How branding has become an agent of social change

What do you stand for?

In today’s society, the idea of handing over money for a product and moving on feels a little outdated. With an increase of choice, a modern consumer expects to see brands supporting social causes and putting their hard-earned cash to good use.

Many companies have cottoned on to this shift in consumer attitudes. Rather than simply advertising a product or service, some brands are using their influence as a platform through which to challenge ideas, raise important issues and support social causes.

Why are campaigns for social change important?

Campaigning for social change is nothing new. If we think about Live Aid in 1985, individuals and organisations have been coming together for years to raise awareness about important issues in our society.

However, over the years, there is more emphasis on advertisers to adjust from the ‘what’ to the ‘why’. In an increasingly competitive market, being clear on the ‘why’ can be a way of standing out, not simply for profit’s sake, but to showcase a brand’s values and beliefs.

With the rise of the digital age, consumers are used to holding their conversations online. Social media has also enabled a brand’s reach to expand exponentially. Social media encourages these debates to take place and can be the forum where brands can engage with their audience over larger issues.

Lastly, it’s not a new concept to say that controversy sells, but more and more companies are becoming less afraid to tackle big issues head on these days. For all of the uproar a controversial stance can provoke, the ongoing discussion and time in the spotlight this creates can help a company reach its target audience and reinvent fortunes.

Working alongside brands with a social impact at their heart

If you’re wondering how an ad campaign can be a vehicle for social change, here is a brief look at some of the work Sail Creative has been involved with. This is just a selection of the brands we have worked on in the past few months, all with a social impact at their heart:


Parakeat is an initiative set up to champion independent businesses. It is an app that highlights the best independent cafes, bars and eateries in Newcastle, and looks to grow nationwide.

The core idea is to ‘encourage users to dine off the eaten track’, therefore promoting sustainable tourism, whilst giving users the opportunity to find local, independent places that give a unique dining experience.

Curious Festival

Curious Festival, established in 2016, is an annual festival of immersive queer arts and culture. Based in the North East, the festival features a world-class programme of dance and culture. Through socially focussed performance, the event encourages dialogue on relevant social issues in an ever changing world, with an aim to inspire and unite communities.

Women of Tyneside

Women of Tyneside is a community project led by Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums to celebrate and value the women and girls of Tyneside. One hundred years after women could vote for the first time, the curators are using the collections in their museums and art galleries to explore, highlight and discuss important issues for women today.   

This two year campaign aims to challenge gender inequality and promote change, celebrate diversity and solidarity, empower women and challenge gender stereotypes.

We have been involved with some of the workshops with the project. At Hebburn Comprehensive School, Women of Tyneside brought together Year 9 girls and women over 60 for a discussion on aspirations and role models, then and now. A heart warming and interesting workshop to be part of that has inspired some of our campaign concepts.

Keep up to date by following Women Of Tyneside on Twitter.

Newcastle Carers

We are working closely within the Young Adult Carer Team at Newcastle Carers. There are hundreds of young carers in the city between 18-25 that are not currently reaching out for support until they get to crisis point. We are working with the team to create a campaign looking to focus on this gap.

Working closing with them, it is our aim to keep the carers at the forefront of the campaign. It is important that the carers feel empowered and encouraged to reach out for support, not patronised, and the campaign must reflect this.

Just some of our favourite marketing campaigns that challenge

On a national and international scale, there are also many large brands and organisations that raise social issues in through their marketing campaigns:

1. Sport England, ‘This Girl Can’

This UK based campaign encouraged women of all ages, sizes, backgrounds and abilities to get active using adverts that showed normal-looking, relatable women exercising. The images and stories told were realistic and empowering; tackling the barriers that many women place between themselves and exercise.

Because Sport England put themselves in their target audience’s shoes, they could speak directly to women of all ages, backgrounds and experience across the country. The campaign was very successful, with more than 95 million campaign views and 2.8 million women starting regular exercise.

We also included ‘This Girl Can’ in an article highlighting our favourite ad campaigns to empower women as we believe it’s a great example of successful marketing.

