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Brief Published: 28 Apr 2014

Brands: Social Purpose?


Tom LaForge, global director of human and cultural insights at Coca-Cola, urged brands to consider their social impact at last month's Big Rethink conference in London, run by UK-based media firm The Economist Group.

During his keynote, LaForge argued that the major forces shaping the world, such as climate change, digital connectivity and the widening gap between the rich and poor, are causing huge shifts in consumers' attitudes to brands.

The problem is, LaForge said, that big business is not trusted any more. "Nobody doubts that we make good products," he said. "What they doubt is that we care. And so what we need to do is find a way to demonstrate that we do care about society. One of the ways that we can do that – and I think that this is going to be one of the best marketing tools over the next few years – is how you do your business."

He pointed out that the brands that are doing well now have positioned themselves from the beginning as companies that said they would do something to try and improve the lives of their consumers – brands such as Toms shoes, which operates a buy-one give-one business model, or Innocent, which promotes the benefits of a healthy lifestyle.

Dr Gabrielle Walker, chief scientist of strategic advisory firm Xynteo, echoed this sentiment while speaking at an Intelligence Squared event in London last month. "I don't think there's ever been a time when there's been such a breakdown of trust in businesses, in public institutions, in governments," she said at the Shell-sponsored event, which discussed food, water and energy sustainability. "There are a lot of big businesses thinking 'what is my purpose, what is the purpose of this organisation?'"

For more on the social impact brands can have, take a look at Brands That Do Good and Trends in Social Good.