John Lewis’ #ManOnTheMoon Proves Branded Social Advocacy Can Make An Impact

John Lewis’ lat­est sea­son­al cam­paign has shone a spot­light on brands infus­ing an ele­ment of social good. Do such prac­tices pro­vide prov­able val­ue?

Pat Hong By Pat Hong from Linkdex. Join the discussion » 0 comments

Brand­ed social advo­ca­cy, or cor­po­rate social respon­si­bil­i­ty, has been an increas­ing­ly press­ing item on the brand mar­ket­ing agen­da in recent years. John Lewis’ lat­est sea­son­al cam­paign shines a spot­light not only on lone­li­ness at Christ­mas, but also on brands that are infus­ing an ele­ment of social good into their cam­paigns. But do such prac­tices pro­vide prov­able val­ue?

Pete Mar­tin of dig­i­tal agency The Gate, writ­ing in “The True, The Good, The Beau­ti­ful, begins with a bold max­im on social busi­ness:

Every busi­ness is a ‘peo­ple busi­ness’. Every enter­prise is a social enter­prise. Every brand is sim­ply the sum of the thoughts and feel­ings and actions of its com­mu­ni­ty.”

Draw­ing from the time­less wis­dom of philoso­pher Pla­to, “The True, The Good, The Beau­ti­ful” is an impas­sioned call to action for brands in the 21st cen­tu­ry to address the age-old dichoto­my between the prag­ma­tists and the ide­al­ists, the num­ber-crunch­ers and the strate­gists – and in the con­text of the busi­ness world, the inevitable ten­sion between short-term busi­ness tar­gets and the long-term goals. The argu­ment (and there is per­haps grow­ing momen­tum for the view rip­pling through the mar­ket­ing world) is that the bal­ance is tip­ping towards the more ide­al­ized end of the spec­trum. Brands increas­ing­ly are becom­ing much more self-aware and proac­tive on social issues. The key ques­tion that must be addressed: is social advo­ca­cy indica­tive of a wider trend in busi­ness or is it mere­ly the lat­est mar­ket­ing fad?

Can Brands Be Advocates Of Social Good?

One of the endur­ing ques­tions for brands is whether they can posi­tion them­selves as advo­cates of social good while remain­ing com­pet­i­tive. Do such efforts aid their over­all brand val­ue, which can deliv­er prov­able ROI, or is it an unnec­es­sary cost? Sev­er­al notable brands have invest­ed in advo­ca­cy. Ear­li­er this year Lisa Lacy report­ed on how Coca-Cola, Nivea, and the U.S. Navy have used social good to cre­ate mem­o­rable expe­ri­ences. In Cana­da, cof­fee chain Tim Hor­ton’s have the envi­able posi­tion of being the coun­try’s best loved brand, due to a cul­mi­na­tion of cre­ative mar­ket­ing (such as their pop­u­lar pay-it-for­ward cam­paign), their grass­roots local com­mu­ni­ty work, and fair-trade prac­tices. When it comes to social progress, 2015 has also seen a large num­ber of brands speak­ing out on the issues of the day. Always for exam­ple, have ignit­ed social media with #LikeA­Girl and #Unstop­pable – an emo­tive, and incred­i­bly viral cam­paign that has put the spot­light on soci­ety’s under­ly­ing gen­der bias­es. LGBT issues too, have been one of the break­through top­ics of 2015. Numer­ous brands, includ­ing JELL‑O, Jet­Blue, Ben & Jerry’s, Chee­rios, Tiffany, and Wells Far­go, have voiced their own fla­vor of sup­port.


Evi­dent­ly, many brands have real­ized that there is val­ue in align­ing their brand and mar­ket­ing mes­sages with top­i­cal social issues and cam­paigns. One brand that has con­sis­tent­ly posi­tioned them­selves as advo­cates of social good is UK depart­ment store retail­er John Lewis. Their #ManOn­The­Moon Christ­mas cam­paign brings atten­tion to the issue of lone­li­ness at Christ­mas:

John Lewis’ video has gar­nered near­ly 15 mil­lion views on YouTube alone as of this writ­ing. The com­pas­sion­ate sen­ti­ment seems to have struck a chord with con­sumers at just the right moment ahead of the Christ­mas hol­i­days. The sheer num­ber of impres­sions, com­bined with sig­nif­i­cant high-pro­file press cov­er­age, makes #ManOn­The­Moon a clear stand­out cam­paign from the UK’s major high-street retail­ers this Christ­mas. #ManOn­The­Moon reaf­firms that con­sumers will respond to cam­paigns that incor­po­rate a strong social advo­ca­cy mes­sage.

