Social change always impacts advertising tone and content. We've witnessed numerous seismic social events in recent years, including the global financial crisis, recession, banking and bonus scandals and scandalously high youth unemployment.
What effect will these shifts have on brand-building and advertising? Specifically, can you portray glamorous status-driven lifestyles as the goal of targeted consumers when many people may regard these values as trivial, trashy and out of synch with their priorities? This debate has gathered urgency in recession-plagued Britain.
Over there, brand awareness and a social conscience sometimes go hand in hand. The fashion brand SOMB (Shirt Off My Back) is also a charity. It donates a school uniform to a child for every garment it sells. Some companies now link marketing investment and corporate social investment - a phenomenon Tuesday has covered in previous articles about worthy initiatives by Reckitt Benckiser, Sasol and MySpar, among others.
Internationally, however, some consumers complain that larger, more meaningful issues are not embraced by enough brands. In the UK, only one in 20 brands are perceived to make a difference and most Brits would not care if nine out of 10 brands didn't exist. Meaningful Brand Index research covering 50 000 global consumers recently noted that only 20% of brands are perceived to have impact on a consumer's sense of wellbeing and quality of life.
Some British commentators now believe that in a much-changed world the brands that are seen to do good will win out over brands that stick to a me-me-me and more-more-more proposition.
Generation Y (Millennials born between the early 1980s and early 2000s) are supposedly adopting new success criteria that place meaning and personal values above materialistic and perhaps unrealistic goals.
This is the generation that sees jobs chopped (sometimes their own) while disgraced corporate highfliers pocket millions in severance pay. 'Live now, pay later' seems a self-destructive slogan when you lose your car if you miss one more repayment. For marketers, is this a segmentation issue rather than a shift influencing all communication? If so, will it impact mass media while fostering greater focus on niche communication?
Or is it a strategic question that will prompt more companies to seek top-end positioning? My view? I think high aspirations are part of the human condition. Whether aspirations are material or meaningful, successful brands will find a way of appealing to them. Successful brands will also show sensitivity to changes in public mood. There is no contradiction in doing good in both a commercial and a social sense. Do good and achieve good sales sounds win-win to me.