The Rise of the Conscious Consumer

Brand communication has changed. Just this morning I clicked through a targeted advert of a brand who “understood the need for clothing to do more”. I spent too long looking through their site for what exactly it needed to do more of, and how it did it. I couldn’t find it.

I believe previously this statement could be used with good intention and not necessarily needing the backing of powerful sustainability pledges such as ‘one for one’ provided by shoe maker Tom’s, with every product you buy you will help a child in need. However, recently the rise of the conscious consumer indicates that brands are now required to have their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) imbedded and clearly described in their core brand mission.

There are a number of ways in which we see brands working towards this. In 2018, Mintel predicted a rise in activism focusing on marine life and sustainability. This was certainly visible at At Food Matters Live where there was a focus on the perils of plastic and how lots of brands such as Carlsberg and Cargill are using alternative innovative materials to reduce our impact on the environment. Consumers expect brands to integrate sustainability measures into their brand mission. Representing this shift are brands such as Ben and Jerry’s promising to make the world a better place as part of their social mission. Sustainability can also be generated through material usage, as Adidas reported 1 million sales from their trainers made from ocean plastics, or lack of it with Lush Cosmetic company launching their naked cosmetics store which is entirely packaging free. With environmental and animal-friendly motivations, there is a surge of beauty enthusiasts supporting vegan products such as the cosmetic brand Urban Decay. More changes are expected to take place following government plans to ban the distribution and sale of items such as straws and cotton buds. Alongside these trends, in 2019 we may see an increase in corporate activism illustrated last year with brands standing up for causes they believe in such as Nike aligning themselves with the ‘bend the knee’ movement.

It is not just the fashion industry that are keen to promote their conscience, we’re also seeing this trend in the food industry. The increase in trends such as ‘veganuary’ suggest consumers are trying more sustainable options in their diets with alternatives to meat and fish. Well known brands such as Greggs with their newly popular vegan sausage roll and Iceland with their pledge against palm oil and plastic waste, are shifting their missions to appeal to the conscious consumer. To add innovative diversity, new brands are constantly appearing on our shelves and screens; bloody burgers from Beyond Meat, cool vegan and alcohol-free restaurants such as Redemption and tuna-free tuna from Good Catch.

Education based decisions and transparent messaging, alongside brands taking a responsible stance on a matter they believe in, is becoming essential to gain and retain consumer trust. However brands need to tread carefully. There are examples where brands whose campaign makes an effort to support a conscious change creates backlash and criticism. Critics and customers have slammed Gillette’s new advert, which aiming to provide men with an alternative statement ‘the best men can be’ replacing the well known ‘the best a man can get’ attempted to enforce positive behaviour for change and to align with the #metoo movement. This advert has evoked a strong response, widely considered patronising and badly placed with suggestions that the brand needed to extend the education surrounding the message and perhaps have more actionable examples carried out by the brand. Contrasting to the Always ‘Like a girl’ campaign which strengthens the female position with positive reinforcement and praised for its bravery, the Gillette advert has been hit with accusations and an unhappy audience voice. It is interesting to highlight the importance of the approach for commercial brands when embarking on a new message, to ensure their messaging is conveyed in a way where their audience want to back the brand’s actions and stand alongside their mission for positive change.  

Many brands have been well known for their ethical approach such as Stella McCartney and The Body Shop and throughout the year, we predict more brands will be adopting a more ethical position to appeal to the minds of the conscious consumer.