4 Stories of Socially Responsible Marketing Success: The Power of a Positive Message Told Well

Telling people at a dinner party you work in marketing can be an awkward moment. You can feel the room imagining you in a high rise office, cynically playing the strings of human emotion like a Donald Draper character. Today’s consumers are savvy enough to know when an ad campaign is manipulating their base insecurities, and they don’t like it. So, is it actually possible for marketing campaigns to bring positive messages into the world and successfully promote a brand? Can we hold our heads high when we’re talking about our ad campaigns? These four examples tell us it’s not only possible, it’s powerful.

Dove: Campaign for Real Beauty

This campaign, started in 2004, has to come at the top of the list. It’s gone down in history as one of the best marketing campaigns ever run, in terms of outcomes for the brand and the message it put out. Sales have gone from $2.5 billion to over $4 billion since the beginning of the campaign. Not only that, it’s credited with changing the entire corporate landscape to one in which other brands are following suit and taking on ‘positive causes’ as part of their branding. All that from selling soap!

“Dove showed what’s possible when a brand decides it is hell-bent on making a positive impact and it was a demo of how much that resonates with consumers…(Vonk) And what we have seen since is, consumers have started to expect that these corporations will use their energies toward doing good. It’s become a new behaviour.”

Janet Krestin and Nancy Vonk of the creative team who worked on the campaign.

Adopting the tagline “Imagine a world where beauty is a source of confidence, not anxiety,” the campaign gave a voice to the deepest emotions of a population exhausted from unrealistic beauty standards. It effectively touched on sensitive topics in a gentle and meaningful way.

The campaign used photographs of ‘real women’ combined with text that challenged the viewer’s perception and asked them to consider what they thought about appearances. The messages are often combined with research or statistics, such as the startling figure that only 4% of women consider themselves attractive.

Another more recent development has been the creation of the ‘Real Beauty Sketches’, in which an artist draws women based on their descriptions of themselves, and contrasts these with drawings based on descriptions given to them by others. These powerful videos demonstrate the gap between self-perception and reality and that’s a strong theme which is universally relate-able.

Nancy Vonk and Jane Krestin, creators of the Dove ‘Real Beauty’ campaign

American Express: Small Business Saturday

Crispin Porter & Bogusky was the agency given the challenge of selling American Express in 2010. Playing on the idea of Black Friday, they decided to create a day which capitalised on the broad support in American society (93% of Americans want to support them) for small business. They took a simple concept of shopping local, and through thousands of small actions and a dose of ‘the right thing at the right time’, managed to turn their campaign into a cultural movement. The day has become a national phenomenon and generated dialogue about the affect of globalization on the small shops of High Street at the exact time when that conversation was needed.

Starting with claiming a day in the year, the campaign has expanded with the support of social media outlets like Twitter and Youtube, corporate partners such as FedEx and high profile personalities. Even President Obama took his daughters to a local book store and tweeted about it. The day generated $5.7 billion in sales in 2013, and won two Cannes Grand Prix awards and several other industry accolades.

Melbourne Metro Trains: Dumb Ways to Die

This charming campaign was commissioned by Melbourne Metro Trains and is a remarkable example of an agency taking something as tedious as train safety and making it magical. The campaign began with a song and a bunch of cute characters singing about ‘The Dumbest Ways to Die’. The black humour and cuteness of it all is irresistible, and the Youtube video went viral. The agency began creating a whole swathe of associated products such as plush toys and an interactive game, in an attempt to reach the target market; young people. The campaign’s clever use of humour and creative approach to new media meant that this banal message of staying off the tracks may be the first such message to ever actually reach it’s audience.

Nike: Just Do It & Margot and Lily

Nike’s ‘Just Do It’ campaign was so successful that the slogan is still internationally recognisable more than two decades after it was coined. The key to the slogans success is in the simplicity and power of its concept. Building on the fitness craze already sweeping across the 80s, the slogan, imagery and TV -advertising of the campaign focused on the single message of challenging yourself and pushing beyond your limitations.

However, it’s worth noting that Nike’s brand was heavily damaged in the 1990s due to criticism of the working conditions in their factories. While their messaging may have been positive, their practices were ultimately unethical and the end result was a scandal. However, consumer pressure also forced them to change their approach. Their case is a good reminder to all brands to consider any contradictions between your message and your practices before you decide to adopt a socially positive approach.

More recently, Nike has developed a series of online videos that are incredibly popular, which introduce a contemporary version of the ‘Just Do It’ brand. The mini series ‘Margot and Lily’ features two sisters who enter into a competition with each other to win friends and start a fitness blog. Departing from the Olympic-level standards of their earlier campaigns, the new iteration presents a softer, more humanised version of the same sentiment. Perhaps the new slogan should read more like ‘Just Do It… but it’s ok to be flawed, too.’

The Importance of Ethics in Business

In the 21st Century, companies are playing an increasingly important role in society.It’s now common for businesses to provide public services in health and justice or for their behaviour to affect the environment. But, with the rise of corporate social responsibility, it’s also possible to imagine a world where good business is synonymous with good social and environmental outcomes. Now more than ever, it’s important for new business graduates to be equipped with the tools to ensure their company is behaving ethically.

At Kaplan Business School, we’re proud of the fact that ethical business is a central component of our curriculum. We teach business ethics in our Bachelor of Business (Marketing), and Governance, Ethics and Sustainability is a core subject of our MBA and Graduate Certificate in Business Administration program. We’ve also made sure to add ethics as a learning outcome in every single MBA subject. At KBS, we think all business schools should encourage socially responsible marketing.