Positive Reinforcement & Brand Trust

Why has social advo­ca­cy become much more of a brand imper­a­tive in recent years? Because in the age of freely-shared infor­ma­tion, neg­a­tive sen­ti­ment can be eas­i­ly ampli­fied on dig­i­tal chan­nels, and brand trust can con­se­quent­ly be eas­i­ly erod­ed. Trust, in essence, has become one of the most val­ued com­modi­ties for brands today. Social advo­ca­cy per­haps gives brands a chance to coun­ter­act this and rebuild trust. For exam­ple, the amount of tax­es Ama­zon pays in the UK has been an endur­ing sto­ry, Volk­wa­gen is in the midst of a cri­sis over the recent emis­sions scan­dal, and brand dis­as­ters (e.g., the Jared Fogle arrest) can quick­ly descend into dev­as­tat­ing brand­ing and PR hell. Where­as once there was an expec­ta­tion for brands main­ly to remain com­pet­i­tive, per­haps now it’s nec­es­sary for brands to engage in issues of pos­i­tive advo­ca­cy to coun­ter­act the effects of trust ero­sion and neg­a­tive sen­ti­ment. As Mar­tin writes: “Trust is built over time by doing what’s best for the cus­tomer, and ini­ti­at­ing fre­quent, rel­e­vant com­mu­ni­ca­tion around that fact.” Social advo­ca­cy pro­vides a means for brands to com­mu­ni­cate and get involved with top­i­cal con­ver­sa­tion with­out re-iter­at­ing tired or weary cam­paign mes­sages, allow­ing that kind of fre­quent and rel­e­vant com­mu­ni­ca­tion. On social media espe­cial­ly, cam­paigns such as Always’ #LikeA­Girl, or Dove’s ‘Real Beau­ty’ cam­paigns enable brands to engage in a rel­e­vant and gen­uine dis­course on top­ics con­sumers are already pas­sion­ate about – and such cam­paigns also have more longevi­ty, fueled by a sub­stance and need rather than an ulte­ri­or brand or mar­ket­ing agen­da.

The Col­lec­tive Project is a great exam­ple of how a brand­ed social agen­da can be authen­tic and inspi­ra­tional.

As a result, ded­i­cat­ed brands (like John Lewis) that build a rep­u­ta­tion over a mul­ti­tude of years for sus­tain­able and eth­i­cal busi­ness prac­tices will gar­ner a lev­el of con­sumer trust. This enables them to fuse a sophis­ti­cat­ed blend of cor­po­rate mes­sag­ing with social cam­paign­ing, which can pay real div­i­dends. The fact that #ManOn­The­Moon is shap­ing up – if social media impres­sions are any judge – to be one of their strongest ever sea­son­al cam­paigns (a peri­od of the year in which the retail­er always per­forms strong­ly), is a tes­ta­ment to the kind of div­i­dends that achiev­ing that lev­el of trust can offer.

The Value Of ‘Doing Good’

Clear­ly, more brands are incor­po­rat­ing a much more social agen­da into their mar­ket­ing cam­paigns. The issue that brands have wres­tled with tra­di­tion­al­ly is whether “doing good” and being a com­pas­sion­ate busi­ness, is mere­ly an added cost, or whether it can deliv­er a tan­gi­ble and real-world val­ue to the brand. Ulti­mate­ly, any dri­ve or cam­paign in which the goal is brand sen­ti­ment will have its advo­cates and detrac­tors, and those who will ques­tion the prov­able val­ue and ROI of social advo­ca­cy. But per­haps the suc­cess of #ManOn­The­Moon goes some way to affirm­ing this, meet­ing con­sumers on points of com­pas­sion will nev­er be an exact sci­ence. As 1960’s adver­tis­er Bill Bern­bach once famous­ly said:

There are two atti­tudes you can wear: that of cold arith­metic or that of warm human per­sua­sion. I urge the lat­ter on you. For there is evi­dence that in the field of com­mu­ni­ca­tions the more intel­lec­tu­al you grow, the more you lose the great intu­itive skills that make for the the great­est per­sua­sion – the things that real­ly touch and move peo­ple.”

Social advo­ca­cy pro­vides a way for brands to build invalu­able brand equi­ty and trust. Over many years, through count­less moments and small engage­ments, brands put them­selves in a posi­tion in which con­sumers are will­ing and eager to gen­uine­ly engage with their cam­paigns. For many mar­keters, that’s the dream… and per­haps right­ful­ly so it’s dif­fi­cult to put a num­ber on that.

Pat Hong

Written by Pat Hong

Editor at Linkdex/Inked, Linkdex

Pat covers the SEO industry, digital marketing trends, and anything and everything around Linkdex. He also authors Linkdex's data analysis and reports, analysing the state of search in various industries.

Inked is published by Linkdex, the SEO platform of choice for professional marketers.

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