Watch Flamingo's panel on harnessing the power of culture for social good
As brands increasingly prioritise making a positive difference in the world, how can we help them join the dots and leverage their cultural traction for social good?
How can companies ensure they are exploiting the full power of their brands to create positive social change at scale, not just flash in the pan Corporate Social Responsibility?
And how can not-for-profits increase engagement by building brands with genuine cultural traction?
These were just some of the questions on the agenda at Flamingo’s special panel hosted in association with the APG (Account Planning Group) on Thursday July 7. We were privileged to have four speakers with a breadth and depth of experience in leveraging the power of culture for social good: Victoria Brooks, Director of Strategic Partnerships at The Comms Lab; Tom Porter, Director of Arts for the British Council in Sub Saharan Africa; Matt Godfrey, who manages Girl Effect’s media products and brands in Africa; and Sarah McDonald, Director of Sustainable Business at Unilever.
Watch the full-video from the event below or on our YouTube Channel
The panel took us through lots of inspiring examples – from their work and beyond – of culture leveraged for social good. We swooned over Tom’s photos from Lake of Stars festival in Malawi; we were inspired by Dove’s rewriting of beauty culture in India; and we were reminded once again of the power of Girl Effect’s media brands. Ni Nyampinga is the widest circulating magazine in Rwanda, and continues to go from strength to strength. But amongst these diverse experiences and points of view, two themes stood out: authenticity and action.
We’ve spoken a lot (on this blog and elsewhere) about the importance of authenticity in a brand's social purpose. Social purpose needs to start with what makes sense for the brand. This was reiterated by Sarah based on her experience helping Unilever personal care brands define and develop their social missions. There are so many issues in the world, but which is the one on which your brand can credibly take action?
But what also became clear is the overwhelming importance of authenticity when engaging through culture in the not-for-profit sector too. Girl Effect’s media products are all created by girls in that geography, and Matt emphasized just how crucial it is to incorporate cultural nuance. He illuminated this with an example: when producing the Ethiopian Yegna radio drama, stock UK sound library footage of footsteps sounded wrong to Ethiopian listeners – the gait was different, and it jarred. A reminder that authenticity can rest on the smallest of details.
Tom also underlined the importance of using research in his work with the British Council to ensure the content they create is truly connecting with the young audience it’s made for. Lots of head nodding from us at Flamingo immersing ourselves in consumer culture and avoiding pre-set assumptions is a crucial principle of our work, in social purpose and beyond.
What also emerged from the event was a real emphasis on action. For many brands and marketers, the social purpose space can feel an intimidating and potentially even paralyzing one: how to truly make a difference; how to overcome assumed consumer cynicism?
Sarah spoke about the help she gives to Unilever brands as they embark on taking the step towards becoming a Sustainable Living Brand: defining their space, substance and story in a way that is credible for the brand and resonates with consumers. In fact, the need for authenticity is a brand marketer’s friend: once you start thinking about what your brand can do credibly, you’re liberated from taking on all the potential problems in the world!
She showed us Axe’s brilliant ‘Find Your Magic’ campaign, which advocates for more nuanced understandings of masculinity. Axe might have felt hamstrung by their legacy of one-dimensional ‘use our product, get the girl’ communications of the past. But no – they’ve taken a clear step on the journey towards a much more culturally resonant, attitude-shifting positioning, in a way that works for the brand.
Victoria from The Comms Lab took the stage with a rallying cry to the advertising industry based on her belief that marketers can affect positive change – and in a number of ways. Hers was truly a plea for action – whether it’s through challenging stereotypes, championing issues or changing habits. She showed us Paddy Power’s Rainbow Laces campaign. Her point: you don’t need to be working for an NGO, or even a traditionally “socially purposeful”, brand to start taking action on the world’s most pressing issues.
Encouraging this commitment to action, the panel talked about the receptiveness of the mainstream media to stories of brands activating social purpose – highlighting the PR Ben and Jerry’s have received off the back of their political campaigns. Of course, this coverage wouldn’t be possible without consumer appetite for socially purposeful brands – with Sarah reminding us that Unilever’s Sustainable Living Brands are growing 30 per cent faster than the rest of the business.
The event finished with some lively debate and some provocative questions: all the way from how to convince sceptical clients about the commercial benefits of social purpose, to how to re-brand the UK’s National Health Service in a culturally resonant way! What’s clear is that these are questions for all sorts of organisations.
Five tips for harnessing the power of culture for social good
1) Start with what’s authentic for your brand. There are so many issues in the world; but which is the one on which your brand has credibility to act?
2) Listen to your audience. This is particularly vital when working in cultures that aren’t your own. Don’t assume what people like, think and care about; do research to find out what really makes them tick.
3) Don’t forget the details. Cultural authenticity can rest on the smallest of details. Think hard about which aspects of culture you’re using in your communications and how to bring these to life authentically.
4) Keep it simple. Commit to the issue that you’re championing, and clarify your objectives. Are you innovating, challenging stereotypes, championing issues or changing habits? Or all of the above?
5) Consider all your touchpoints. Communicating a social purpose single-mindedly across touchpoints can really help it land with consumers. Think creatively about the media channels you can access. Shoe laces and even washing labels can be (and indeed have been) used as platforms for a social good campaign.
For further information on our event, or to understand how Flamingo can help your organisation harness the power of culture for social good, please email our dedicated Social Purpose team here.
- Article by Jessica Enoch