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Selling Products by Selling Shared Values

The purpose of marketing is to sell products, but there is also a new way, known as purpose, or purpose-based, marketing, to do it.

Purpose marketing, also called pro-social marketing, advertising for good and conscious capitalism, woos consumers with information about the values, behavior and beliefs of the companies that sell the products. The goal is to convince potential customers that the companies operate in a socially responsible manner — marketing “meaningful brands,” to borrow a term from the Havas Media division of Havas — that goes beyond tactics like making charitable contributions or selling a product or two in recyclable packaging.

Purpose marketing is becoming popular on Madison Avenue because of the growing number of shoppers who say that what a company stands for makes a difference in what they do and do not buy.

Consumers are seeking “authentic emotional connections” with brands, said Mandy Levenberg, vice president and consumer strategist for cause and sustainable living at CEB Iconoculture, a consumer research and advisory firm that is part of the Corporate Executive Board Company, and the perception that certain “shared values” can increase loyalty.

Such consumers, frequently referred to as socially conscious shoppers, are assiduous in their research of corporate policies. That means a company doing something deemed at odds with its purpose-based mission statement or high-minded advertising campaign runs the risk of eliciting disappointment — or even a sense of betrayal — among socially conscious shoppers who consider themselves misled.

Thus, a company that pursues purpose marketing must communicate what its “core values” actually are, said Michael Simon senior vice president and chief marketing officer at the Needham, Mass., office of the Panera Bread Company restaurant chain.

For instance, Panera is “a place to get great soup, salads, sandwiches, but we stand for so much more,” he added, citing policies that include donating unsold baked goods, starting the Panera Bread Foundation, working with organizations like Feeding America and opening donation-based community restaurants under the Panera Cares banner.

“We talk about our values internally, but we’ve been reticent to leverage them,” Mr. Simon said. That changed as a result of research that showed that communicating those attributes and actions could be “more compelling to our customers” than conventional pitches about meal deals or how “my sandwich is better than the guy across the street’s.”

So Panera and its new creative agency, Cramer-Krasselt in Chicago, are introducing a campaign, with a budget estimated at $70 million, that bears the slogan: “Live consciously. Eat deliciously.”

The campaign will include television and radio commercials; digital, print and outdoor ads; and a significant presence on social media like Facebook and Twitter. The estimated 13 million customers who belong to the My Panera program will get a preview on Thursday. (The campaign is to be formally introduced on Monday.)

The effort is intended to convey that “as a successful business, the people at Panera believe it’s important to participate in the community beyond pure business,” said Marshall Ross, Cramer-Krasselt’s executive vice president and chief creative officer.

“Of course, Panera’s not the only people to care about these things, deliver these things,” he added, but “when people who like the company for the food hear about the kind of company it is, it changes how they feel; they like it even more, for more emotional, more potent, more loyalty-driving reasons.”

Mr. Ross acknowledged that purpose marketing “really does need to reflect real sincerity, without making people cynical.”

“Sometimes an ad agency’s job is to conjure the story and express it in a fascinating way,” he said. “This time, our job was to shut up and listen to the real story.”

A television commercial that will help introduce the campaign starts with a narrator who says: “When Panera began, we decided to get up every day and bake fresh bread from fresh dough in every bakery cafe. That decision made us wonder, what else could we do the right way?” The narrator goes on to ask: “Could we make food that lives up to our bread? And could it be food you can trust, with ingredients like antibiotic-free chicken?”

The commercial continues in a circular style, underlined by a Rube Goldberg machine that mimics the daily routine at a Panera restaurant. “Could we start all this with a humble loaf of bread?” the narrator concludes. “We already have, and every morning we start again.”

For Bumble Bee seafood, Bumble Bee Foods is playing down traditional ads focused on products in favor of purpose-based efforts under a rubric, “BeeWell for Life,” meant to emphasize health and nutrition. Those efforts involve blogs, e-books, Facebook and a Web site.

“We’re figuring out as a company, as people, how we can effect change,” said David F. Melbourne Jr., senior vice president for marketing and corporate social responsibility at Bumble Bee Foods in San Diego. “Rather than pushing out brand messaging, we’re engaging consumers in a more meaningful way.”

In pursuing purpose marketing, initiatives ought to “incorporate realistic goals,” he added, to keep the campaigns from seeming too ethereal.

Bumble Bee Foods is primarily working with two agencies, Mr. Melbourne said, Geary Interactive in San Diego and Fleishman-Hillard, part of the Omnicom Group. Spending for the “BeeWell for Life” efforts is estimated at $5 million.

Other brands known for purpose marketing include Kashi, sold by Kellogg, and Whole Foods Market. A newcomer to the trend, Union Bank, is introducing a campaign by Eleven in San Francisco that carries the theme “Doing right, it’s just good business.” It features Edward James Olmos and Maya Angelou. Ms. Angelou? As in, “I Know Why the Caged Bank Sings”?

 

Stuart Elliott, The New York Times. February 13, 2013

Copyright © 2013 The New York Times Company. All rights reserved.

 

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