It is a well-known fact that change comes from a collective effort – whether in business or for a social cause, the fact is that if its big results we’re after, it takes a collective effort to achieve them. As big brands, we are powerful – and if we harness that power in the right way, and communicate a positive message to all our stakeholders, we can drive social change.
With the changing communications landscape, we are no longer bound by physical constraints to initiate that change, we can rely on a variety of touchpoints to reach out to stakeholders and communicate a collective purpose, and garner participation. Social advocacy is by no means something new; however, to take advantage of the new normal, brands can champion a cause, and drive incredible participation – at a touch of a button.
A look at the global proliferation of the internet asserts that it has profoundly changed the way that we act and interact with others. We are more mobile, we consume news in bite sized portions, and the sheer volume of content around us means that messages have to be profound to resonate with us – as consumers. Most communication today is done online, and through the use of mobile- or smart-phones.
In fact, 77 percent of the GCC population on average comprises mobile subscribers; the UAE has 99 percent smartphone subscribers, and 89 percent mobile broadband subscribers, and mobile internet adoption in MENA continues to grow rapidly; the number of mobile internet subscribers surpassed 200 million (36 percent of the population) by mid-2016, with an additional 87 million expected by 2020. These figures demonstrate that this is the space where people want to play, and as brands we have to recognize this, and make an effort to play in their space in order to drive any kind of change.
Moreover, consumers believe that it is the onus of the brand to drive social change. According to a study last year, 65 percent of overall respondents agreed that corporate entities have as much responsibility in driving social change as governments. In fact, 63 percent of Millennials were of the opinion that corporate entities had an even greater role than the government in creating a better future. According to Deloitte’s 2016 Millennial Survey, 73 percent of Millennials said that business must have a positive social impact on society.
The power of the brand lies in its impact. A brand is almost like a person – it has characteristics, colors, a tone of voice – so when a brand chooses to stand behind a cause, there is immediate resonance as the cause itself is usually consumer facing. Collective action requires that people need to be moved by the cause, and optimistic that they can, through collective action, redress the societal issue.
Today, when a brand stands behind a social cause, its power can be amplified even further afield owing to this incredible proliferation of the internet and social media that we are witnessing – and when its messaging is emotional and speaks to the consumer on an individual level – social change can happen. This is where communicating through social media becomes imperative – it is in this way that brands can derive good for society as a whole, for our consumers and for the brand itself.
Today, many brands are looking to drive social change, particularly when it comes to personal prejudice. One brand that was very successful in doing this unsuccessfully was Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner advert, which alluded to the US Black Lives Matter Movement. Not to dwell on the matter too much, what is important to note here is that the way the content was filmed and portrayed did not resonate with the majority of consumers, and, instead of driving social change, it caused the brand to pull the ad shortly after it aired. Conversely, Pepsi’s rival, Coca-Cola took a better approach to driving the particular conversation of societal prejudices through its Remove Labels This Ramadan campaign, which was extremely successful, garnering almost 19 million views on the Coca-Cola Middle East YouTube page alone. In addition to the massive engagement, the brand experienced a 51 percent surge in the purchase of Coca Cola.
When brands take on the onus of driving a social conversation and inspiring positive change, they become more than their product and corporate image – they become aspirational. Looking at the Coca Cola advertisement, the message was intended for the Middle East, but it went beyond its borders to deliver a universal message of acceptance. Utilizing the power of social media at every step enables the brand to appear on the printed or backlit page, and also climb into the hearts of consumers.
The link between content, mobility and the aspiration to drive change is potent when it comes to brand participation. At du, for example, we take a very tangible social change activity, which we then help amplify through social media. For example, our Ramadan #KindnessLivesOn campaign has already garnered over half a million views on YouTube, while our on ground volunteering initiative continued to inspire members of the community and other companies to help create happiness by packing boxes of food for the less fortunate during Ramadan. As a company we are taking a very hands-on approach to driving social change for our communities to ensure that we deliver on our brand promise of adding life to life.
We are living in an activist economy – consumers often take to social media to vent their frustrations or champion a social cause, and brands also have to have a voice in the space. It’s time for brands to take a stand when it comes to social discourse, and to do their bit for the greater good, not only because it resonates with their consumers, but because it elevates the brand to new heights, and makes good business sense.