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Social Purpose and Brands – A Match Made in Heaven?
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Social Purpose and Brands – A Match Made in Heaven?

From an increase in revenue, to a boost in consumer loyalty, the benefits of brands supporting social issues could be game-changing.
Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything. Just do it.” – Nike ‘Dream Crazy’ campaign slogan.

In the build up to our Future of Beauty – ‘Is your brand too woke?’ event, our CEO Chris shared his views on brands and marketers publicly supporting social causes, and how he believed this has caused marketing to “forfeit its right to be represented in the boardroom.” So, is this simply a common theme appearing in the ad industry as a whole? Or, just another angry boomer annoyed that an ice cream brand wants to support Black Lives Matter? Perhaps it’s both? Well, I may not be the typical TikTok’ing member of Gen-Z, but as I balance on the bridge between this generation and the Millennials, one thing I know for sure is, we do care. And we care if brands care.

Now we all know what ‘woke-washing’ is, something that was thrust front and centre a few years back thanks to Pepsi and Kendall Jenner (just watch the dreaded advert if you don’t get my reference), and it is something that brands MUST consider and avoid when supporting social causes. Cancel culture is real, so be careful! Don’t be Pepsi. Don’t take a stand simply to gain followers or popularity – it’s not cool and very damaging.

However, when done right, taking a public stance on social issues and showing your brand’s social responsibility, can definitely offer a number of benefits, despite the claim that there is ‘no evidence to support this’. Is this really true, or simply a case of a very one-sided Google search history? Here, I’ve taken a look at some of the benefits brands could see by supporting societal issues.

Boosting your customer loyalty and support among Gen-Z and Millennials now, and for the future

Now I know off the bat, many brands will be thinking ‘well I don’t want to appeal to Gen-Z’, and, well….The Pull Agency's Imogen Farnan wrote a blog about this, and why, in fact, you just can’t ignore them anymore. Plus… that generation in 10 years, if still loyal, will be older and still purchasing from your brand. It’s a win-win.

A study by Kantar into consumer purchasing behaviour found that 46% of Millennials and 42% of Gen-Z have the highest expectations for brands to speak up about current social issues. And it comes as no surprise that only 22% of boomers had the same expectations.

The question ‘where is the consumer in all this?’ seems to continue to erupt, without actually considering the consumer…These generations want to feel comfortable about a brand when making a purchase, call them ‘woke’ if you want to, but these things matter to them. They don’t want to blindly support and buy from a brand that actively chooses to stay silent, and considering Gen-Z in particular spend £3 billion annually and make up 33% of the UK’s population… they are pretty important and you should want them to show loyalty to your brand. And, apologies for the morbid view point, but soon, these generations will be the majority of your consumers – so gain their trust now! If these things matter to them, make sure you are appealing to them in the right ways.

Increase in revenue

See, one argument for supporting social issues could be simply, to be a good brand. If, as an individual you were arguing why you support something, for example protesting against racial injustice, the answer would again be, because it’s the right thing to do. But it’s not as simple as that for brands (or boomers, apparently). You need to back it up with evidence. And one way is through revenue.

An increase in revenue and consumer loyalty go hand in hand. The Edelman Trust Barometer 2020 Study found that consumers rank brand trust as the third most important criterion when it comes to making a purchase. So by gaining trust through solidarity and openly supporting social issues, you are thereby ensuring that consumers continue to purchase from you over your competitors. So for the ‘snowflakes’ that think an ice cream brand shouldn’t support BLM… I think their net worth of $300 million and 9% increase in sales last year speaks for itself. Don’t you? Although, this may not necessarily be directly linked to supporting social causes, this does show that there has not been a decrease in revenue because of this.

A study into the ‘Strength of Purpose’ found that when a brand has a strong social purpose, consumers were 4x more likely to purchase from that brand and 4.5x more likely to recommend the brand to friends and family, subsequently leading to an increase in revenue.

Building a brand that people want to work for

Taking a stance on public issues may not always be the ‘be all and end all’ for someone to want to work for your company (*cough* unless you’re Pepsi…). However, you want people to work for your brand for more reasons other than they need a job. You want to be a company that people are proud to work for, and other companies are excited to work with.

Considering the past few years, genuinely good staff culture is a must. So positioning yourself as a brand that not only aligns your morals with what you publicly support, but also in a way that is authentic, could position yourself a lot higher as an employer vs your competitors. Your social purpose gives workers a more personal connection to their work, and that often changes how they do their job.

