Driven by increasing pressure from consumers to take an authentic stand on troubling societal issues, many leading brands now have no choice but to develop campaigns aimed at identifying problems and offering solutions.

Coca-Cola SA has unveiled a new brand philosophy and platform that invites consumers to celebrate what it terms is the real magic of humanity. Absa has launched a new campaign called "Here for the ready", aimed at young South Africans "who are ready to learn, work, grow, change, rise and participate".

Beer brand Carling Black Label continues to preach a strong message against gender-based violence with its successful "No excuse" campaign by getting men to acknowledge the problem and take personal action.

In a campaign launched this week, the brand partnered with fashion designer Suzaan Heyns who designed a bridal gown using data from cases of intimate partner violence shared by NGO Lifeline, with victims’ consent. Stories of abuse are stitched into the garment.

The brand is also working with the department of home affairs to get the SA Council of Churches to change traditional wedding vows to include a commitment to oppose gender-based violence.

Jenny Moore, GM brand, design and functions marketing: Absa Group, tells the FM that purpose now needs to be embedded in an organisation’s ethos. "If all you are doing to bring your purpose to life is making an emotional ad that is meant to make people feel good, and this does not translate into their experience with you as an organisation, then we are simply going down the road of purpose-washing."

Purpose, she says, is meant to help drive organisational transformation from the old-school, shareholder-focused, profit-at-all-cost capitalist view — to a way of doing business that considers all stakeholders, balancing the need to make profit with the growing expectation that organisations should do so in an environmentally and socially responsible way.

Frontline marketing director of Coca-Cola’s SA franchise Michelle Cloete says its new brand platform, Real Magic, is built from lessons of the past 18 months of the pandemic, which show consumers can "find magic all around us when we come together in unexpected moments that elevate the everyday into the extraordinary". She says the campaign acknowledges the many contradictions people experience as new generations find harmony and human connection in a virtual and divided world.

The Carling campaign partnered with NGO Lifeline and invited people affected by abuse to use a special WhatsApp number. Just before the pandemic lockdown was implemented in 2020, calls in a single month went up by 500%.

Moore says brands are the face of an organisation, and the tangible expression of what the organisation believes is important. "If all brands are doing is to point to a rosy utopian future — a promise of what might be — then I don’t believe that this is going to move the dial. Brands that acknowledge the challenges and demonstrate what can be done today, to move closer to that ideal future state, help bridge the gap between aspiration and action."

She says Covid has also made brand purpose more relevant. "Yet, while brand purpose has now become mainstream, it mostly remains poorly defined and aspirational, and the pandemic has exposed the cracks in those whose brand purpose was undefined and too future-focused. A brand purpose should not simply be a window display. It should define your reason for being. It should turn words into actions, and possibility into reality."

The new Absa campaign is a story of SA’s youth, who are ready and eager to get out of the starting blocks — yet face insurmountable challenges. "We’re saying as Absa we recognise ‘the ready’, and we are here to help those who are ready by leveraging the programmes and tools and knowledge of our organisation to get them one step closer to what they believe is possible."

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