How marketing can be a force for good – with Covid-19 helping showcase brand empathy

How marketing can be a force for good – with Covid-19 helping showcase brand empathy
Daniel Winterstein is CTO and co-founder at Good-Loop.

A few weeks ago, I was all set to appear at Big Data AI World, on a panel about the impact of AI on ethical marketing and advertising. It occurred to me that the subject matter was quite niche when the broader issue – marketing for good – is immense and wide-reaching. I wondered therefore if there was any appetite for readers here to find out more about why and how I believe marketing can be a force for good.

In fact, I didn’t get around to writing until this weekend, because among other things, COVID-19 reared its ugly head and has upended daily life and business life.

One benefit of taking my merry time to put pen to paper is that there are so many examples out there, from even just the last two weeks, of brands doing their bit in the fight against Coronavirus. Just think of Coca-Cola’s Times Square ad encouraging people to social distance, and Budweiser’s redirect of its sports and entertainment spend towards NGOs. The question of whether marketers can also do good in the world might be a bit moot. Now, the public is asking – demanding even – from brands: what good can they do?

A crowd-sourced site is tracking how UK companies respond to Coronavirus – the good and the bad: (Google Sheet). It’s the corporate version of Santa’s naughty and nice list.

Positive impact

Although extraordinary in terms of their responses to an unprecedented, dreadful situation – and thus hopefully not an everyday thing – the above examples clearly show that big marketers can have a significant, and welcome positive impact in the world. Taken together, these examples and the many others, also remind us of three basic rules of the road, when it comes to purposeful communications: Authenticity, clarity and relevancy.

Corporate purpose of course is not new, and despite some deeply toxic corporations, and some awful examples of woke-washing by others, the good news is that most businesses are already adding positivity to the world in some way. Usually, a business exists because it delivers value to people, e.g. a shoe manufacturer undeniably makes a useful product – that’s a positive impact. (If you doubt it, try a day in the city without shoes.) TOMS shoes embraced that purpose, and their buy-one-give-one approach resonated with shoppers, and has seen over 95 million pairs of shoes given to people who need them.

What is newer however is the idea that advertisers can supercharge their commitment to purpose, by linking the money they ordinarily spend on buying advertising space, to ethics.

Media buying is 90% of a brand’s ad budget, amounting to around $450 million per annum globally. Imagine what good that money could it do if spent in a way that was not just neutral, but actually adds positive impact in the world?

Support brand values

Brand advertising budgets are powerful – they are the life-blood of the the free internet. They can fund mysogyny, or they can fund journalism and good content. Careless media buying can lead to your ads finding their way onto websites that e.g. promote child sex exploitation (as, sadly, the U.K. Home Office recently discovered). But you can also use your media buying to support the standards and values of your brand.

These are questions marketers should ask themselves in day-to-day practice. Online advertising has chased short-term clicks at the cost of long-term trust and brand-value. Looking at media buying – and addressing ad fraud – through an ethical lens can help to reverse that worrying decline in trust. As can starting from the position that what’s good for your customers is generally good for your business too. The average modern person is exposed to around 5000 online ads per day. No wonder adblocking is a thing – people understand that their time and attention online is valuable, and are beginning to take control of that. Platforms like Good-Loop enable everyday people to use this value for good (when you watch one of our ethical ads, we’ll donate 50% of the money it cost to run the ad to a charity, to thank you for your attention).

Ethics key for consumers

Customers are increasingly choosing brands that do more than just make a product. The brand should align with their ethics and identity. Numerous studies of millennials confirm that ethics is not a fad, but a groundswell change in the marketplace. Advertisers are therefore at the frontline of ethical business. Now of course companies should always have done good, because well, it’s good. But increasingly, your company better do good, or lose customers.

The point here is that companies don’t adopt ethical advertising because it makes them feel warm and fuzzy, but because it works. Ethical advertising consistently delivers higher engagement, better recall, significant brand uplift, and an increase in purchase intent. Plus everyone can take pride in what they’re doing.

The question is not “Can marketing be a force for good?”, but “What good will your marketing do?”

Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

Interested in hearing leading global brands discuss subjects like this in person? Find out more about Digital Marketing World Forum (#DMWF) Europe, London, North America, and Singapore.  

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2 comments on “How marketing can be a force for good – with Covid-19 helping showcase brand empathy

  1. Jess Williams on

    Right now is the time to support customers in any way we can. We are giving away free hours, doing free work and going above and beyond to support and add value, now more than ever. We also wrote a bit on COVID-19 as well if you have time to check us out: Great article and really good to see this during these difficult times.

    Take care.


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