There is no doubt that brands are changing. And it’s not just the charity ones. I can now walk into a branch of Starbucks, buy a coffee in a recycled cup and know the brand is both helping farmers far away and employing young people in my own community, as they proudly promotes its ethics. I can shop in my local Waitrose and vote for which community project I’d like them to support by dropping a token into a box on my way out. Even my mobile phone brand, Orange, encourages me to ‘do some good’ by volunteering in my community and they’ll give me music rewards like concert tickets, in return. So corporate brands are stepping into not-for-profits’ shoes with intent beyond just the positive-spin associated with corporate-social-responsibility related PR. Seven states in the US have passed legislation to create ‘B’ (benefit) Corporations, and even more are considering it. ‘B Corporations’, like the brand Patagonia, are required to publically report their social and environmental impact alongside annual financial results. There are also UK examples of commercial brands that are building ethics into their DNA. Tom’s shoes will donate a pair of shoes to a child in poverty for every pair you buy, and Green Tomato taxis will transport you around London in the most environmentally cars around. You really know you’re onto something when two of the world’s fiercest marketing rivals and biggest advertising spenders, Procter & Gamble and Unilever, jump on the same brand wagon. They are also moving away from a ‘selling’ mind-set towards a philosophy, based on brands with a positive impact. Out goes the focus on shifting products from the shelf and in come brands that make every day a little happier, easier or more enjoyable. Brands that make our lives better… hang on a minute, isn’t that charity’s traditional brand category?
Charity brands are becoming more entertaining in their approach to engaging with their audiences and donors. I can choose to buy a single from the X-Factor finalists with the knowledge that I am helping heroes. I can watch a reality ITV talent content ‘Born to shine’ supporting Save the Children on Sunday night TV. I can visit the Albert Hall to see a concert hosted by the Teenage Cancer Trust, or head to a comedy night by Amnesty International. Just being worthy is no longer enough. This trend increasingly requires brand managers to be promoters, producers and curators. When asked what they want from a charity brand, younger supporters, and more natural social media users, are increasingly demanding the same thing: a brand that is positive, sociable and fun. UPDATE FIGURE It’s no wonder then that their favourite brands in 2010 were Comic Relief, Sport Relief and Children in Need compared to Cancer Research UK, Children in Need and Macmillan Cancer Support for donors of all ages. What stands out amongst the brands popular with younger audiences (much sought after by many charities), is not only building momentum around a single day but their reliance on broadcast media and celebrities. Help for Heroes is the other notable brand that has shot to success as a Top 5 Charity (2012 charity brand index) through a more populist media and entertainment based engagement strategy, from partnerships with The Sun, to charity singles and big pop concerts.
Social media has allowed the sharing of views and content to grow exponentially, resulting in power shifting from the brand owners who produce and disseminate content to their chatty, media-savvy consumers instead. Communications from brands, charity or otherwise, are now predominantly two-way rather than just ‘broadcast’ in nature. Recall the hype when consumers could pose questions, and actually get a personal response, from the new-age Old Spice ‘Man Your Man Could Smell Like’ hunk. Sweden was actually brave enough to hand its national Twitter account over to individual residents for a day each. Your audiences will want to interact with you as well as each other, via Facebook, Twitter or any other current social media platform. You can’t stop the debate once it’s started and you’ll aggravate people if you try. Remember the outcry when Argyll and Bute Council banned nine year old blogger Martha Payne from posting photos of her lacklustre school dinners. Social networks devour content, so to maintain interest people need to create and share content. Smart brands will understand what has social and cultural currency by listening to what’s being shared online, and then planning how to seed a campaign with the most influential and relevant authorities online. Embrace and even seed the conversations that are happening about your brand.
Think ‘experientially’. In the future people will bounce from one brand encounter to the next through each and every available touch-point. Desirable brands are so much more than just a product or service. They create an ‘experience’ that influences the head, the heart and the hand. Disney for example has always offered magical experiences, but has had to go one step further than just cuddly toys, movies and theme parks. It embraces technology, ensuring its purpose is delivered through every encounter with the brand. Their app for Cars 2 allows kids to interact with the iPad as if it were a play mat for example. Kids hold a toy car on the screen and complete races and missions. In comparison, shopping with Tesco may currently be limited to the till or a laptop, but in the future I may be able to place my order by talking to the fridge, TV or car. Coca-Cola also does more than just quench thirst. To coincide with its London 2012 advertising campaign, featuring music by Mark Ronson and Katy B, Coca-Cola commissioned an innovative and inspiring pavilion for the Olympic park (The Coca-Cola Beatbox), which also acts as a musical instrument. Visitors are able to mix and play their own versions of the Ronson produced track, thus bring the building and in turn, the brand to life. Quite a contrast from humanitarian charity MSF and their pop-up refugee camps! The more experiential your brand is, the better. Modern charity brands should also be culturally relevant, driving not just interest but active participation. Don’t just focus on the cause, but also on involvement. Don’t just ask what the donor can do for you, but what you can do for the donor, because we are now in an era of fundraising ‘with’ not fundraising ‘to’.
