How Brands Are Embracing Active Purpose-Marketing

By Adrienne Ankola-Rochetti

In this Thought Leadership piece, Vice President of Social Impact Adrienne Ankola-Rochetti discusses the importance of brands leading with purpose, having a strong sense of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), and why businesses should use their platform to make a positive impact.

The global events of 2020 and 2021, from public health to racial justice and the climate crisis, have accelerated the growth of an already upward trending purpose-driven marketplace. Now, more than ever, the practice of brands leading with purpose has become not only the norm, but also a necessity for survival and retaining customers and talent. 89% of consumers have a positive image of trust and loyalty towards brands that lead with purpose and 64% of Millennials, who will make up 75% of the workforce by 2025, won’t take a job if their employer doesn’t have a strong CSR policy.

With this uptick in brands recognizing and deploying the power of purpose, and the subsequent cluttering of the purpose-driven marketplace, it’s become mission critical that brands activate their purpose in a highly visible and meaningful way. The days of brands summing up the good they do in a CSR report that lives statically on their websites are quickly fading into the past. Today, consumers and employees are demanding that brands elevate purpose to the forefront and voice their values and impact initiatives across the marketing mix. 

And while many brands have stepped up to offer a well-defined purpose and impact strategy, the art of activating that purpose in a way that breaks through and resonates with key stakeholders remains elusive. This is evidenced by the large share of consumers not receiving or believing these messages from brands. 47% of consumers globally see less than half of brands as trustworthy and 71% have little faith that brands will deliver on their promises. Despite this cynicism, consumers are still strongly seeking brands that will make a meaningful difference with 73% globally saying brands must act now for the good of society and the planet. 

The work it takes for brands to close this gap, especially against the backdrop of rising consumer skepticism and dwindling trust, should not be underestimated. However, brands with genuine intentions and solid agendas to lead with purpose and generate measurable impact have begun to crack the code. The following trends represent the ways that brands are more effectively activating their purpose to meaningfully resonate with stakeholders.  


Embracing the Power of Partnership  

A brand’s sports and entertainment partnerships are often its farthest reaching, highly visible, and emotionally charged marketing channels. These partnerships have an ability to engage with consumers through their passion points in a way that seldom else does. Partnerships also offer a diverse set of activation assets to brands – traditional and social media, PR opportunities, access to influential talent, and experiential touchpoints – that can highlight purpose in a tangible and inspiring way.  

For these reasons, brands are increasingly leveraging their partnerships to shine a light on their purpose and social impact initiatives. When Toyota pivoted from a traditional automotive company to a mobility brand, they signed an 8-year deal with the Olympics and Paralympics, becoming the Games’ first ever “Mobility Partner.” Toyota leveraged these high profile partnerships to accelerate awareness of its new, more purpose-driven brand positioning and mission to form a limitless society. The brand has integrated the purpose-led storytelling around these partnerships into its most visible marketing channels, including a standout Super Bowl commercial in 2021. Its ‘Upstream’ ad featuring Paralympic Athlete Jessica Long was determined to be 163% more inspiring than the average US ad and, compared to other Super Bowl ads, Toyota managed to drive the highest level of desire to find out more among consumers (70%), while brand favorability (66%) and purchase intent (66%) were also well above the US norm.


Leveraging Infrastructure to Drive Impact Programming  

Brands are moving beyond traditional philanthropy to more integrated and innovative approaches to driving impact. This means auditing their own unique super powers and resources for affecting change on priority issues, including physical infrastructure and core products and services.  

When the pandemic shut down the sports and entertainment space in 2020, Anheuser-Busch (A-B) pivoted $5 Million of its partnerships spend into a donation to the American Red Cross to help increase awareness of the nationwide blood supply shortage. A-B worked with 30 sports partners and 40 stadiums to transform vacant venues into blood donation centers and utilized its production and distribution capabilities to produce hand sanitizer, donating more than 168,000 8-oz. bottles to ensure safe operations at the donation centers. A-B also played a decisive role in building awareness around the demand for blood donations by donating partnership assets such as TV airtime, talent partnerships, and social media to create and distribute content for the cause.  

This strategy proved successful at driving critical impact, resulting in 97 blood drives, 5,900 units of blood donated, 50% of donations coming from first-time blood donors, and donations that have been linked to potentially saving north of 17,700 lives. It also garnered strong visibility for A-B’s leadership on a critical issue with the campaign driving more than 120 total earned media placements, 136 million earned media impressions, 155 thousand social conversations and 85.9 million potential social media impressions.  

