Can values-based marketing backfire?

burnout-2733028_1920.jpgIn a world where fake news is continuously in the headlines (if not the actual headlines) it’s no wonder that we’re seeing a resurgence in purpose-driven marketing amongst brands.

Linking your brand to a wider societal cause can create strong, long-lasting connections with your target audience that cuts through any debate about what is fact and what is fiction. But good intentions can go wrong if you’re not keeping an eye on wider issues.

Turning beer into water

AB InBev, owner of the Stella Artois brand, is one example of a company that is taking a more values-oriented approach in its marketing strategy to stand out in a crowded field.
Stella Artois started a clean water initiative in 2015, when it launched a campaign where part of the purchase of its limited-edition beer chalices would be donated to
As a marketing campaign it appears to be working well for the brand. Nearly one million chalices have been sold and the fact that Stella Artois chose this partnership to feature in its 30-sec SuperBowl spot possibly the most watched ad space of the year shows that this philanthropic approach to marketing is having a pretty strong return on investment.
But a purpose-driven approach isn’t always plain sailing.
For this particular campaign, for instance, Stella Artois is working with Hollywood actor Matt Damon, the co-Founder of
Matt Damon isn’t known for being a wallflower with his opinions, which can get him into some hot water of his own. He has been openly critical of current US politics, leading to (unfounded!) allegations that he is moving to Australia due to his anger with Trump policies’. He also caused much discussion when he weighed in on the #metoo issue post-Harvey Weinstein revelations by pointing out that not all men in Hollywood are sexual predators, which led to an online backlash with continuing impact.
When brands link with high profile influencers, such as Matt Damon, as part of their purpose-driven marketing, it is clear that they must prepare themselves for being on the receiving end of the ups and downs that come from those connections too.
Just take a look at the comments being posted on Stella Artois’ Facebook page:
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Overall, though, the posts contain a mix of positive comments, influencer criticism, and brand criticism.
But in a world where people are searching for the authentic over the phoney, having a range of positive and negative responses can work well in the long-term for brands. It’s just a case of accepting that, when you take a purpose-based marketing approach, not everyone will agree with you. The trick is to make sure that, in the long-run, you have more supporters than dissenters.
You also need to have a clear view on what you stand for and how to manage opposition in a way that sits well with both your brand and the values you’re looking to portray.
To do that well you need to have strong social media curation skills.

What do you need for social media curation?

Social media curation requires three things:
  1. Good listening you need to be aware of what is being said, on your own channels as well as across the wider web about your brand, your influencers and trending issues
  2. A well-defined voice you need to have a clear view on what your values are and the tone that you should use, and be consistent with how that is applied
  3. Clear guidelines be sure that your whole team knows how to address different opinions and content posted online. What is acceptable? What is inappropriate? Don’t leave it to each person’s own judgement.
It can be a difficult skill to master, and it’s one that your whole team must be able to apply consistently. It’s also not static. Although general guidelines tend to stay the same, content curation is constantly evolving to match the latest trends and issues. Just look at the #metoo and #neveragain movements. These global movements are leading brands to look hard at their values and how they communicate these to their audiences.
DICK’s Sporting Goods is one example of a brand that has done just that recently. In the aftermath of the Portland school shooting, this US retailer took a decision to take a stand on gun sales, starting with its own practices. The social media world was completely split with 50% calling DICK’s their hero’ and the other 50% incensed at the move and vowing never to shop there again.
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Since DICK’s made their announcement a number of other major US retailers have made similar moves, which implies that, in the long-run, DICK’s has probably made the right decision.

Making values-based marketing work for you

So can a values-based marketing approach backfire on your brand? Well…yes. We’ve not included examples of brands here where that has been the case (you can easily find those online!). But it’s not the values-based approach itself that tends to lead to a backlash, instead it’s when a brand fails to consider the wider sentiment around an issue, or gets caught out when an influencer goes rogue, or makes a move that is considered contrary to its core values.
By continually listening and proactively working through the full range of issues that might impact your brand (from the obvious to the not-so-obvious time to get creative!) and having clear guidelines on how to approach the good, the bad and the ugly of user-generated posts, you will be in the strongest position possible to receive all the benefits you can get from taking a values-based marketing approach.
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