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How drinks brands can build 'social purpose'

Mariella Menato and drinks design specialist Denomination looks at how brands can build social purpose into their operations and marketing

Mariella Menato Denomination

The concept of brand purpose is by no means a new one. Yet this year, wiht the backdrop of growing political protest, catastrophic bushfires, devastating flooding, plagues of locusts and the crippling global Covid-19 pandemic, brand purpose has becoome somewhat of a buzzword again, because it has taken on a new and greater meaning.

More accurately, it has been given a greater context, when defined as social purpose: a definition that asks brands to look more critically at their reasons for being, determining not only their benefit in consumers' lives and occasions, but their impact and benefit to society as a whole.

It's a big ask, and also a big leap for many brands and businesses. If executed poorly it appears inauthentic and tokenistic - remember the disastrous 2017 Pepsi campaign, which was seen by many as trivialising the Black Lives Matter movement? It inspired such a backlash that the ad was pulled within 24 hours of launch and is still being touted as a textbook example of 'what not to do'.

Given the risks and the upfront investment in either time, money, or both, why should we still seriously consider social purpose as an important aspect of a brand's world? Because in an incredibly competitive and saturated market, it can be the distinctive aspect of a brand that invites the most loyal consumer engagement and the most loyal employee engagement. And if you can engineer a  circular production system, it could also lead to greater business efficiencies and net profits.

To understand consumer engagement, we must look at the factors driving the phenomenon. It starts with trust, one of the most integral aspects of any human interaction. The latest Edelman Trust Barometer indicates that oour trust in institutions and corporations, as consumers and citizens, is at a historic low around the world. In the context of this 'trust vacuum', consumers are increasingly seeking out brands that they recognise as bridging a gap in society between where we are and where we ought to be. It's one reason why Brewdog's Barnard Castle Eye Test beer was such a success - it highlighted the apparent double standards of government and turned it into a way to support the NHS.

These brands and new product developments provide consumers with a win-win scenario. They get to enjoy the product (great taste, great price, great craftsmanship, beautiful packaging) and feel better knowing they are supporting a brand that makes a positive impact on the world. Offering consumers an invitation to be a part of something greater than themselves is incredibly powerful, as demonstrated in the latest Nike campaign 'You can't stop us'. 


So how do we apply this to the drinks industry? The most important ingredient of any brand's delivery on social purpose is that actions speak louder than words. Therefore, you need both authenticity and consistency. If it feels opportunistic, it will be dismissed as such. For this reason, drinks brands often deliver social purpose through their sustainability commitments in safeguarding the environment. Even so, consumer-facing messaging focuses predominantly on packaging sustainability (low-weight glass, aluminium, or paper-based packaging). While this is important and necessary, it doesn't always equate to a soocial purpose story - especially if it's seen as something that we as an industry should be doing anyway. 

The reality is that there are opportunities ripe for the picking, given the fantastic work being done on a corporate level. Shareholders of Treasury Wine Estates, Pernod Ricard and Diageo, to name a few, will receive annual reports filled with sustainability targets met: achievements that haven't yet been translated to individual brand behaviour and consumer-facing comms. 

Real success is found when you weave a purpose-led thread all the way through your brand's story, from production to product, personnel, brand behaviour and packaging. A perfect example of this in the wine category is Tread Softly: a range crafted to have a lower impact on the environment and the body, with careful land and water management at the production end, and a lower alcohol content in the product. Its environmental values were reinforced not only in the packaging format, but also in the launch campaign, which saw a tree planted for every case sold.

Importantly, social purpose is not confined to environmental sustainability (although it is a dominant theme). It relates to anything contributing to the achievement of the United Nations sustainable development goals (of which there are 17). They include no poverty, zero hunger, good health and wellbeing, and gender equality. Absolut has always stood at the forefront of the drinks industry in championing many of these endeavours, but it is actually a brand that is built on those values.

To deliver values-led social purpose is a big undertaking, even for new-to-market brands. For an existing brand that hasn't been built with social purpose in its DNA, it can very easily fall into the 'too hard' basket. In such instances, the solution is collaboration and teamwork. With Corona selling itself as the brand 'from where you'd rather be', a collaboration in aid of protecting those tropical sandy beaches makes complete sense. This approach has the added benefit. of authenticity by association and ensure legitimacy of the endeavour from the outset.

Despite the economic downturn, porpose-led initiatives are more prevalent and popular than ever, proving that when done well, doing good pays off.

[Pictured is the Hughie can designed by Demonination. Profits from units sold go to help regenerate land in Australia destroyed by wildfires.]





23 October 2020