Should food and beverage brands put sustainability at the heart of their communications, or is it just an internal issue? Should brands have an agenda on progressive issues? And if so, how do you balance that with the need for return on investment?
There is no rule for all, concludes a new study by the British agency Huxly Global. Different types of brands and products have different dynamics.
The purpose debate has become polarized and dogmatic, Huxly noted. Successful brands are driven by conviction and a sense of purpose, some point out. Others argue that you should never give someone a reason not to buy your brand.
“It seems like a space with a lot of strong opinions and confusion,”said Huxly founder Joe Goyder. “It’s quite difficult to know what to do.”He added : “This is a very difficult time in history for CPG brands. We are under a number of enormous pressures on the industry at a time when our population has never seemed so divided.
In an attempt to clarify the debate, Huxly surveyed 1,500 UK consumers about their cultural attitudes and behaviors. It posed 75 questions covering four key thematic areas: gender and guidance; race and immigration; the environment; eating behaviors and purchase category including plant-based and non-alcoholic categories.
The results identified four types of consumers. “Conscious” consumers represent 38% of respondents. This group is predominantly female, over 40 years old and well educated. They want to make changes to support ecology and disadvantaged groups. They will pay more for sustainable brands, but they are less wealthy than other groups and more exposed to rising prices.
Then come the “traditionalists”, who represent 35% of respondents. This group is predominantly male and financially prosperous. They resist change and are not interested in altering the way they eat and drink. Only 36% like to try new products as soon as they come out, lower than any other group.
The “under control” cohort (14%) is made up of focused, hard-working and sober city dwellers. 60% are between 18 and 39 years old. They are committed to technology and open to trying new things. 73% of them agree “I avoid drinking alcohol”. They are more likely to use instant food delivery services. They only have lukewarm support for sustainability – the freedom to enjoy their lifestyle is the priority.
Close behind those in “control” are the “progressive hedonists”, who make up 13% of the poll. This group has progressive attitudes towards the environment, gender, LGBTQ+, etc., but their priority is to have fun. 58% are between 18 and 39 years old. They are heavy users of streaming and social media. They will pay more for sustainable brands.
These groups have different priorities, Huxly pointed out. For example, more than 60% of Conscientious Consumers and Progressive Hedonists said they liked seeing people with LGBTQ+ orientations in advertising for the brands they buy, compared to 41% and 29% for the “in control” group. and the “traditional”. For both of these groups, messaging about progressive issues is likely to be an ineffective, potentially negative use of marketing spend. Goyder referenced Budweiser’s infamous 2019 Superbowl ad touting its commitment to sustainable energy. “Bud is a great mass beer.”He asked ironically: “Do average Budweiser drinkers driving a midwestern van really engage with this kind of messaging?”
However, credible messages on progressive issues are likely to pique the interest of the conscientious group. Additionally, different categories have different dynamics and will reward different strategies. For example, within the alcohol-free and plant-based categories, the market is primarily driven by consumers with progressive values, which is likely to be a source of benefit.
If your goal is to be a challenger or steal part of a big market (eg Innocent or Tony’s Chocolonely), then putting a sense of mission at the heart of your brand can be helpful. But be credible, Goyder stressed. “Understand your buyer base and what themes unite them. Recognize that your “conscientious” and “young hedonists” targets likely support a wide range of causes. »
For mass penetration, focus on what unites, not what divides
If you want to reach everyone, however, you need to reach a diversity of groups – and ages. Marketing too often makes sweeping generalizations about how younger generations feel about these issues, complains Huxly’s research. For example, generations are meaningless as a means of understanding consumers. They are all diverse and all of the consumer segments identified by Huxly appear across all generations. The different groups also have a lot in common. We all want to enjoy good times with our family, food, entertainment, the outdoors, and progress in life.
For mass penetration, food marketers should therefore focus on themes that unite us, not divide us. Take Cadbury’s moving advert telling the story of a little girl buying chocolate with buttons for her mother’s birthday. Or the darkly humorous Mars commercial involving two campers salivating over a Twix (and two bears salivating over a pair of campers) that interacts with most people on a comedic level.
“Classic advertising strategies – showing your product and its unique sensory qualities, in the context of emotional events – have the ability to create universal appeal”,pointed out Goyder. “This strategy enables very large brands in established categories to address the entire market to achieve market leadership and the production, distribution and communication efficiencies that go with it.”
Big brands always risk being left behind
However, for larger brands, this strategy creates a risk that challenger brands will select parts of your consumer base with mission-driven marketing. To counter this, Goyder said mainstream brands still need to make the supply chain more sustainable and continue to act ethically, to avoid being left behind by competitors and to avoid deterring progressive customers.
“Different brands have different ambitions,”he concluded. “Some say you shouldn’t have a sense of mission. Others say you should. What we recognize is that depending on your brand ambition and what category you’re in; very different rules are likely to apply.
“If you want to reach everyone in the market and create a market-leading brand, avoid all sorts of issues that could potentially divide your audience. The brand objective can be a useful tool for reaching certain audiences, but it’s not relevant to all categories and branding strategies. But challenger brands, targeting progressive audiences, can achieve a significant share, by using progressive values to boost the appeal of their propositions.