It’s time for a marketplace of meaning

Back in the day, products were created to serve a need. Now, they're finding a need to serve.

Back in the day, products were created to serve a need. Now, they’re finding a need to serve.

The Nestlé brand was born in 1867 when Henri Nestlé, a Swiss pharmacist, struck a blow against the high infant mortality rate by launching Lactous Farina Nestlé. It was a new source of infant nutrition designed to keep babies who couldn’t breastfeed alive and thriving. L’Oréal, meanwhile, traces its roots back to 1907 when a young French chemist named Eugène Schueller came up with Auréole, a hair dye that was safer than the noxious options then on the market. He sold it to hairdressers, no doubt educating them on safe practices in the process.

Today, while Nestlé continues to develop the next generation of healthier, easier and tastier food and beverages (see page 11 for its recent strides), and L’Oréal continues its research-intensive pursuit of better beauty products (they are the top nanotechnology patent holder in the U.S.), brands have already been created to meet nearly every basic (and esoteric) need out there. So now the companies responsible for managing the great grand brands are also forging deeper connections with consumers by devoting more time and energy towards solving the wider societal problems that threaten wellbeing today.

And for those that are well connected to their roots, the DNA link remains strong when they take on a mission, such as Nestlé Canada continuing its kids nutrition efforts in an new online community with Canadian Living and Coup de pouce. And that’s certainly the case when it comes to L’Oréal’s global AIDS education initiative, which we pay homage to on the cover. Last year L’Oréal and UNESCO launched Hairdressers of the World Against AIDS, designed to give stylists preventative education training, which they in turn impart to their clients. The program began five years ago in South Africa, and will ultimately spread to all the countries where L’Oréal partners with salons.

It’s the rock-solid connection between the brand DNA and its initiative that leads JWT president/CEO Tony Pigott to cite this as his favourite example of a brilliant social strategy. And since he’s been involved in a global audit of such programs during the development of Ethos, JWT’s corporate social responsibility unit, he’s in as good a position as any to judge. With this benchmarking research in hand, Ethos is about to kick it up a notch in helping corporations to frame a long-term social strategy. As the research also indicated that consumers are hungrier now for a ‘marketplace of meaning,’ Pigott believes it’s the perfect time for brands to step up and partner with NGOs like UNESCO, which Ethos is working with, to help out with serious issues.

If you only read one thing this issue (which would be daft, but hey, it’s summer), make sure it’s the Brands Giving Back special report (page 46). There’s a lot of heartfelt and increasingly strategic work being done in this realm, and since recent surveys confirm that the consumer increasingly cares about brands that give back, CSR is moving up the priority list.

When we were researching this topic, we heard about an impressive range of Canadian programs. There’s a definite sea change underway, with more corporations recognizing that getting serious about a social issue – like Dove’s self esteem work or GE’s Ecomagination effort – is the new USP. If you have the opportunity to expand your brand’s social strategy, get on it, and maybe you’ll be in our 2007 report.

Cheers,mm

Mary Maddever, exec editor, strategy/MIC, maddever@brunico.com