Global Marketing Trends: Planet Over Products

Consumers want brands to be more transparent and honest, and to provide evidence that backs up their ethical and sustainable claims

Consumers respect companies that lead with their conscience and, in the Global Marketing 2018 report, we examined how forward-thinking business leaders are looking for ways to support a diverse workforce, champion local causes and harness their team’s expertise as a force for social change. This year, the appetite for brands who wear their hearts on their sleeve shows no sign of slowing down.

Environmentally aware, socially conscious consumers are recognising their responsibility to make positive changes and they expect brands to do the same. Those that are unable to demonstrate their commitment to the planet and the people who make their products might struggle to win people’s loyalty.

Thanks in part to the BBC’s incredible nature documentaries, the impact that packaging— specifically plastic—is having on the world’s wildlife has been vividly brought into focus, while Instagram influencers have revealed the polluting impact of fast fashion and been quick to suggest sustainable, eco-friendly alternatives.

In addition, the fifth anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse that killed more than 1,100 people in Bangladesh in 2013 has sparked renewed interest in working conditions and employees’ rights.

All this means that a brand’s ability to demonstrate its ethics will be an increasingly integral part of any marketing activity in 2019. And authenticity will continue to be all-important—any attempt to act ethically must be perceived by the consumer as part of a brand’s philosophy and not as a quick-win strategy. The last thing you want is for your company to be accused of ‘greenwashing’.

So the questions is: how can brands promote products and services to consumers who are being urged by charitable organisations and environmental protection agencies to consume less?

Plastic is No Longer Fantastic

From the Paris Agreement to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, political momentum is building when it comes to tackling climate change and consumers are looking at companies to demonstrate they are also acting.

Startling images of swirling bottle caps, carrier bags and shampoo bottles that make up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch regularly appear on our TVs and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, in partnership with the World Economic Forum, has revealed that by 2050 the amount of plastic in our oceans will outweigh fish. As a result, consumers are waking up to the perils of plastic and looking for brands to do the same.

Several have pledged to make changes: Coca-Cola has raised their 2020 recycling target to  50%; IKEA plans to phase out all single-use plastic products  from its global stores and restaurants by 20203; and Procter & Gamble will introduce 25% recycled plastic across 500 million bottles each year. Brands that are perceived as polluters should focus their efforts on making these kinds of commitments and communicate them in a way that assures consumers that by buying their products and services they can be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Making Fashion See-through

Mobile-optimised ecommerce platforms, click and collect, same- day delivery and buy now, pay later apps like Klarna—what do they have in common? They all demonstrate that the online world is fast-fashion’s best friend. But consumers are realising that some cheap clothes are neither friends of the environment nor friends of the people who make them.

The apparel industry is the second-biggest polluter in the world after the petroleum sector, and the World Bank estimates that between 17–20% of industrial water pollution is due to dying and treating garments. With fashion retailers under increasing pressure to be transparent about their production lines and supply chains, consumers are exercising their right to be sold sustainable items by using the Instagram hashtag #whomademyclothes.

Meanwhile both start-ups and big-name brands have launched savvy marketing campaigns aimed at highlighting their eco-credentials. Like French trainer manufacturer Veja, who had already won over supporters with its vegan designs, and is now turning recycled plastic bottles into footwear. A beautifully curated Instagram feed not only promotes its products, but also the mountains of plastic waste the brand hopes to eliminate. It’s clear success depends on striking a balance between sales and sustainability.

Acting Quickly, With a Conscience

Ultimately, it’s never been more important for brands to tap into the zeitgeist of the markets in which they operate. And that can mean thinking beyond the obvious.

Food might not be connected to WeWork’s core offer, but it still responded to an increased focus on plant-based foods in the UK and US. The co-working business is the largest private-sector occupier of offices in central London and the second-largest in Manhattan, and gained substantial media attention when announcing it would no longer serve meat at its events and that employees could no longer expense meals not suitable for vegetarians.

Being responsive and quickly reacting to ethical issues means interrogating the actions of suppliers and partners as well as in-house practices. Package holiday provider Thomas Cook got it right with its recently launched #noplaceforplastic campaign, which pledges to remove 70 million single-use plastic items wherever possible throughout its supply chain. Brand perceptions were not so positive for H&M when it was revealed the fashion retailer had contracted a waste disposal firm to incinerate 60 tonnes of new, usable clothing since 2013.

Monitoring workers’ rights and safety standards across the apparel industry, Baptist World Aid Australia’s 2018 Ethical Fashion Report graded 114 companies based on their ethics and believes that, in the five years since it’s been running, the report has prompted APAC brands to raise their standards.

And it’s not just brands selling consumer goods that have come under scrutiny. Artists and designers wrote to the Design Museum demanding their works be removed from display after it hosted a reception for one of the world’s largest arms manufacturers.

Demonstrating to consumers that big organisations can and do share the same values as individuals is something not-for-profits such as Rank a Brand and Ethical Consumer are actively involved in, thanks to their unbiased rankings and research. Savvy businesses will be looking to see what others are doing to ensure they score highly.

Sustainability Causing a Social Media Storm

What have we learnt? That sharing sustainable actions on social media is a sure- fire way to receive consumer attention. And that’s exactly what happened when Iceland shared its 2018 Christmas advert.

Deemed ‘too political’ to be broadcast on television by Clearcast, the advert is voiced by UK actress Emma Thompson and follows the antics of Rang-tan, an orangutan seeking refuge with a little girl after his habitat has been destroyed to farm palm oil. The ‘banned’ advert enjoyed incredible reach, however, when it was shared by celebrities, picked up by various news outlets and went viral on social media. At the time of writing, more than 700,000 people had signed a petition asking Clearcast to reverse the decision. In addition, Iceland’s consideration among consumers in the supermarket sector had shot up 5.9 points to a score of 21.6, a highly impressive increase on the YouGov BrandIndex.

Iceland’s promise to stop using palm oil in its own-brand products by the end of 2018 might initially cost it money as it seeks out viable alternative ingredients, but the long-term value of hundreds of thousands of people praising the brand’s positive actions is priceless.

To find out more, download our full Global Marketing Report 2019 here.

Hannah Anast
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