BATAVIA, Ohio (AdAge.com) -- Brands must serve a greater purpose in consumers' lives than their functional benefits, and even abandon the idea that consuming more is the goal of a prosperous society, according to speakers at the International Advertising Association's 42nd world congress held in Moscow this week.
"We as market makers need to understand both sides of the coin ... the changes and the consequences," said Alan Rutherford, VP-global media at Unilever and the IAA's new chairman and world president.
In his speech at the IAA, Marc Pritchard, Procter & Gamble Co.'s global brand-building officer, urged marketers to "move from marketing [to] consumers to buy your brands to serving consumers with your brands." He outlined P&G's oft-talked-about commitment to "purpose brands," or brands that serve a broader social and emotional role in people's lives than their simple functional attributes, but framed in a new way as a blueprint for changing the nature of marketing globally.
"I truly believe we have the potential to change our craft from marketing to serving," he said. Among the examples he cited were Pampers initiatives that include its "1 pack=1 vaccine" program to provide infant tetanus vaccinations in developing countries and Pampers "Sleep & Play" diapers in Russia, positioned as offering children a better night's sleep, which in turn aids their development.
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He noted a campaign linked to P&G's Pur water-filtration brand that's providing clean drinking water to millions of people in an effort to combat a global shortage of clean drinking water. He also pointed to a PR-led effort in India behind Gillette products to spur a debate on whether women prefer their men clean shaven or stubbly, and to P&G's recent multibrand effort to support the U.S. Olympic Committee.
That project focused on moms of Olympic athletes and included paying for the athletes' mother to attend the Vancouver Games and setting up a house there for athletes' families. The program exceeded all goals, he said, producing 6 million consumer impressions. Of those, 3 million were from PR and 1 million from digital, with the rest coming from other advertising media.
Not all the ideas are entirely new: Both the "golden sleep" concept for Pampers in Russia, expanding to other global markets, and the mom-focused Olympics sponsorship bear some resemblance to programs done by Johnson & Johnson brands in years past. But P&G is applying these efforts to bigger brands on a larger scale, and incorporating them in a broader movement to advance causes and serve consumers through brands.
Maurice Levy, chairman-CEO of Publicis Groupe, described in his keynote speech the young and idealistic "Millennial Radicals" who are coming of age with the power to change older, mainstream opinions about the world and big business. They often, for instance, favor new brands that represent their views, Mr. Levy said.
"All leading brands are now subject to question," he said. "For the last 60 years, it's been pretty much accepted that if you were a market leader, you stayed a market leader. Now, it is almost the reverse. This is a great time to be a challenger, or an outsider."
Big brands also have an outsize ability -- and responsibility -- to help solve the world's problems, whether by pioneering more environmentally friendly hybrid cars like the Toyota Prius or by encouraging women to pursue careers in science, as L'Oreal's decade-old "Women in Science" program does.
Mr. Levy said the new generation of BRIC-country multinationals (Brazil, Russia, India and China) often have more advanced views on ethics than highly developed western nations. He cited the example of Brazil's Banco Real, renowned for using "the transformational power of finance to enhance Brazil's economic, social and environmental situation." That halo effect has created such a powerful brand that when Banco Santander took over the bank in 2007, the Spanish banking giant departed from its usual takeover strategy and kept Banco Real's name intact.
To re-invent themselves, big companies are creating a new pact with the world's consumers, Mr. Levy said.
"Ultimately, we need to question the very idea that 'consuming more' is the goal of a prosperous society," Mr. Levy said. "Couldn't consuming less or consuming better be a goal in itself? Can we really afford concepts like 'built-in obsolescence' and 'disposable fashion'? Surely it is better to replace them with products that have greater value because they last longer; with products that you can hire rather than own, that you can upgrade rather than throw out?"
Moving from consumption to post-materialism will be a much more fundamental change than just aspiring to sustainable development, he said. Marketers, according to Mr. Levy, will need to question some of their deepest beliefs about consumption and growth.
For more IAA speakers, check out a keynote address by WPP Chief Executive Martin Sorrell.