Authenticity vs woke-washing

One thing brands must be aware of however, is woke-washing. As I mentioned earlier, we all wince when we remember that terrible Pepsi advert which implied that a simple can of the drink, passed to someone by a famous supermodel, would facilitate ‘peace on Earth’… its nuts, I know. This is a huge example of a brand not supporting a cause that relates to either their company values, or those of their consumers. So don’t do this, be better. Consumers see straight through it. Make sure what you’re showing support for is imbedded in your core brand values and behaviour, and never make the story about you. Make it for your consumers. If they can resonate with what you’re supporting, it will earn your brand their trust.

Now that I’ve taken a look at some of the benefits of the social purpose bandwagon, here are some brands that are absolutely and authentically acing it.

Johnson & Johnson


Sustainability in the health and beauty industry has not just become a buzzword in recent years, but an integral part of every process for brands, and considering 54% of consumers see sustainability as a key factor when buying beauty, hair & skincare products, it is not something brands can ignore.

From packaging recycling stations, to waterless product formulas, many health and beauty brands are acing sustainability efforts at the moment, but one brand that is pioneering this is Johnson & Johnson. They have set numerous goals surrounding pandemics & epidemics, global health equity, the planet, and many more, in order to contribute to the 11 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

They have pledged to source 100% of their electricity needs from renewable sources by 2025 and achieve carbon neutrality in its operations by 2030, and are offering endless recycling tips, videos and how-to’s on their own recycling site, in order to make sustainability more accessible to their consumers.

Now, it is somewhat inevitable for a health and beauty brand to be considering sustainability, but to the extent that Johnson & Johnson have, is what plants them on the map as pioneers without woke or green washing their consumers. As the world’s largest healthcare company, they have made it their mission to support not just sustainability towards a better future for the planet, but also creating a diverse and inclusive workplace, and working with their partners to control & eliminate infectious diseases.

With a 13.6% uplift in revenue last year, it is apparent that their extensive sustainability efforts not only continue to position them as market leaders, but could also lead to higher increases.



In 2018, Nike partnered with former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, to release an advert titled ‘Dream Crazy’, with the slogan “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything. Just do it.” – which was met with much criticism. But why?

In 2016 Kaepernick made headlines for repeatedly taking a knee during pre-game national anthems, as a protest against racial injustice in the States, and shockingly, a lot of people had an issue with this. So when Nike released the ‘Dream Crazy’ advert, the likes of Donald Trump seemed to impart many negative comments… I was going to say ‘who listens to him anyway’, but apparently…still a lot of people.

So, what was the benefit to Nike for doing this? After all, as Michael Jordan is famously reputed to have said “Republicans buy sneakers too”.

Nike saw a 31% surge in sales after the Kaepernick ad went live, implying that the messaging behind it resonated well with their consumers and meant a lot to them to see such a huge and influential brand supporting an issue like this rather than staying silent. Now, your first thought will probably be “but that surge would eventually flatten out” – and yes, it did. But what came in the aftermath of the spike in revenue was genuine and powerful consumer loyalty. They have a very good understanding of their consumers, what they want to see, and what they agree with A decade or two ago, brands relied on in-person focus groups, but now social media allows brands to monitor customers minute by minute, "Nike has such a strong sense of who their consumers are."

I’ll say it again, if a consumer resonates well with what you are supporting publicly, you are increasing the chances of earning their trust over the long term, and that’s exactly what Nike did.

Ben & Jerry’s


Now I’ve hinted at the beloved ice cream pair a few times in this blog, so it felt only right to give them their own section (and because I am a serial Ben & Jerry’s eater).

Founded in 1978 by two hippies from Vermont, the brand has provided more than just the dozens of delicious flavours that we know and love - they have also continuously showed public support towards climate change, marriage equality, the ending of segregation in schools, finding refugees safe homes and a host of other causes. And a lot of you may ask – as our MD did - why is an ice cream brand supporting these issues and do their consumers even care?

In 2015, they introduced their ‘Save Our Swirled’ flavour, which aimed to get the word out about the urgency of addressing climate change and to inspire their fans to take action. Ben & Jerry claim this flavour is a real superhero of theirs, as after launching, it inspired over 300,000 fans to join the global climate movement and make their voices heard! So that doesn’t sound like a loss of consumer loyalty or revenue to me…

In 2017, they partnered with the International Rescue Committee to launch ‘Home Sweet Honeycomb’, to call on their fans to support a historic piece of legislation that would resettle refugees safely into Europe. And surprise surprise what happened? Their fans drove over 30,000 emails to MPs across Europe urging them to support the legislation, and over 100,000 supportive actions globally.

I’ve touched on quite a lot in this blog, but again, I must circle back to the consumer and their thoughts. What really matters most to each generation? All will be revealed when we present our Future of Beauty – ‘Is your brand too woke?’ research findings next month, which will delve into social purpose, and how consumers want brands to repsond when it comes to social responsibility. You can find out more information here:

Posted 25 February 2022 by Liv Povey