Winning Brands Turn Sustainability Into A Verb: ANA’s CEO Says P&G And Unilever Are Leading By Example – Forbes

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Bob Liodice

Brands that balance purpose and sustainability at a fair price point stand to win market share.


Consumers want to know that the brands they buy stand for something good, represent their own beliefs and take action in favor of environmental, racial, economic and social justice. Those brands that balance purpose and sustainability at a fair price point stand to win market share.

Consider Seventh Generation: The products clean as well as the other leading detergent brands and are slightly more expensive. And consumers are willing to pay that extra dollar knowing that the product does little to no harm to the environment. The sustainability train is leaving the station and brands need to hop on or they, and their profits, may be left behind by consumers who demand both an affordable product and a corporate focus on doing the right thing. 

In today’s interview, I speak with Association of National Advertiser’s CEO Bob Liodice to learn more about sustainability trends he sees amongst their 20,0000 brands. As a partner at ad agency Barkley, a certified B Corp, we’ve seen many of the trends Bob discusses affect how brands plan and ultimately act on their purpose.

 Jeff Fromm: How are major brands evolving the definition of sustainability as they think about environmental, economic, racial, and social justice?

Bob Liodice: Essentially, it is part of mainstream activity for brands. Rather than separate them into buckets about sustainability or DEI, they all blend in together. Whether it's a social environment or a climate environment, brands have woken up, as has society, and they are looking at racial and social injustice, looking at the damage that we're doing to our planet, and recognizing that consumers are looking to brands to help them move forward. 

COVID really accelerated a deep appreciation of the role that brands had to play. We did a study shortly after COVID hit and found that there was a great degree of anxiety among consumers, whether it be with respect to employment, finances, and most importantly, health at that point in time. Interestingly, as brands changed their messaging to being far more receptive to what consumers needed, they stopped selling and they started to embrace consumers and the relationships continued to build. With that, their overall business actually started to grow and they started to recognize that having that relationship with consumers was fundamentally critical, and they continue to be able to build on that.

Sustainability itself fits so squarely into that equation. We all recognize that we can do better. Even though there is great progress being made, if you don't continue to put your foot on the pedal, those things start to deteriorate. The recognition that the intersectionality of purpose, DEI, and sustainability are all about improving the overarching environment, and that's where the 20,000 brands that we represent are moving to.

Fromm: Are there some major brands integrating Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging into their business strategy that you could highlight? 

Liodice: First of all, from a sustainability standpoint, the standout performer in this regard is Unilever, which under the former CMO, Keith Weed, really moved to make sustainability a foundation to almost every business decision that the Unilever enterprise made. They've been living that for quite a number of years.

In terms more DE&I related, there are a number of companies that stand out, but I turn to P&G, which has gone above and beyond demonstrating, through a number of diverse ads and their outreach in an extraordinarily emotional and meaningful way. P&G is one of the leaders in how we need to be thinking of diversity, equity and inclusion as part of the core fabric in reaching out to our consumers.

It's all about the consumers and it's not so much about the hard sell of brand attributes and benefits. 

When we think about all of this, there is a tripartite  organization within ANA called AIMM, the Alliance for Inclusive and Multicultural Marketing. This highly engaged division  consists of brands, agencies, and media, as well as a few other associations and other enterprises. AIMM recognizes a greater degree of focus on DE&I and the ability to change the direction of how marketers are reaching out to their respective consumers. They believe there needs to be a far greater degree of recognition and an accurate portrayal of all cultures and genders in their respective advertising.

We had gone too long with thinking that we understood the realm of what was in the consumer's mind. For all of us, what we've done is we actually got into some things that measured the impressions of our ads from a gender and a culture standpoint, and we learned a lot. We have two measures that we use, GEM, the gender equality measure, and CIIM, which is a cultural impact measure to help determine the appropriate portrayal of women and cultures in ads.

What we're seeing through this is the ability to change that creation to demonstrate the level of inclusivity in the way that we reach out to consumers. While we haven't gotten into the belonging phase,  there is a distinct acknowledgement that we have to change the way weoutreach to consumers across all platforms.

Fromm: Can you talk about your partnership with the Global Alliance for Responsible Media and the importance of brand safety?

Liodice: Brand safety is becoming foundationally important. Brand safety also means consumer safety. It's an area that we've taken very seriously through an organization that we created with the World Federation of Advertisers called GARM, the Global Alliance for Responsible Media. GARM was created to address some of the brand safety issues particularly with adjacency to difficult ads, whether it's terrorism or other ill forms of behavior that we just all  shudder at, recognizing that a lot of these bad ads were coming through social media.

GARM has made some incredible progress over the last two years to advance brand safety, to collaborate with all of the platforms. There was a major release just in the past couple of weeks from GARM about creating common measurement approaches among all of the respective platforms so that we can actually measure the level of progress.

I applaud the great work that GARM has done. We've done a lot to help to contribute to that. Now it's up to all of us, especially the brain  community, to understand what is taking place and to continue to work with the platforms to be able to make this a far safer environment where we all can communicate freely and confidently.

Is your brand turning sustainability into a verb? Click HERE to answer questions to find out.

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