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Marketing and Comms
Simple, Actionable and Cool:
A How-to Guide for Appealing to Our Most Socially Savvy Consumers Yet

Engaging and winning loyalty from consumers has always been the Holy Grail for brands. And with a growing contingent of socially conscious — and socially connected — shoppers expressing a growing preference for responsibly made products from authentically values-driven companies, winning and maintaining that loyalty has become a whole new ballgame.

Engaging and winning loyalty from consumers has always been the Holy Grail for brands. And with a growing contingent of socially conscious — and socially connected — shoppers expressing a growing preference for responsibly made products from authentically values-driven companies, winning and maintaining that loyalty has become a whole new ballgame. We asked Trish Wheaton, president of Young & Rubicam Group’s INSPIRE initiative, what she sees as the keys to the hearts of this demographic — which they’re calling “Generation World.”

What do you think are the key components of messaging approaches that resonate with Generation World?

We have developed five key criteria to drive Generation World engagement. Two of those criteria, “tonality” and “social at the core,” are particularly important.

Tonality is hugely important because brands absolutely must have a new narrative about sustainability — one that is optimistic, one that engages, one that is at eye level with the consumer. The old high-minded, movement- and guilt-inducing narratives just won’t work with this group.

And ‘social at the core’ should be a huge component of any Generation World engagement. Because GW sits at the intersection of two global macro trends — the values revolution, and hyper-connectivity through digital, social and mobile — it’s imperative that brands leverage the power of social to communicate and engage. I am struck by how many brands don’t get social when it comes to social good.

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With those two criteria in mind, I think Levi’s and Patagonia continue to do a terrifically smart job of not just communicating what they are doing, but truly making it part of their brand story. Their tonality is just right. They make it simple, actionable and cool. They create opportunities for engagement. They don’t just connect with Generation World, but the way they tell their stories enhances their brands’ strength (which we track through our Brand Asset Valuator™ study). Levi’s and Patagonia continue to be two of BAV’s most ‘meaningfully different’ brands and that proves out in commercial value as well.

Some of the best examples of using social media effectively come from the telecom brands. One in particular comes to mind. The recent campaign from Starhub Mobile in Singapore is just about as good as it gets. Starhub’s “Third Eye” initiative used social to crowdsource micro-volunteers to be “eyes” for Starhub’s visually impaired customers — they could take a picture with their phone, send it to the Starhub micro-volunteer network, and get a response within seconds about what the phone “saw.” It was a brilliant means of mobilizing people around a common good, encouraging engagement and making money for Starhub as well. A genius closed-loop campaign.

To take some examples from recent news, Woolworths has hired Pharrell Williams as its Style Director in order to help engage South African consumers in the company’s “Good Business Journey” (its commitment to ethical trade, sustainable farming and production methods, and social responsibility); while Apple just announced plans to invest in a new Chinese solar power project and help preserve some 36,000 acres of forests in the eastern United States — one a consumer-engagement initiative, the other responsible purchasing practices. Which do you think is more likely to capture the attention and loyalty of GW and why?

The marketer in me is going to answer: “It depends upon how they tell their story.” These stories don’t write themselves and you must be very clear-eyed about who your audience is, how sophisticated they are about the issues, and how simply can you communicate your efforts. But I’ve chosen two examples that are different in almost every respect:

  • Apple starts with a big advantage in terms of loyalty. However, we know that most consumers don’t think about sustainable operations and purchasing practices, especially in tech. There is ongoing consumer surprise that technology devours huge amounts of energy, so Apple would have to first educate on the energy issue and on what they are doing about it. And that may not be where they want to spend their communications dollars.

    But here’s the real opportunity for Apple. If they do choose to be more consumer-facing with their actions, it will have tremendous clout and raise awareness all around. By their sheer size, scale and reputation they have the opportunity to make a huge impact on the sustainability agenda.

  • Woolworths has a very interesting approach. I love it, actually. We’ve seen similar approaches such as the Coca-Cola-EKOCYCLE partnership with This ties right back to what I said above about changing the narrative to make sustainability cool. So I think the approach is right on target. It will undoubtedly ubstantially change consumer perception and could elevate Woolworths’ brand in a big way.

“Generation World” comprises 29 percent of the global population. What about the other 71 percent? Do you see consumers, in general, being more open to sustainability messages?

The answer is yes: One of the INSPIRE partners, Cohn & Wolfe, recently conducted their third annual Age of Authenticity study, which tracks the importance of authenticity on a global basis. The study ran across 12 global markets and the findings are remarkable. For the first time ever, consumers say they place a higher value on authenticity than on product innovation or utility. 63 percent of consumers globally said they would choose to purchase from a company that behaved in an authentic way. That means communicating honestly about environmental impact and sustainability measures, acting with integrity at all times, being open and honest about suppliers and partners, and treating employees fairly.

They also told us which sectors they believe are most authentic and supermarkets, electronics companies and retailers top the list: This is a huge opportunity for those categories. When consumers already give you credit for being authentic, it means you have permission to do some very innovative things around authenticity. A couple of retailers that have really done an excellent job with being authentic are Marks & Spencer in the UK, with its “shwopping” campaign; and Intermarché in France, with its “Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables” initiative — both stunning examples of truly solving a problem, providing both a consumer and business benefit.