Social Causes Marketing

Perhaps confusingly, one of the biggest adland events of the year bears approximately the same abbreviated title as the biggest film event of the year. Maybe because it appeals to adland egos, maybe everyone just likes to party in Cannes, who knows. This year, there was a minor stir over Alfonso Cuarón, who was a key speaker. You may remember Cuarón from films such as Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkhaban. Haha, we kid. We mean (also) Children of Men and this year’s Oscar bait, the long, black and white, Netflix-funded masterpiece, Roma. Cuarón was at Cannes to pick up more shiny awards, and also to talk about social causes marketing in a talk called Defining Art+Activism. Via FastCompany:

Cuarón directed a PSA to help promote a Domestic Workers Rights bill in Mexico, which was passed into legislation, and now they’re working to promote a similar bill that will be introduced by Senator Kamala Harris in the U.S. later this year. Back in 2017, Participant and Cuarón also launched a campaign called “Mexico Rises” to help reconstruction in Mexico after the devastating Puebla earthquake.

As more brands look to make social impact a part of their marketing, Cuarón had some key advice for the gathered ad industry in how to go about it the right way. “To do this in a genuine way, all you do is put yourself at the service of the (social impact) organizations you’re working with,” he said. “Not trying to tell them what to do but actually for them to lead the message. You become a platform for that organization. It has to be a genuine commitment. People nowadays, they smell everything. They smell when something’s not genuine, and then it backfires. These relationships have to come from a standpoint of honesty. It’s clear we’re in difficult times, in which people are aware of the reality in which they live. And as much as they want luxury, they also want to do the right thing.” Good direction from one of the world’s best.

That’s exactly what I wish brands who piggyback on social movements for momentum would understand. If your commitment to whatever it is isn’t genuine, it’ll often backfire in your face.

Social Causes Marketing in the Wilds

For the most recent egregious examples of social causes marketing, check out what happens during Pride Month. Every year, a bunch of brands jump on the chance to put a rainbow in their logo without having to do the work of being an actual ally.

As Fran Tirado says in their thread, there are several vacuous ways that brands engage with the LGBTQA+ community. A t-shirt doesn’t cut it, nor does vanilla messaging about how “love is love”. If you plan on monetising Pride, make sure that you at the very least:
– Have a queer nonprofit partner
– Donate a portion of the profits that isn’t a pittance to your queer nonprofit partner
– Have a diverse campaign developed by queer/trans people, for which they are paid the market rate

In other words, if you want to jump onto a movement, do it for the right reasons — and you can’t just talk the talk, you have to walk the walk.

Some Good Examples

Moving on from egregious examples to good ones, here are some ways that a brands have done the work.

One of the most well-known PSAs out there is Dumb Ways to Die, from our very own Metro Trains. The combination of a catchy song and hilarious graphics meant that the song went mega-viral, reminding everyone to be careful around trains. Train safety is of course close to the Metro’s heart, but the video’s a good example of how messaging and imagery doesn’t have to be explicitly branded in order to work for the brand:

Outdoor clothing brand Patagonia has stepped up its attempts to bring awareness and help to public lands during the current administration, including briefly blacking out its front page after Trump’s announcement that he would scale back two national monuments. The company also launched lawsuits on behalf of one of the monuments (Bear Ears) and works with conservation groups. With a nearly 30 year history of working to protect public lands, Patagonia also teamed up with Google to create a series of interactive videos:

Have a cause you want to support? Curious to learn more about how it might fit into your company strategy? Get in touch.

Feature image from Variety.

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