Translating purpose and identity to the desired audience has always been crucial for any brand and digital has provided an incredible platform for doing so more accurately. But as the world of digital becomes increasingly complex and competitive, how can brands cut through the noise by not only standing out but forming a real connection?
Recognising the shift
Consumers desiring ‘more’ from brands is not a new concept (corporate social responsibility was first introduced in the 1950s), nor is it limited to a younger audience. Currently, 57% of the UK population believe companies should have ‘a view’ on wider issues in society.* However, these figures slowly rise as we reduce and isolate the age bracket.
The same database shows that 73% of millennials are willing to pay more for a product that contains a message on sustainability. If we look to Generation Z (typically classified as those born in the mid-1990s and early 2000s), the desire brand transparency intensifies. When a brand supports a social cause, or is prepared to accept social responsibility, it’s reported that 84% of Gen Z are more likely to purchase from that brand.*
This may not be groundbreaking or complicated news. The multi-dimensional aspects of these statistics, however, calls us to ask the question; how can brands go about tapping into these demographics and effectively showcase their wider belief system to their audience?
Finding purpose, not cause
The days of connecting with your consumer with one-off donations or via singular corporate fundraisers are slowing down. Now, brands are looking to build purpose behind what they produce, and translate that narrative to their audience. Through this stance, brands can establish a longevity in their message - stimulating a customer loyalty that makes their narrative whole.
Purpose can be communicated in a variety of different forms. More so, a brand does not have to be sustainable to its core to connect with a modern consumer. However, it does need to be able to communicate it’s belief system in tangible ways that the consumer can understand. Brands need to implement a wider belief system through systematic integration - via projects that fuel and evolve a narrative. Giving purpose through a multi-layered identity that evokes authentic engagement is now considered an ideal stimulant for brand loyalty.
How to connect purpose to the consumer
Digital naturally represents the point of entry for inspiring brand loyalty. as channels such as Instagram provide an ideal and creative platform to translate a narrative, especially so with the Millenial and Gen Z consumer.
Drawing on social channels to showcase your brand is not revolutionary, however, the way you approach it can be. In 2015, Forbes published an article stating ‘62% of Millennials say that if a brand engages with them on social networks, they are more likely to become a loyal customer.’ In 2015; social media marketing was in its infancy and Whalar didn’t exist. Even though the figures are now dated, they illustrate how crucial and effective it is to seize the attention of an audience via social media.
Fast forward to now, we have a wealth of creative talent at our disposal that can tap into diverse audiences. As our use of social media has become intrinsic to how we interact with brands, with 90% of Instagram users being under 35,* fueling and spreading a wider belief system to a young audience has never been more dependent on creating high-quality and relevant social content. Furthermore, visual content is currently 40 times for more likely to be shared online than any other medium, therefore capitalising on these shifting trends is crucial to starting a conversation within an audience.*
How we took this to River Island
River Island came to us for exactly this reason, to produce relevant content with traction. As an established, fast-fashion brand with a young, dynamic and diverse audience, River Island noticed a shift in their consumer's attitude and saw that they no longer wanted to be defined by convention. They wanted to celebrate this shift and translate their investment within their consumers in a very real way.
River Island wanted to recognise the pressures that their customers experience in regard to social labeling, confidence, and body issues. And so, with this in mind, for River Island’s 30th birthday, they raised awareness around stereotyping and supported the belief that Labels are For Clothes.
Although many forms of social anxiety can become intensified by social media, platforms such as Instagram can be used for good to empower our differences. As stereotypes and binaries are quickly formed, they can equally be shut down if given the right, and relevant, voice.
To make this narrative whole, they supported a charity that was truly relevant to River Island’s purpose. Ditch The Label is an initiative that was born within the age of social media. Having originated on Myspace, they are now recognised as a global charity, with influence spanning across America, Mexico, and Europe - territories in which they combat bullying by tackling the root causes and support young people aged 12-25. They estimate that every 3 minutes, at least one person benefits from their support.
Under the title ‘Labels are for Clothes’, River Island launched a campaign, urging customers to leave the labeling to clothes, and not the people who wear them. They enlisted photographer Richard Burbidge to shoot an out of home campaign. He took 12 brilliant ambassadors who had all been subject to outdated social stereotypes and vibrantly empowered them.
However, River Island didn’t just want to tell their consumers how passionate they are about these social issues simply using only 12 models to do this. Instead, they wanted to celebrate a range of stories and directly involve their consumers within the movement to tell the world of their real-life accounts.
Sourcing the creators who speak our language
To directly engage and resonate with the desired consumer bracket, they asked Whalar to find creators with influence who resonated with the brand's message.
In a true demonstration of the power of influencer marketings borderless reach, Whalar enlisted 92 premium and global content creators. Each tasked with producing a singular image that represented their empowerment and how they wanted to reclaim their label. In other words, we tapped into 92 separate audiences across Europe, America, and Mexico - all of whom have an organic relationship with River Island’s identity.
