are promoting positive, attainable, inclusive, and healthy versions of what it means to be a man.” They’ve followed through with plans to donate to organizations helping young men find role models, and the brand’s sales have stayed strong.
While a Brand Stand can succeed by speaking to our shared values or by pushing the envelope, there is a cautionary note. The strategy doesn’t work if it’s just a marketing campaign. Consumers care about corporate commitments because they want their spending to equal real change — anything that falls short falls flat. Remember when Pepsi tried to tap into anti-police-brutality protests with their Kendall Jenner ad? Consumers saw through it in a heartbeat. One analysis found that, on the last day the ad ran, 77 percent of digital content with the words “tone deaf” mentioned Jenner and Pepsi.
The takeaway for brands and designers
If you’re looking to create content that resonates with consumers who spend with their values in mind, here’s a few important things to consider:
- A successful Brand Stand campaign doesn’t need to be controversial. Educate your stakeholders by sharing different examples of how brands have successfully tackled the issues they care about without controversy.
- Identify a clear, familiar message that is authentic to your brand’s DNA to build your campaign around.
- Keep this key message top of mind when selecting high-impact visual assets to ensure they authentically communicate where your company stands. Dynamic visual content has the power to communicate your brand’s purpose and capture attention, whether it be eco-friendly practices, social justice or diversity and more.
- A successful Brand Stand campaign means understanding what is on-brand for your company, and using that knowledge throughout your entire creative process.
With a growing sense that our individual buying choices have political power, consumers care more than ever about companies’ social and environmental commitments. Brands can seize the moment with images that represent local concerns and global issues in authentic, urgent, hopeful ways.