Have we reached The End of Excess?

What is your local supermarket doing to reduce palm oil? What are global manufacturers doing to reduce plastic waste?

These questions were improbable less than a decade ago. But after years of environmental issues dominating the news agenda, has our ‘grab and go’ culture reached a tipping point?

Today’s Gen-Z and millennial audiences are shaking up our consumer behaviour. We are no longer satisfied with a plethora of apps, personalised vitamins or on-demand entertainment. We are changemakers.

It may come as no surprise that ‘single-use’ was crowned the 2018 Word of the Year by Collins Dictionary. This reflects a wider consumer demand for improved sustainability.

So, in a more politically and socially engaged world, have we reached The End of Excess? What opportunity does this provide for brands? And more importantly, what’s the risk?

Brands need to cultivate change

In the Networked Age, we are better connected and have access to more information than ever before. We are increasingly polarised in our opinions. And we expect the brands we consume to adopt a position, too.

These considerations play a big part in what public relations represents in 2019. PR acts as the dialogue between consumers and brands.

To cut through a crowded market, brands need a clear voice and adopt a social stance. To engage audiences, they need to demonstrate that they share the same values.

Activewear brand Patagonia made headlines when it donated 100 per cent of its Black Friday profits to grass-roots environmental organisations in 2016.

Since then, Patagonia has led the way for CSR initiatives – promoting labour practices and safe working conditions throughout its supply chain.

Similarly, Adidas’ and Parley’s ‘Run for the Oceans’ campaign turned heads when it raised awareness of the devastating impact of plastic pollution on marine life.

When the motive is credible, calling for environmental change should be applauded. But it needs to remain authentic and appropriate to context.

Keep it real

In June 2018, Paddy Power released print ad showing a polar bear exhibiting a St George’s cross. The PR stunt coincided with the World Cup and the PR stunt was intended to highlight the environmental damage in Russia.

While the bookmaker is helping to fund research into protecting polar bears, critics claimed the stunt “lacked sincerity”.

So what next?

Brands must ensure its social purpose is part of the fabric of the company.

The brand must be well-informed by an understanding of the issue, as well as being aware of how this is received by consumers and wider stakeholder groups.

But they also need to recruit their audience to become part of their mission to drive societal or political change: from board-level down.

PR consultants have a role to play in helping brands shape their social identity, as well as developing the tools which connect the wider world.

The risk involved? When done badly, the repercussions are costly. We live in a world where people can disrupt reputation at the touch of a button. A single Twitter post that can begin trending among a united community in a flash.

But when done well, a brand creates a social purpose and a force-for-change. A loyal customer base then follows.