Not every business can be an REI or Patagonia. Some businesses sell laundry detergent.
But where there are opportunities, there are also opportunists. In the last few years, we’ve seen a plethora of companies and brands essentially shoehorning sustainability or ethical messaging with their products or services and forcefully aligning themselves with issues and causes that they don’t have the cachet or authority to participate in.
The fact is, not every business can be an REI (#optoutside) or Patagonia (1% for the planet) – adventure and outdoor brands who not only play in a space where talking about environmental sustainability, climate change and preservation of the planet makes sense, but have business practices that support that positioning. No. Some businesses sell laundry detergent, connect people, produce coffee, make beer or sell skate shoes. And for some businesses, a genuine and believable sustainability message is still some years away (see our thoughts on brand purpose in advertising here).
So, instead of forcing a square peg into a round hole, here’s a thought. What about using brands to positively shape attitudes and behaviours in future generations? How about helping and empowering the next generation to live happier, healthier and more fulfilling lives? That’s right, I’m talking about brands focusing their efforts on kids.
I’m talking about a kind of purpose-led marketing, one that puts the well-being of future generations at its forefront.
We’ve all seen how Volkswagen’s Fun Theory, used fun to change adult behaviour for the better – gently encouraging people to exercise, put rubbish in the bin and slow down on the roads. So why not apply the same principle to those whose ways of thinking and habits are still being shaped and formed?
Now, I’m not talking about using advertising to manipulate and persuade young kids to develop a preference for certain brands, desire for certain products or predisposition for certain foods. This is quite obviously unethical, and at present regulated pretty heavily by Ad Standards to stop brands profiteering off the impressionable minds of children and young adults. No, what I’m talking about is a different kind of purpose-led marketing, one that puts the well-being of future generations at its forefront.
We know from research that many of our habits and attitudes are shaped from an early age. Healthy behaviours in relation to food and exercise start in early childhood while emotional and social development continues through to adolescence – many of which are still influenced by our early childhood and the values and environments we grew up with. The Australian Government’s ‘Stop it at the start’ campaign is based on exactly this insight – that a lot of negative behaviours and attitudes start in childhood, in this case, disrespect and violence against women.
As brands and marketers, we have the opportunity to act as a positive influence on future generations, helping create better social standards in health (physical and mental), gender equality, bullying, safety, violence, racism and any other issues rampant in our society today. And the best place to start, is at the start. With our kids. Whether it’s delivered through a kid’s program, campaign, experience or an ongoing initiative, I think many brands are missing a trick by not addressing – or at least thinking about – a much younger audience.
There are a few brands and organisations I think are doing a good job.
Anyone growing up in Australia will be familiar with the iconic giraffe, Healthy Harold, an advocate for health and safety reaching over 710,000 Australian children each year.
OMO has been running its Dirt Is Good initiative for years, promoting active play as a crucial ingredient in the development of kids in an age when screens are dominating play time.
ANZ’s #equalfuture campaign addresses gender inequality and the pay gap between men and woman from the perspective of children.
And who could forget the #LikeAGirl campaign, encouraging girls around the world to be more confident, and flip associations with the phrase to the positive.
So if you’re a brand or marketer and thinking about social purpose leaves you scratching your head, maybe it’s time to think about how you can start helping our kids become healthier, safer, fairer, kinder and more responsible, so that we can all enjoy a better future.