2. Heineken, ‘Open Your World’

In 2017 Heineken unveiled its ‘Open Your World’ campaign, which challenges Brits to break down barriers and find common ground with people who have opposing views. Their aim was to bring together two very different people to prove that it is possible to find common ground.

The campaign quickly racked up over 11 million views on social media following its release and feedback was 97% positive, reported Heineken’s UK head of marketing, Cindy Tervoort.

Talking to Marketing Week, she said: “We see it as our duty to try and change the world. All our brands interact with millions of people every day, and we have the scale to reach a lot of people and to positively influence their opinions […] It’s also about hitting the right tone and playing the right role. We’re not suggesting we will achieve world peace [through the campaign], but what we can do is drive those conversations and inspire people to meet and connect.”

3. Lynx, ‘Bigger Issues’

In 2015, men’s antiperspirant brand, Lynx, partnered up with Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) to increase awareness of and empathy towards male suicide – the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK – from 19% to 43%. The Bigger Issues campaign reached 23 million people and prompted a parliamentary debate in Westminster.

“Speaking about the campaign, Lynx’s marketing manager David Titman told Marketing Week that the brand has been keen to speak out on issues that affect the lives of its consumers for quite some time.

“We did some research 18 months ago on the issues that affect guys, and male suicide stuck out as it was so underrepresented in the media and there were no brands in that space pushing that message out there,” he said.

The brand started working with CALM just over a year ago and has since made a donation to support the charity’s helplines. While the campaign is based around getting people to talk, Titman ultimately wants to create long-term change.” (Source).

How to implement a message in your brand’s marketing

In an article from The Telegraph, Andrew Williams says that campaigns only work if they’re in keeping with the brand’s core business, personality or values. “It can’t just be about acquiring customers; you have to make a positive impact on the world.”

It’s not enough to dress up a sales pitch in attractive clothing. People will quickly sniff out a lack of sincerity. If a marketing campaign is to be a success, a brand must practice what they preach and be sincere.

Most successful ad campaigns do not mention the features and benefits of the product behind the message. At the end of the day, it’s not about the taste of the beer, for example, it’s about building audience connection with the brand, and what it says about them. It’s about how the brand makes their customers feel.

Startups with a social message at their heart

Many companies start off with a social cause at their core, dedicating an amount of their profits straight to charity. However, just as a brand aligning themselves with a campaign further down the line, this approach also needs to be handled with care.

“Just pulling on someone’s heart strings and saying some of the money will go to a good cause is not enough,”advises Will Adoasi, founder of high-end watch brand Vitae London. (Source). It’s important to do your research to backup your message. Adoasi says that he’s noticed the public are more receptive to “tangible and measurable evidence” of the causes they are donating to.

Think carefully about how you will communicate your promises to donate to charitable causes. Once again, audiences will see through a brand’s half-hearted attempts to align themselves with a good cause if it doesn’t seem genuine or related to the brand’s purpose.

Finding your brand’s purpose

If you’re feeling inspired and ready to take on the world with a marketing campaign to tackle social issues, you may be wondering where to start.

A successful campaign is one that understands the topics that your target audience will get excited about. Using shared values to create a bond with your customers is a great basis for your brand’s marketing.

Start by thinking about the following questions:

  • What keeps your audience awake at night?
  • What issues are they struggling with?
  • What beliefs do they hold?
  • What barriers stand in their way of their goals?

Blending these answers with your brand’s ‘why’ will help you speak to your audience about the issues that concern them with a clear and honest voice.

Of course, you could push the boundaries by opting to take a more controversial route, but be prepared to deal with the reaction, both negative and positive. Ultimately, your brand is a platform through which you can reach a wide audience so it is up to you to ensure this is done so responsibly.

Which campaigns have you seen that have raised awareness, challenged ideas or pushed the status quo? Share one of your favourite ad campaigns and tag us on social media @SailCreative and tell us why you love it.

If this article raised any questions, or you’d like to explore your brand identity, branding or marketing campaigns in further detail, get in touch with us at Sail Creative.

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