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Brand Citizenship: The Future of Advertising

At this year’s Cannes Lions, Desmond Marzette, Nike’s global director of advertising, said, “I worry that ultimately advertising will become a layer of noise and won’t be as impactful as it has been in the past or even as it has been today.” So, what can be done to prevent this devolution of advertising? How can it stay above the noise? The solution lies within the concept of brand citizenship.

According to a 2013 study by the marketing agency, Good.Must.Grow, the social responsibility of a company is becoming an increasingly more crucial trait to customers. Of the 1,015 people surveyed, 60% said that buying goods from socially-responsible companies is important to them. This trend is further supported by a 2015 study by Cone Communications which found that 84% of consumers say they seek out responsible products whenever possible.

So, what does this desire for more socially responsible products and companies mean for the ad world? In short, it is time to humanize. Brands need to start manifesting their values and in turn connecting those values with consumers. In the words of Jim Moriarty, Director of Brand Citizenship at 72andSunny, a top creative agency and leading force in the shift to brand citizenship, “This work is pushing people to continually expect a deep, personal connection with the brands they choose, because it’s not enough just to sell a product anymore. Brands can, and should, take a stand for something.”

And take a stand for something they have. With campaigns like REI’s #OptOutside, promoting enjoying the outdoors over shopping at their stores on one of the most lucrative days of the year, and DB Export’s Brewtoleum, proving that drinking beer can, in fact, save the world, the tremendous impact that advertising with social responsibility in mind can have has become obvious. It is campaigns like these that rise above the noise.

This shift also serves to benefit consumers. Brand citizenship focused advertising forges a new relationship between product and consumer. Instead of being a “target,” the consumer now becomes an equal in a mutually beneficial relationship with the brand. Brands are now talking with their audiences, not at them.

Did this focus on being a better citizen come from the goodness of our favorite brands’ hearts? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean that we aren’t still looking at a future of more social responsibility and stronger personal connections.

In a world demanding more from brands, brand citizenship provides the path for those demands to be met.

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