Charity brands often struggle to present themselves consistently, with different departments pulling the brand identity in different directions. But whilst charity brands are gradually becoming more consistent, corporate and commercial brands are becoming more fluid and flexible (within set parameters of course). Even those brands that do converge from a consistent visual ‘look and feel’ stay true to their underlying values. Google is a good example of this. The brand name on the home page is constantly changing creatively, yet is always recognisable. It’s become a more playful, interactive brand and one that responds to external events like famous birthdays or anniversaries. Arguably that’s given it more value than if it had remained rigidly consistent. The New York city brand is another good example. There’s only one New York City. But within that one city are five boroughs, approximately 191 neighborhoods, nearly a million buildings and over 8.2 million people. Each individual has his or her own New York. This kaleidoscopic quality is one of the great things about the city, and inspired the creation of an exciting and vibrant, flexible but consistent, visual identity. A singular brand with infinite options.
Linked to the point above is control, or rather letting go of it. It’s harder and harder for brand owners to hold onto their brand too tightly when often its assets can be easily accessed online. That’s why more brands are simply making them readily available. Macmillan Cancer Support has a microsite called Be.Macmillan, where people can access the elements that make up the brand, download them, use them to create what they need, when they need it. Even banking brand Lloyds provided a website where you could create your own Lloyds cartoon character in the style of their advertising (llyodstsbme.com), allowing people to ‘play’ with their brand just for fun. I recall Malibu doing a ‘colour me in’ bottle and you’ve been able to ‘brand’ your own Nike trainers to your own taste for quite some. Consumers increasingly expect to be able to adapt brand identities for themselves, so you might as well let them. There is also a move towards ‘co-creation’, where staff, volunteers and supporters have an active role in the brand identity development. An (2012) IBM survey of CEOs concluded that ‘the most successful organisations are those that co-create with customers’, and Business Week proclaimed that co-creation is currently the ‘second largest innovation trend happening behind sustainability’. Scope is a good charity example of this as its visual identity is made up of illustrations and quotes based on the hopes and aspirations of people affected by cerebral palsy. Parkinson’s UK also involved it’s audiences in its brand identity creation by photographing them holding placards with their individual messages in the unique Parkinson’s UK stencil font.
The charity market in the UK is full to bursting point, with many charities doing the same thing or something similar, all competing for support. So why don’t more of them work together? There are big united movements like Make Poverty History but collaboration between charities is not as common as you might expect. Collaboration between corporate and commercial brands on the other hand is now commonplace. Livestrong and Nike. M&S and Oxfam. Boots and Macmillan. Tesco and Race for Life. Lady GaGa – yes you did hear me correctly – is a commercial case in point. The Lady GaGa brand successfully straddles multiple industries (fashion, tech, music) and partnered with the likes of Google, Facebook, Zynga and Starbucks achieves global success. Then there are the brands that have the ability to ‘multiply’. Think of the charity/commercial brand mash-up that is RED, adopted by Apple, American Express, Gap, Converse and Emporio Armani. IncREDible. Even the London 2012 brand was intentionally designed so it could be used easily by an array of sponsoring partners. Well worth thinking about when you next review and refresh your brand identity.
Brand owners are increasingly ‘framing’ what they offer in a cultural context to achieve greater relevance and cut-through. By ‘framing’ I mean setting your offer within a context people will be familiar with. Two examples are top of mind. The first is the highly successful M&S offer ‘dine in for £10’. ‘Framing’ staying in against the cost of a meal out in a restaurant this appears more of a bargain than if not framed in such a way. The second example that springs to mind is the way road safety campaign THINK ‘framed’ its advertising into settings familiar to youth culture. One cinema advert I recall was based on MTV show Cribs. A successful teenage star was shown giving a tour of their luxurious mansion, drawing you in as a viewer, before suddenly being struck by a car out of the blue, with the caption ‘live before you die’. A second advert showed a teenage film star, living his dream in a spoof film trailer, again drawing the viewer in, before he’s suddenly knocked over and killed. Both ads stood out to me and had a memorable impact because the way they were ‘framed’ in an appropriate cultural, and unexpected, context.
In conclusion, it is no longer enough for a charity brand to just do good work, to make people feel positive for donating time or money, or even guilty for not. Consumers expect more back in return and will inevitably ask ‘what’s in it for me?’ They want brands to fit within their culture, and their interests, and for charitable giving to enhance their own brand, like Livestrong does. Whether that’s as simple as wearing a wristband to enhance their own image or taking part in an enjoyable ‘brand experience’. It doesn’t matter whether your brand is its category leader, climbing the ranks, a new entrant or trendsetter, maintaining personal and cultural relevance will make the difference to achieve success and support. So as corporate and consumer brands become more ethical, charity brands are becoming increasingly more commercial. The future of charity brands is changing and it’s exciting. I can’t wait…
1. Branding Inside Out10 current trendsIs your brand future proof?
2. 1. Commercial brands behaving more like charities
3. 1. Commercial brands behaving more like charities
4. 1. Commercial brands behaving more like charities