Founder and CEO of Channel Factory, world leader in brand suitability, content alignment and ad performance on YouTube.
If the last year has taught us anything, it is that priorities are not set in stone. Consumer sentiment has changed dramatically as their purchasing priorities have moved toward intangible outcomes like social justice and equality. As values shift, consumers are looking to brands to shift with them. One way for brands to do this is to invest in their audience’s values that are aligned with their own and put a greater emphasis on conscious advertising.
Consumers express their values to advertisers all the time. The internet has given more power than ever before to the consumer to share feedback with advertisers. Consumers want to be surrounded by content that is engaging and relevant to them. In order to help facilitate this, there are key components of every conscious advertising strategy that advertisers should keep in mind.
A Changing Consumer
Last summer highlighted that consumers were ready for change. Between a global pandemic, social unrest, misinformation and increasingly louder calls for equality, the world was turned upside down. Consumer priorities experienced seismic shifts.
According to a 2020 study, 81% of global consumers — from Gen Z to Baby Boomers (ages 18 to 73) — are either value-driven consumers who want good value or purpose-driven consumers who seek products and services aligned with their values.
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They’d be willing to pay more or switch to brands that do. This sentiment has only grown since then. Nearly 60% of consumers questioned in a survey said “it is no longer acceptable for companies to be silent on social justice issues” and almost half said “they assume companies that remain quiet on social justice issues don’t care.”
Consumers are savvy, knowledgeable and outspoken. They have values, ideas, beliefs and opinions that they want to see reflected back to them when they are watching an ad. It is not enough for brands to remain silent. For successful campaigns moving forward, advertisers need to invest in the values of their consumers and make a conscious decision to create content that matters to them.
Where to Start
It is not hard to get to grips with what consumers want today — the changing sentiment is loud and clear for those who want to listen. Brands need to not only listen but also stand up for what is right, even if they risk rocking the boat.
Take Nike, for example. In 2018, Nike released an ad featuring football player Colin Kaepernick who was, at the time, one of the most polarizing figures in the United States. Two years prior, Kaepernick started to kneel for the pre-game national anthem in protest of racial injustice in the U.S. The ad featured the slogan: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”
By having Kaepernick appear in the ad, Nike was showing its full support for his movement and the greater fight against racial injustice in the U.S. It was a polarizing ad, a firm stance on a critical social issue and an investment in the values of Nike’s consumers. Nike’s sales increased by 31% in the days following the ad’s debut.
Most often, brands rely on advertising campaigns to engage with audiences and to show that they’re aligned in their thinking with these particular consumer groups. But even still, advertising needs to keep pace with this changing society. If brands are going to remain relevant and engaging, they need to target audiences in the right way, in the right context and with the right emotion, tone and feeling. According to a survey conducted by my own agency, 73% of consumers surveyed say they are more likely to buy from brands whose ads are relevant to the content they’re consuming on YouTube.
Advertisers need to be more conscious of their audience targeting, particularly on platforms like YouTube, where viewers often turn to for diverse content that they can’t get on mainstream television. For example, in the U.K., our recent Inclusive Languages survey conducted by market research platform, Lucid, found that 76% of respondents seek out content on YouTube as it offers more language choice. Yet, in stark contrast, 74% of the advertising run through our platform on YouTube is in the English-only language.
It isn’t just languages that advertisers need to be more aware of today but also minority communities. According to a study conducted by CHEQ here in the U.S., 73% of LGBTQ+ friendly channels are blocked by industry-standard blocklists. While this particular study focused on LGBTQ+ channels, minority creators across the board are disproportionately impacted by the antiquated blocklists that are the driving force in audience targeting for advertising campaigns today. Advertisers need to reexamine targeting tools — specifically how these blocklists work to ensure brands and subcultures are equally and representatively aligned.
Another way brands can ensure they get conscious advertising right is through continued education. The online environment is changing rapidly, and advertisers can’t afford to sit on their laurels any longer. Expanding your knowledge base is crucial, and continued education can help brands keep pace with today’s changes — for example, working with minority creators to bring inclusivity and diversity to ad campaign strategies.
Adopting a Conscious Strategy
Consumer sentiment has changed drastically in the last year alone. And, while we’re not out of the Covid weeds yet, these changes continue to show no sign of slowing down anytime soon. Brands will be held to an even higher standard in terms of being outspoken on important social issues. In order to meet those standards, brands need to be committed to listening to their consumers and building advertising strategies that revolve around their audience’s values.
The first step is listening to your audience and making sure your strategies will speak to their values. Brands should continue to educate themselves on creating a positive environment online and reevaluate blocklists as a starting place. Authenticity is key in a conscious strategy, and now is the perfect time for brands to align with consumers’ values.