Purpose and authenticity: this year’s ANA Masters of Marketing

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Our US Business Director Victoria Potter attended this year’s ANA Masters of Marketing from the comfort of her own home. Here are her key insights.

It’s October, and that means one thing for the US advertising industry. No, not Halloween and no, not even the looming Presidential election. The ANA’s Masters of Marketing takes place every fall, and this year was no different – except of course, it was completely different. The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic forced the convention online, and the ANA really rose to the challenge. They hosted some of the industry’s biggest names on virtual stages, all presenting their ideas on this year’s theme, ‘Force for Good. Force for Growth’. This theme was, of course, pertinent in a particularly difficult year, as the world has grappled with how to contain and manage the coronavirus, and how to come to terms with and tackle racial inequality. Brands play a huge role in people’s lives, and therefore have a huge potential to be a force for good. If that comes from a place of authenticity and is tied to the brand’s values and identity, it will resonate with consumers – and that will lead to growth.  

As marketers from some of the world’s most famous brands spoke to their virtual audiences, some powerful ‘sub-themes’ emerged, all dovetailing back into the official theme. Time and again, presenters emphasized the need to move from consumer-centric to human-centric, how chaos has acted as a catalyst for change, and the importance of authenticity in marketing 

From consumer-centric to human-centric

There is a tendency amongst advertisers and marketers to talk about ‘consumers’, which inherently defines people by their capacity to ‘consume’ media messaging, products and services. That can allow us to forget that ‘consumers’ are, in fact, humans, with human desires, values and foibles. There does seem to be change afoot, however: many of the speakers at the Masters of Marketing focused on people as humans and what brands need to do to appeal to this humanity. Marc Pritchard, Procter & Gamble’s Chief Brand Officer, talked of opening up conversations with people, in order to create understanding between them and the brand. That understanding leads to empathy, which drives action. A person is more likely to buy from a brand with which they feel a connection, so acting on what that person values makes good business sense. 

CVS Healthcare also did a deep dive into how empathy is at the heart of their strategy; indeed, their stated goal is to become the world’s most empathetic company. They have demonstrated that being a force for good can indeed be a force for growth: back in 2014, they acknowledged that selling tobacco went against their purpose of ‘helping people on their path to better health’, so they removed it from their stores, wiping out $2 billion dollars of revenue at a stroke. However, through other efforts based on the same philosophy, they have in fact increased their revenues by $100 billion in five years, making them the largest healthcare company in the US. Force for Good. Force for Growth. 

Walmart has long adhered to founder Sam Walton’s belief that ‘there is only one boss – the customer’. For them this year, that has meant embracing racial equality and representation, as CMO William White explained: their Diversity and Inclusion review included having 50 marketing professionals weighing in on all aspects of their marketing. But it wasn’t just about ads: they have pledged that 40% of all production will be from women and/or minorities, and they have donated $100 million to organisations that promote racial justice.  

Chaos as a catalyst for change

Racial justice has loomed large on the 2020 landscape. The death of George Floyd at the hands of police and subsequent demonstrations have led to a moment of reckoning for the US and indeed much of the world. Many brands responded positively to societal pressure to demonstrate their support for racial equality. The Facebook boycott was one result of this movement, but brands also implemented internal changes. 

LVMH’s Global Brand Officer Mathilde Delhoume talked about how the luxury powerhouse captured the mood with its ‘acts not ads’ philosophy. Sephora, its chain of beauty product retailers, was one of the first major retailers to commit 15% of shelf space to black-owned companies, and cast its own employees in its most diverse campaign ever,  ‘We belong to something beautiful.’  

Of course, the coronavirus pandemic has wreaked unprecedented chaos on the world, upending economies, ways of living and indeed lives. Walmart occupies a unique place in American society, with 90% of Americans living within 10 miles of a Walmart store, so it was well placed to help its customers cope with the changes to their every day lives. It has positioned itself at the heart of the community, creating free Walmart Drive-In movie showings, turning their parking lots into town squares, with gameday experiences and farmers’ markets, and launching health centers. It also launched its Walmart Plus subscription service, helping families dealing with extra pressures to save time and money, safely.  

CVS Healthcare has also sought to support people through the Covid-19 crisis. It has offered drive-thru Covid-19 tests, free home delivery of essentials and clinics with at-home diagnosis. It has placed an emphasis on life research, rather than relying on data alone. 

Authenticity is critical

The changes implemented by these brands, and many more, have undoubtedly been a force for good at a time when the world needs positive brands more than ever. However, from a growth perspective, they would be irrelevant if they didn’t come from a place of authenticity. Successful activations around issues that matter must be rooted in the brand’s identity and values, and not just be a nod to prevailing trends. People are savvier than ever and will quickly call ‘bs’ on a brand’s efforts if they are inauthentic. The only thing worse than not acting with purpose is using purposes solely as a marketing tactic.  

Purpose is here to stay

Purpose has been a recurrent theme at the Masters for several years, but never has it seemed so important as in 2020, when the world is in crisis and people are turning to the brands they trust. As Danone’s SVP Brand Marketing (Yogurt BU) Mark Spanos said in his presentation, ‘Purpose is no longer a fad, it’s a norm’. Danone has weaved purpose throughout its product portfolio in a way that speaks to their values and identity, addressing hunger, food waste. Spanos quoted Patagonia’s Alex Weller: ‘You can’t reverse into a mission and values through marketing. The organizations that are struggling with this are probably the ones that are thinking about marketing first.’ 

In our rapidly changing world, where the customer holds the power, success lies in meaningful, authentic activations which speak to customers’ values and needs. A brand that can do that is a brand that will succeed. 

Image: fizkes / Shutterstock

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