The revolution will be hashtagged. The revolution will be Instagram Storied. The revolution will be streamed on Facebook Live. The revolution will be branded.

Today, we are inundated with consumer choice. A simple search for “buy vodka” will bring up Google Shopping results from Absolut, Smirnoff, Grey Goose, Stolichnaya, Crystal Head, and the list goes on. Which one gets to be your drink of choice? With such similar price points and even delivery options (two-hour collection or free delivery within two days), most if not all of your consideration will come down to the brand itself.

Consumer research shows that 81% of people research a brand before they buy online. And 53% will choose a brand based on what social or economic good they give back to the world. #OccupyWallStreet bought awareness to the concept of the 1% and, naturally, consumers no longer find it acceptable for large brands and corporations to accumulate profits without setting some aside for the have-nots.

And with information now so readily accessible, any brand – be it government, corporation or media outlet – could be at risk of being exposed to an increasingly unforgiving public. This change in consumer consideration has shifted branding as we know it. Every year we cringe at the latest crop of “socially aware” ads as brands try to exploit real-world issues for their own benefit. Remember that Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad?

Social responsibility goes deeper than an ad; it’s a long-term strategy about changing behaviour for the greater good, and it prospers and thrives through search and social media.

Smirnoff – We’re Open

Let’s go back to vodka – to Smirnoff. Along with many other alcohol brands, Smirnoff uses premiumization in its advertising to try to convey the superiority and exclusivity of its product.

However by analysing search trends around real-world issues like the 2016 US Election, LGBTIQ rights, racial segregation, Islamophobia and disabled rights, Smirnoff realised that the way to cut through the alcohol market was to promote inclusivity instead of exclusivity.

By applying a linguistic lens on search intent and keyword strings, Smirnoff were able to draw correlations between what demographics were searching for their brand and generic vodka terms in order to better connect with consumers in their advertising. This led to their always-on “Exclusively for Everybody” digital strategy where they target by mind set instead of consumer profile.

What does this look like?

With the understanding that social media is a community-led channel where dialogue is paramount, Smirnoff targeted users who were showing search and social signals surrounding sexuality, gender, social mobility and inequality – both for and against. Users were then served a series of videos featuring stories of individuals who’d been negatively affected by exclusionary attitudes.

One of the 30-second ads is the story of deaf dance teacher, Chris Fonseca.

These were then followed up with reactive imagery based on cultural events at the time.

While the ads were live, Smirnoff measured brand equity to see the campaign’s impact on the overall dialogue surrounding cultural issues. If a creative didn’t improve positive sentiment, they removed it and created something different.

And it worked. One of the key realisations during the campaign was that by using real people instead of celebrities, Smirnoff could create an inclusive message that improved their connections across the vulnerable communities that find their solace online.

Alongside this, Smirnoff have since increased their market share of the vodka trade to 59%.


Doing good, right

Be open. Rebranding is hard. Connecting with consumers as just one of many options is even harder. But when you look outside of your company data and look at what consumers are doing across all channels, you can see what matters to them and help them build the world that they want to see.

Be authentic. Content needs to be authentic; it needs to resonate and connect. Connections are made when the consumer can see themselves in the lifestyle that a brand promoting, which means using real people to tell the story of the real lives that are being lived out there.

It’s impossible to actually care about Kendall Jenner drinking a Pepsi because nobody can relate to her, but we can care about the old lady on the dancefloor just trying to have a good time because we’ve seen it, we want it, and one day, we will be it.

Be reactive. Invest in social listening tools and be prepared to pull and re-make assets if they aren’t contributing to a positive social dialogue.

Be patient. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is a brand. Changing consumer behaviour takes time, but time is a valuable thing – and if you’re willing to give it with an always-on approach, you’ll be the brand that people choose when they want to create the best moments of their life.

Catherine Rewha

Catherine Rewha is a Digital Planner working in paid media at iProspect Melbourne. With a keen interest in the ways that media accessibility and consumption impact societal structures, Catherine leverages audience data sets and broader social trends to build diverse messaging, format and channel buying strategies for clients.