Advertisers wield a lot of power. Using television, radio, billboards, social media, spokespeople, and more they can reach audiences of billions, with the goal of strengthening brands, helping society, and maybe even winning an award or two. And despite good intentions, advertisers are often painted as the bad guys, criticized for convincing people to buy things they don’t need.
It takes basic logical thinking to create a strategy for, say, a food brand by researching trends and market insights on consumer’s eating attitudes and behaviors. But where real, purposeful change comes through advertising is when a seemingly unconnected issue can be thoughtfully aligned with a brand through a story.
Anheuser-Busch’s 2017 Budweiser Super Bowl spot, called “Born the Hard Way,” has received critical acclaim from marketers and consumers alike by telling the story of German immigrant and co-founder Adolphus Busch. The ad was artfully executed and well-received in a fragmented political and social landscape. This spot is one of several ads that contain the three key elements of a formula that can provide great strategic insight to inspire a brand toward social impact.
So here’s the secret sauce.
Your brand needs to want to make waves. This is important, because a lot of brands want advertising that is consistent and creative without stepping too far outside of what they’ve typically done. A brand that is ready to make a social impact needs to be ready to embrace risk and failure (and have the strength to overcome both).
You need to identify a cause, issue, or group to bring awareness to. When selecting this, think of both the brand and your own capabilities. While thinking outside the box is encouraged here, you also want to make sure a logical connection can still be created and the execution of that connection to your brand is within your means.
You need to craft a story. Pairing a social statistic and a consumer brand won’t stick without an emotional connection between them. This is where the great advertisements stand out from the good. Your team must be able to weave a brand and a social issue together in a way that doesn’t seem self-serving or mismatched.
This formula for creating truly impactful advertising work requires three very hard-to-get elements. Some brands will never have the courage to take the risk. Some social causes need help in a way advertising can’t deliver. And very few agencies can correctly execute the type of story these social issues demand. But in the rare case these three elements come together, impact ripples throughout the world.
Brands benefit from implementing this type of advertising because it shows their willingness to go beyond selling and use their positioning in the public eye to do something that betters the world.
Creatives and their agencies can benefit from implementing this formula by receiving international recognition for award-winning work. Each year in Cannes, France, thousands of ads are evaluated by a panel of judges and the few great ones are awarded Cannes Lions, an award most creatives consider to be the pinnacle of advertising awards. A select few are considered for the most coveted award of Cannes – the Titanium Lion, which has long recognized work that is “provocative, boundary-busting, and envy-inspiring.” However, this year’s winners, which included worldwide sensations Fearless Girl and the flag of the Refugee Nation, seemed to rise above the rest not just for the sake of being different and shattering expectations, but for the act of empowering social change.
By going beyond the shock factor and creating positive change for a cause, the community and the world also benefit. Brands that use this formula to bring awareness and demand action for a social cause create a unique bond with consumers because they bring a humanitarian element to an otherwise business-minded world. They make themselves human, and this process of shared values creates the most steadfast connection between brand and consumer – trust.
It’s important that we as advertisers remember the possibilities that come with the platform we work with every day. We need to work harder and smarter to develop work that generates energy and action, rather than sympathy and stagnancy. For many of these social causes, we are the only voice they have. Here are some of the recent brands to speak up and make waves.