News & Views

Brand Positive / A panel at Youth Marketing Strategy 2016

by Contagious Contributor

Sean Pillot de Chenecey, consultant at Captain Crikey, gives Contagious the lowdown on the Brand Positive panel at YMS 2016, which discussed how and why brands with a social purpose resonate with younger audiences.  

Youth Marketing Strategy is the biggest coming together of the youth marketing industry in Europe. YMS2016 saw over a thousand delegates from brands, agencies and youth organisations gather in London for a festival on the latest youth marketing trends. The event saw speakers from Shazam, Microsoft, Unilever, TYF, Mondelez, The Guardian, Clear Channel, Samsung, Innocent and many others explore the cultural, social and digital changes that are revolutionising future consumption habits. 

I chaired a session on Brand Positive activity, which explained why businesses that act with a social conscience are winning over young consumers.

We began the session by showing a short film from Google Creative Lab. One of the initiatives they were part of recently helped Syrian refugees with vital information they needed after arriving on the shores of Greece. The civil war in Syria has forced millions to flee their homes, causing the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War. Last summer up to seven thousand refugees were arriving on the Greek islands every day, often with just the necessities, legal documents, and mobile phones. They landed not knowing exactly where they were, what to do, or where to go next.

They needed information to ensure their safety and security but much of the information available was inaccurate, out of date, or in a language they didn’t understand. That’s why the International Rescue Committee, Mercy Corps and Google created  the Refugee Info Hub - a mobile site for NGOs to give refugees accurate and up-to-date information.

It’s powered by Google Docs (a tool NGOs are familiar with) to make it easy to update with vital information as quickly as possible. Information such as how to register and seek asylum, or how to get to refugee camps and medical resource centres, and anything else they might need. All in their native language.

The site that Google created ( was designed to load quickly and in white on black to preserve battery power. They let refugees know about the site through posters, banners, stickers, wifi landing pages, and volunteers. The site was created in less than two days and launched in Lesvos. Within four months it was being used in eighteen locations across Europe by more than thirty NGOs and counting. (Because it was built in a simple way, NGOs can deploy and update it quickly and easily in any future crisis). So far, has helped more than 100,000 refugees to date, and it continues to be accessed by over 1000 refugees every day.

The panel debated how to clarify social purpose from a brand point of view, and how to define a purpose using the authentic values of an organisation. According to Jess Enoch from Flamingo 'There are lots of issues that people care about, but any brand involvement must be authentic. Social purpose has to start with the brand and a credible solution that the brand can apply to a problem in the world – a recent example involved Pearson (the educational publisher). They have just released their ‘Alphabet of Illiteracy’ about how many problems in the world are caused by illiteracy - and how literacy can start to solve lots of those problems. That project (with a campaign created by FCB Inferno) brilliantly and authentically illustrated what that organisation can offer.' 

So it’s clearly more important than ever that beyond ‘starting a conversation’ around social issues, brands go and enact meaningful, real-world change. As Maxwell Luthy, Director or Trends & Insights for Trendwatching put in the Youth Trends Report released with YMS 2016 'while many young consumers will voice frustrations, champion victories and wade into debates on social issues online, this does not mean that they will tolerate brands that limit themselves to ‘click-tivism’. Brands must have their own house in order (as Starbucks found out) before they leap on an issue, because young people in particular will call out and share hypocrisy on social platforms with lightning-like speed.' 

And a vital element of demonstrating authentic values in a youth context is that, as Marcus Davey, CEO of the Roundhouse put it during the Brand Positive session 'if we want the younger generation to be part of our society then we need to invest in them in terms of helping them run our society. At the Roundhouse we have young people on our main Board of Trustees, and a Youth Advisory Board. That should be something we all investigate – whether it be youth governments, youth involvement in all levels of our organisations – it’s something we can all adopt. Because if we want to help young people to find a future, the starting point shouldn't be doing things for young people – but with young people.'

Another purpose-led brand, famous for its One-for-One activity is TOMS, a global giving company that uses business to improve lives. On the panel we had Allie Tsavdarides, brand marketing communications director, who outlined how TOMS started with a founder (Blake Mycoskie) who had an idea that he that wanted to make a difference. That ‘making a difference’ idea developed into a brand that now operates successfully in over 70 countries.

This year marks ten years of giving, but as Allie said 'our tenth year is more than a number, it’s about celebrating a way of life that TOMS started and the impact it’s has had on people’s lives. Thanks to our business model we have been able to give over 50 million pairs of shoes to children in need across the globe, restore eyesight to over 360,000 people in need, provided over 250,000 weeks of safe water and helped provide safe births to mothers and children in need around the world.' 

I asked her about why that simple model - where the purchase of a pair of shoes enables a give-away of a pair of shoes – sparked such a big movement. She told us: 'They found it easy to connect with that mission. What is interesting is that it becomes an extension of the consumer in a very simple way. I think that to be able to translate such a simple concept to our consumers has been the power of the story. We’ve now been doing what we’re doing for a decade and since then we’ve also seen many types of businesses evolve that were inspired by TOMS. We weren’t necessarily the first but I think we’re a great example of how it can work.'

But what about lessons for other brands interested in this type of activity? I asked Allie for her views on how TOMS create campaigns that bring about change. She replied, 'by listening to our customers and the community. So much of what we do today is a direct reflection of feedback from our customers. The sense of being accessible - listening, adapting, evolving; that’s the key.' And what’s next? 'One of the latest moves has been the TOMS ‘Social Entrepreneurship Fund’ a platform built by Blake to support the future of socially conscious driven entrepreneurs, which was launched recently. Massively exciting!'

To finish off the panel, we discussed how the continued rise of purpose led branding also happens to be good news for the agency sector. Helping develop brand positive concepts and creating motivating ways to promote them points to a positive way forward.