The era of good causes

Cause-related advertising is on the rise as brands attempt to make a difference in the world. We look at some recent digital cases.

von Mark Tungate , Adforum

There was a time when all you had to do as a brand was make your product or service feel more attractive than the others. Cooler, perhaps. Smarter. Better value for money. Or more status-giving.

But times have changed. Now it seems that the most popular way of adding value to a brand is to take up a cause. At this year’s Cannes, purpose-driven and cause-related advertising dominated many categories. And the trend continues. In the run-up to the Epica Awards this month (November 15) we got an exclusive look at some of the cause-related entries.

One of the most surprising was for 5 Gum, which apparently has been working for years to help young people face their fears and enjoy new experiences. Now they’ve taken a different tack by teaming up with older folk who regret not having done certain things – like coming out as gay – when they were young. Chewing gum for gay rights? In the wacky world of cause-related marketing, it can happen. And by the way, there’s a slight warning here about the danger of working with “influencers”.

Trending within this trend are mobile phone companies – service providers or manufacturers – who leverage the huge presence these devices have in our lives to communicate a message or put something right. In the latter category, Movistar, a Latin American service provider, created a new app to raise awareness of cyber bullying, after recognizing that “cell phones are the most used media for this type of harassment”.

Meanwhile, Samsung in Switzerland is trying to flip the idea that mobile phones don’t belong in schools on its head, by introducing an app that makes history lessons fun. (This is unlikely to be introduced in France, where mobile phones have just been banned from schools by law.)

In Slovakia, service provider O2 wanted to remind young people of the importance of November 17 1989 – the date of “The Velvet Revolution” and the fall of the Iron Curtain. So it obtained hours of archive news footage and, on the anniversary of the event, “live streamed” the revolution in real time.

It followed a similar campaign one year earlier when O2 blocked users’ access to all foreign mobile internet sites, creating a “digital Iron Curtain”. To free their phones, users had to find out more about the historic date.

The bravery prize should go to Boeing, which unearthed rejection letters sent in 1919 to female applicants by US engineering colleges. When read aloud by real women engineers who work at Boeing today, the letters sound distinctly of their time. But the fact is that almost 100 years later, only 13% of engineers in the United States are women. Boeing is clearly challenging itself as well as other companies to embrace diversity.

Perhaps the most quirky cause-related campaign we’ve come across lately is from Spotify and Serviceplan, in which the music streaming service threw its weight behind animal adoption. Check out “Adoptify”.