Through much of the last century, advertising obligated people to pay attention to what brands have to say. A handful of television, radio or newspaper channels left the public with no choice but to consume the message that was being communicated. In short, attention was easy to capture, and consumers were powerless to the will of big business.
In the 21st century, we face an entirely new reality — thanks to the internet and the near universal use of social media and digital devices. Nowadays, consumers are confronted with an infinite number of choices; turning attention into one of the most valuable commodities. This is why some of the world’s biggest brands are struggling to connect with people in a meaningful way, in spite of spending billions on advertising.
The power has shifted from brands to the people.
Today, online advertising is getting in the way of what people actually want to do with their lives; whether it’s reading an article, watching a documentary or surfing the web. As a consequence, ad-blocking is becoming the new normal. More than 12 million people are blocking adverts in the U.K alone. Unsurprisingly, the highest rate is amongst 16-24-year olds. It doesn’t take a genius to realise that this behaviour is only going to rise with the emergence of a digitally native generation that expects to control every aspect of their online experience.
Like most things in life, this is obvious to the man or woman on the streets, but news to the marketing department. As someone who works in advertising myself: I have experienced at first-hand the amount of time, effort and resources that goes into crafting an advertising campaign. Only for it to be summarily executed at a swipe of a button by one of my friends. Young people’s distaste for adverts also helps to explain the meteoric rise of subscription-based services like Netflix, Spotify and Twitch. These platforms act as a safe house from the constant barrage of adverts.
Young people are engaging with brands that share their values and beliefs
Instead, young people are choosing to engage with the brands that share their values and beliefs. In fact, 64 percent of consumers around the world now buy on belief. At the same time, one in two will choose, switch or boycott a brand based on its stand on a societal issue. The consumers of today are more informed and empowered than ever before. They have all the tools at their disposal to control the relationship they want to have with brands. In this new age of Information, it’s no longer enough to communicate a message, in the hope that it will resonate. To remain relevant, brands need to talk less and do more for people and planet.
The brands that have a purpose beyond profit will not only survive but thrive in this new age of conscious consumerism. Research carried out by Havas shows that meaningful brands have outperformed the stock market by 206 percent over the last 10 years. Enlightened brands recognize this reality and are transforming their entire modus operandi to meet young consumers changing expectation.
You only have to look at Adidas’s pledge to use 100 percent recycled plastic by 2024, Unilever’s mission to Improve health and well-being for more than 1 billion people and Ikea’s ambition of becoming climate positive by 2030. The results are also clear to see: Adidas sold 1 million shoes made of ocean plastic last year, Unilever’s sustainable brands are growing 50 percent faster than the rest of business and Ikea has seen sustainable product sales grow to a cool $1.9 billion.
Related: IKEA’s Secret To Success
What it all means.
Historically, the role of a brand has been to simplify people’s increasingly busy lives. Today, that’s no longer enough. Young people expect brands to go beyond selling products, services or increasing profit for shareholders. They expect them to stand up for something, to improve lives and to play an active role in tackling global poverty, inequality, and climate change.
Doing good is not only the right thing to do but also a commercial imperative. For brands, this requires a move away from Corporate Social Responsibility — since under such initiatives, doing good is often separated from the core function of the business. In its place, brands need to make their products and services in a way which benefits people, planet and profit by taking responsibility for the overall value chain.
The brands that manage to adapt to this new reality will end up being richly rewarded with a natural place in popular culture, a deeper connection with consumers, business growth and longevity.