How Diageo is making purpose branding work for it financially and morally

Syl Saller: photo credit, Bronac McNeill
Syl Saller: photo credit, Bronac McNeill

A haul of industry awards have vindicated Diageo's move to inject social purpose into its brands, chief marketing officer Syl Saller told industry bosses today.

Last year, Guinness won 21 Cannes Lions and a gold effectiveness award from the IPA, highlighted Saller during her keynote address at the Advertising Association's Lead 2017 summit.

"It’s important to note that we’re seeing huge benefits from this move, it’s been like a handrail, not handcuffs," she said. "Purpose driven marketing doesn’t just move people, it has a tremendous effect on the business as a whole."

Her talk came just after Diageo reported sales growth of 14.5% to £6.4bn in the second half of 2016.

But beyond the business case for purpose-driven marketing, Saller believes that brands must strive to make the world a better place or risk becoming completely irrelevant. 

"Diageo alone spends $2.5bn in advertising and marketing a year. And I can’t even begin to speculate how much the combined budgets are in this room – but it’s a lot. And yet, research shows that 73% of people wouldn’t care if all brands disappeared," said Saller.

Fortunately, that same study by Y&R also learnt that 92% would be happy to do business with a brand that shares their values.

"People are actively choosing what they pay attention to. They want to connect with things that feel safe, trustworthy and aligned to things they care about," said Saller. "But how is it possible for something as commercial as a brand to meet those deep human needs?"

For starters, she continued, brands have broad global reach or deep local influence, granting them powerful voices. "We can make a difference. We have to look at our creative work and ask, what is this saying to world?"

Saller wants Diageo’s portfolio of brands to reflect the possibility of a better life. To ask if there is a higher purpose the brand could serve.

For Guinness, it’s brand purpose is ‘communion’ and is perhaps best expressed in Glass-Lion nominated ad by Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO which shared gay rugby player Gareth Thomas’ story.

The campaign saw Guiness sales up 4% for the six months ending 31 December due to the campaign, beating Rugby World Cup official sponsor, Heineken in terms of share of voice. Overall the brand saw an £8m incremental increase in national sales volume.

Other campaigns mentioned by Saller were Johnnie Walker’s "Ode to Lesvos" which is in line with the brand’s purpose of promoting personal progress; and Smirnoff’s "We’re open" campaign featuring a deaf dance teacher.

"Based on a study of Millennials, one thing that came up over and over is that they value diversity, of all kinds. They also really value inclusivity. Smirnoff is never pretentious, so 'We’re Open’ is a simple declaration of inclusivity from us," said Saller.

Smirnoff also got involved with International Women’s Day with Disc Woman. "Female contribution to EDM (electronic dance music) was significant but vastly overshadowed by male performers. The initiative supports new female DJs just getting their start," said Saller.

The initiative only cost Diageo £600,000 globally, and in return, the brand received 283 million impressions and became the most effective earned media programme Smirnoff had ever done.

"Because we talked about something people cared about," she said.

And it’s not just Diageo that’s doing this, continued Saller. "One of my faves is the Maltesers campaign. It made me rewind and watch it again. Was that really a woman talking about her sex life in a 30-second ad? Oh, yes it was!"

Saller used the ad as an example of "real bravery" in advertising. "I’m not sure I would have been brave enough. But it was absolutely the right thing for Mars to do. Inclusivity around female sexuality and disability."

Finally, Saller concluded, a big reason for a values driven brand is to attract the best talent. "If Millennials don’t feel the values of a company are aligned with theirs, they are more likely to leave".

Since Unilever articulated its commitment to sustainability, they have become one of the most in-demand employers, with job applications shooting up by 65%.

"We can make an enormous difference in peopl’s lives with the power we have," concludes Saller. "Let’s make sure we use it. 

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