In reaching an audience of 7.5 million users, Whalar were able to take River Island’s message of social empowerment and project it into a space where people feel connected to those issues. We helped foster a global network in which diverse individuals were given a voice to subvert and celebrate what previously held them back. All this was funneled through the River Island brand - creating an authentic purpose and removing the gap between the brand and their consumers
By offering River Island’s identity to our digital world, over 4,500 individual pieces of User Generated Content were produced as a result, with followers sharing their own stories and experiences.
The value and belief system translated via this campaign celebrates how well we can connect with the modern consumer on Instagram. Rigid advertising and corporate donations become abstract and meaningless in the wake of implementing a cultural message such as this. By having a true purpose and tailoring a brief towards this, Whalar executed 92 unique campaigns of the same concept, but all interpreted entirely differently. Creating a relevancy to over 7 million people that simply wouldn’t have been possible 5 years ago.
Traditional media platforms were not immune to the power of this campaign, with River Island’s content and charitable narrative being discussed publications such as Retail Gazel, Cosmopolitan, The Independant and Campaign Live. Another key manifestation of the social relevance and translatable message River Islands experience as a brand.
When we look a the power of the messages behind each separate content creator, it’s not difficult to see how we achieved these results.
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••• 1967: The Biafran War (Nigerian Civil War) begins. 1968: Dad enlists as a Biafran soldier, confronting death across enemy lines. 1970: Biafran War ends, Dad’s family doesn’t know if he‘s alive, he stays in East Central State (now Enugu) to look for work. 1971-1973: Dad finishes high school. 1975: Dad starts work at Hotel Presidential; The Cambodian genocide begins. 1977: Dad is asked to leave new Enugu, he returns home to new IMO State; Mom is separated from her family and put in a women’s “work” camp. 1978: Dad applies for lottery to go to UK, RUSSIA, USA; Mom is doing backbreaking work in the rice fields, bearing witness to senseless killings daily. 1979: Dad wins lottery to USA, arrives in late January; Mom and 4 others decide to escape, trekking a 5 month journey on foot to Thailand. Mom is sponsored by the Frank family, arriving to the USA in June. 1980: Dad attends school in Miami; Mom starts working 3 domestic jobs while attending English classes. 1983-1985: Dad moves to DC, attends graduate school at Howard University, driving cabs and working several domestic jobs to pay tuition; Mom starts a job at “Denro” a communications company. 1986: Dad starts a job at Denro; They meet and share their stories of love, loss, and their dreams for the future. 1987: They’re happily married. 1988: They have my brother. 1990: They have me. ••• Like many individuals born to immigrant parents, mine were forced from their homelands out of desperation. They sought fertile land so we, their seeds, could be planted and protected. Even on foreign soil, they remained steadfast in nurturing strong cultural identities, and preached to never forget my roots. I’m grateful beyond measure for my parents, their sacrifices and stories. In moments of doubt, I can hear their voices, like a chorus, saying: “remember where you’re from...to whom much is given, much is expected.” ••• I partnered with River Island to reclaim labels in a positive way. I’m Nneka Julia Ajuonuma Odum, and I am proud to be 100% 1st Generation. ••• T-shirt sales go live 5th February, and with every t-shirt sale, River Island will donate £3 to the charity. #labelsareforclothes #imwearingri #sponsored
This is Nneka – her family emigrated to the US to escape persecution. She told her story of a being first-generation immigrant and building her life in America including the toll it took on her family. She wanted to reclaim her label as the first generation to tell the world how connected she still is to her roots and proud of the sacrifices her parents made to give her opportunities.
“I think it's important to allow content creators to create. Creative freedom allows me to really create organic content that doesn't come across staged or forced.”
For Gregory, he is a free spirit who has built a following through his extraordinary travels around the world with his long-term partner. Prior to finding his voice, his sexuality wasn’t always he felt comfortable with. However, through this campaign, he was able to express his belief in freedom and adventure.
Glancing back, looking forward
Tapping into the conscious consumer is not an instant process, it requires investment in a cause over a period of time. It is for this reason that influencer marketing is crucial to be able to demonstrate brand purpose effectively and directly. Millennials and Gen Z are hungry for purpose and a story within a brand, but it must be communicated to them in a way that is relevant and inspires action.
This campaign provoked such dramatic results because our creators speak the language of their audience; they know best how to engage with them. It is the trust within the creative voice of influencers that nourishes and layers this campaign. By working with premium creators, we can develop trusting relationships with creators and their audiences.
It was River Island’s decision to collaborate with a charity with an amazing cause, that was relevant to their audience and culture. Through Whalar, they were able to communicate their message to key audiences so that all their incredible work would not fall on deaf ears.
A brand can have an incredible story, it just needs the right campaign to tell it.
*1 & 2 from YouGov, *3 - Hubspot and *4 - Science Daily
Banner image from @laetitiaky