Deepa Vaidyanathan, Head of Communications – IMEA at Procter and Gamble, explains why brands should care about being purpose-driven, and how to do that the right way.
How would you define a purpose-driven brand?
At P&G, we believe in being a force for good and a force for growth. As a company, we want to play an active role in our communities’ growth through our brands and through this mission. We want to leverage our brands’ ability to improve lives, our brands’ voice to spark change, and remove bias so that we can do our part to create better value for the world in which we live.
2020 feels like a watershed moment for brands in terms of the role they can play during times of crisis. How important are the moment and the context for a brand trying to be purpose-driven?
It is not news that 2020 has been the most challenging year for all of us as a community. There isn’t a single living being that has been unaffected by the pandemic. Coupled with the Lebanon explosions, in our region, it has been twice as hard.
Even when all of us have been affected, it is important for brands like ours to recognize that certain segments of society are more affected than others; some due to their profession (e.g. frontline workers, employees at plants, or grocery store workers), and some due to inherent social and cultural norms that perpetuate inequity and inequality (e.g. women, the underprivileged). We have to do all we can to support all our consumers and especially the marginalized.
We established the P&G “Protect Our Heroes” Covid-19 Relief Mission where we expanded our manufacturing facilities to produce masks and Safeguard sanitizers to donate in support of frontline workers. We also stepped up as a force for good to donate our products to hospitals and the underprivileged. This work continues as the pandemic is far from behind us.
Our brands have been focused on serving consumers with superior cleaning and hygiene products. Some, like Always, have celebrated female bravery and recognized that women tend to be the first responders both at home and in hospitals with our NewBrave campaign.
In Lebanon, we stepped up as a force for good soon after the explosions and committed to contributing $1 million in cash and in-kind contributions to rehabilitate and rebuild [the country]. Always is donating almost two million sanitary napkins to women and girls affected by the explosions. Pampers is also using its voice to spark hope in Lebanon through the story of Baby George, who was born just after the explosions. Pampers is donating over one million diapers to babies in Beirut, who are the beacons of hope.
What are the key reasons why it is important for a brand to be (and be seen) as purpose-driven?
We are in consumers’ homes every day through the brands they use and through the media they consume. We have a role to play in sparking change, sparking joy, removing bias and celebrating our consumer. The principle is that if we continue to try and spark change, remove bias and do good, it will be not only good for the communities that we serve but also good for the business.
How are the causes that P&G chooses to focus on identified and selected?
Our guiding principle for everything we do is the consumer and what she or he wants.
As an example, for years now, P&G and our brands have been focused but not limited to the following:
- Driving gender equality inside and outside P&G, through our brands like Ariel, Always, Pampers, Pantene, and through our partners.
- Disaster Relief Programs like our Lebanon Relief program.
- Environmental sustainability.
- Diversity and inclusion – e.g. people with determination.
- Children and girls education, with our Always Keeping Girls in School Program.
What are the dos and don’ts of such an approach?
Long-term focus. Our contribution to our communities needs to be for the long term for our communities to see a sustainable impact.
Causes-based marketing can sometimes be reduced to marketing stunts. How do you endeavor to get actual, tangible results? And what are these results?
Being a force for good and force for growth is how we operate and have been operating for decades. It is in our DNA. The most critical aspect of this is a long-term, consistent and sustainable vision. This will lead to communities growing, inequality reducing, removing bias as well as consumers rewarding us with their choice. Success is also inspiring other brands to give back too and follow our lead.
How does this translate into business outcomes, making also sense commercially?
The principle is that if we continue to try and spark change, remove bias and do good, it will be not only good for the communities that we serve but also good for the business. Many studies continue to indicate that this principle is accurate. E.g. the Edelman Trust Barometer says that 2/3 of consumers are belief buyers – this means that they will choose, switch, boycott, avoid a brand based on its stance on societal issues. This is becoming more and more relevant as every year goes by.
Many brands are trying to adopt this approach. How to differentiate oneself and how to ensure that the audience doesn’t become numb to such messaging?
Actions speak louder than words. If the message is backed by actual action and truly driven by a consumer truth, they will not be numb to it. Differentiation comes from being in touch with what our consumers really need, and driving actual change behind it. When we felt Covid-19’s impact in the region, we served, not sold. We drove action using our manufacturing capabilities to produce and donate three million masks.
Similarly, when the Lebanon explosions happened, we committed $1 million in cash and in-kind contributions to rebuild and rehabilitate Lebanon.
Covid-19-centric campaigns have sometimes backfired. How to walk the fine line between being perceived as really purpose-driven and exploiting a cause?
By walking the talk and serving, not selling. At this time, what consumers need is to be served with what they need and that should be the singular focus for brands like ours. The intention is to be part of the solution.