Adrienne Ankola-Rochetti_Headshot

Adrienne Ankola-Rochetti 
Vice President, Social Impact

Listen to Adrienne’s episode of This. With Shauna Griffith. In the episode, Adrienne talks to Shauna about the stages throughout her career, overcoming imposter syndrome, leadership styles, finding and owning her identity and bringing it to her workplace to give 100% of herself.

Aligning with the Stars  

When brands align with ambassadors who authentically represent their values and purpose initiatives, the benefits can far outweigh the obvious perceived risks. Celebrities and influencers can play a critical role in exponentially growing awareness of the issues brands are tackling. They can serve as a powerful bridge to make those issues more relevant to new audiences, expanding and diversifying the brand’s sphere of influence and galvanizing action from a broader community of supporters.  

In 2020, GoGo squeeZ began a multi-year partnership with US Soccer and saw an opportunity to highlight its values by promoting the importance of youth sports for kids’ physical and social-emotional health and addressing barriers to participation.  Specifically, GoGo squeeZ launched the Fun Comes First initiative to help combat the large number of kids (70% by age 13) dropping out of sports because of the lack of fun. 

The brand engaged soccer superstar and Mom, Alex Morgan, as an ambassador for Fun Comes First. Alex had an untraditional youth sports journey, one that emphasized fun and didn’t over-prioritize club travel and specialization. As a new mom and pro athlete, she cares deeply about the future state of youth sports and how they can best serve young people. GoGo squeeZ rallied around Alex’s organic connection to the cause by featuring her in the campaign launch video, having her appear at the 2020 Project Play Summit to highlight key facets of the issue, and anchoring an Omaze campaign with an opportunity to attend a USWNT game and meet Alex. 

Alex’s involvement helped generate record-breaking impressions for GoGo squeeZ and raise nearly $100,000 in net donations for Laureus USA to help youth sports organizations recover from the pandemic. This year, GoGo squeeZ expanded its talent relationships to increase visibility for Fun Comes First by partnering with Alex and her teammates, Ashlyn Harris, Sydney Leroux and Ali Krieger. The pro athlete-Moms spoke on a panel at the 2021 Project Play Summit and appeared in a video to help launch the Fun Comes First Playbook, a new resource for coaches and parents developed by GoGo squeeZ and Laureus USA.   


Leveraging Internal Policies as External Activism (or Amplifying Internal Policies to Spark Change)  

Brands are shaping their external perceptions around purpose from their own internal values and practices. Whether around diversity, equity, and inclusion, pay standards, parental leave benefits or more recently mental health, companies are making their own internal policies public. This is done both in accordance with consumer pressures around transparency, but also in recognition that the communication of these policies beyond the walls of a company is a form of activism that can mobilize change across other companies and industries.  

One recent example of this is major companies like Bumble and Nike making announcements around dedicated paid time off for employees to combat negative impacts of the remote work environment on mental health. These public announcements have galvanized dialogue on employee mental health across industries and have served as a call-to-action that more and more companies are answering with actions of their own.  


Repurposing Retail Spaces & Products as Impact Storytelling Canvases 

In an effort to meet consumers where they are with the messages most important to elevate, brands are leveraging their retail spaces (both physical and online) as a creative canvas for activating their purpose and making it participatory for consumers.  

One brand that has long been a leader in this area is Athleta. It’s nearly impossible to visit an Athleta retail space in real life or online, or purchase one of their products, and not have greater visibility into their B Corp status, mission to ignite the limitless potential of all women and girls, and related ‘Power of She’ platform. From descriptions on product hang tags to window displays and wall graphics and manifestos, Athleta leverages its most coveted real estate to communicate its purpose. The brand also utilizes these spaces to offer consumers ways to actively participate in its mission, such as in-store wellness and community-building events. Recently, Athleta did a website homepage takeover during Giving Tuesday enabling Athleta Rewards members to convert their rewards points into donations to the Power of She Fund. In partnership with the Women’s Sports Foundation, the Fund provides grants to fuel women and girls’ confidence through movement and connection.  


In Closing: Do the Right Thing and Do it Loudly  

The debate over if brands are doing the right thing by their employees, consumers, and society at large still remains an important conversation and one that continues to push brands to be more transparent and impact-focused. The good news is that brands are continuing to step up to meet these higher standards. Given the strong appetite from society to see that progress in action, the time is now for brands who are doing the right thing to do it as loudly as possible. 


Originally Produced for SLG Impact 

Watch SLG Impact’s THIS. featuring Shauna Griffith with Adrienne Rochetti below.  

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