Merging Ethics, Culture And Campaigns

Kai WrightNovember 21, 20193 min

In 2017, Pepsi had a banner year: their market share was increasing, their leadership was a model for diversity & inclusion, and they were celebrating 10 years of consistent revenue growth. Yet, in all their new-found swagger, they had a major stumble: a tone-deaf campaign from their in-house agency that attempted to jump into the speedway of culture through a Kendall Jenner spot that left the company in a tailspin of criticism that united the internet. And within 24 hours, all campaign-related advertising for the global brand was halted as their team scrambled to assess what they did wrong, how to fix it, and how to prevent it from happening again. As an educator, my goal is always to find the lesson: so, what did they do wrong and why does it matter now more than ever?

Young consumers — both millennials and Gen Z — have long pushed leaders to consider how their companies are reflecting their values to create authentic narratives, products with a purpose, and campaigns tied to causes. But, how does a brand stay “safe” when they’re trying to drive relevancy among consumers?

Over the years, many formulas have been created that attempt to harness the best practices for marketing to multicultural communities, such as Baker & Martinson’s TARES test (i.e., Truthful, Authentic, Respectful, Equitable, and Socially Responsible), the Boston Consulting Group’s “Total Societal Impact” approach that covers environmental, social and governance (ESG) effects, and triple-bottom-line (i.e., balancing people, planet, and profit).

As a combination of methods to help leaders ethically amplify the “culture” of communities, I developed a “culture-ethics” pressure test: Be earnest, empower and express empathy.

Being earnest requires finding and defining a time commitment needed to move a community forward. Ask your team, agency and partners two critical questions: How do you demonstrate you’re committed to them? What time commitment matters to the community? Earnestness means staring at a creative idea and saying, we can make this campaign, initiative, ad, or message stronger by aligning it to community expectations of sincerity.

Delivering empowerment involves creating meaningful change for the community. Two critical questions to answer are: What are the everyday barriers and struggles for this community? What would this community consider the “good life?” As a tip, engage employee resource groups internally; They’re often under-leveraged in giving the opinion of the communities they represent. Moreover, find voices of leaders in communities to amplify an invite into the conversation early…when the idea is in creative development, not just treating influencers as media buys.

Showing empathy requires developing community-specific solutions. Key questions to ask include: How does this community see the world? Who are the voices that the community trusts? To answer these questions, executives need to immerse in the “culture” of their consumers – food, music, art, fashion, and beyond. There’s no substitute for immersion – not focus groups, not man-on-the-street interviews, or any other fly-by tactic that checks the box of seeing a consumer in the wild. Through immersion, passing ethical test such as TARES becomes more achievable while ways to promote societal impact become more apparent.

Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Kai Wright, Excerpted with permission of the publisher, Wiley, from Follow The Feeling Copyright (c) 2019.

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