"The Caring Economy" is having a moment.

What is a cultural moment? A cultural moment is a cultural trend, a change in attitude and/or lifestyle, that causes a shift in how we live in and engage with the world around us.   Examples of cultural moments include the #metoo movement, Black Lives Matter, #adulting, and the shift towards a “caring economy”. 

Many of these cultural moments, have grown so quickly because of the power of the internet and the unique capabilities of the social media platforms we mindlessly scroll through while we sit in traffic.  As a result, values and movements spread faster now than ever before, and social media algorithms have made it possible to live in a world in which the beliefs of our immediate community reach us.  And in this tunnel, ideas and trends proliferate at a faster rate than ever before. 

Marketing what’s trending:

The Caring Economy:

“It’s our belief that we, as a society, are heading towards mass adoption of purpose… What brand can afford to ignore that?  Working to make a positive impact on society isn’t a ‘nice to have’, it should be part of a brand’s DNA and a pillar of any communications and interactions with consumers.” (Pauline Robson, Managing Partner @MediaCom

 Millennials are the first generation to have had recycling and sustainability built into their elementary school curriculum.  And the first generation to have grown up with the internet, viral videos and Facebook posts. 

As millennials progress in their careers and charge head first into adulthood, the values of this generation and its successors, are impacting how they perceive and interact with brands. In fact, 63% of Americans, led by millennials, expect businesses to catalyze social and environmental change moving forward, and 87% of consumers will choose not to purchase a company’s product or services if its social and environmental values did not align with his or her own. (source)

And this doesn’t pose an issue for millennials who are flush with options when it comes to shopping (thanks to the limitless online marketplace), and know that they have the opportunity to choose products that not only look good but do good, resonating with the values that have been instilled in them since grade school. It is the responsibility of brands to step up to meet this consumer expectation, incorporating sustainable practices throughout their business,  committing to transparency in their manufacturing process, a circular economy, and humane business practices. 

How does this show up in product marketing? Allbirds’ vows to “mak[e]… better things in a better way”.  It has not only built a line of products that celebrates its mission, but uses its knowledge of generational and cultural insights to target its millennial and Gen Z audience with its current “Meet Your Shoes” campaign. 

While never explicitly stating in their commercials, “We have sustainable practices”, the “Meet your Shoes” campaign tells a sustainable sourcing story.  By doing this, they distinguish themselves in the shoe industry, appealing to their “care conscious” audience, and silently nodding to the often controversial production and sourcing practices across the sneaker industry. 

Marketing in the age of the caring economy is not about beating your chest saying, “Hey, look at us, we are GREEN!” or “Dear customer, aren’t you proud we’re on trend?”  Rather it’s about finding a way to tell the story of sustainable and socially aware business practices in a way that simultaneously honors an authentic brand and product story.  This is a warning against “greenwashing”.  The audience that cares about conscientious business practices and sustainable goods is incredibly tech savvy, and knows just where to look to learn the authenticity of a marketers’ “sustainable” claims. 

Allbirds’ is successful because of its straight-forward product-focused storyline. Their use of voice and tone aligns itself as a brand that is the product of the “caring economy”, a generation based, educated, values-driven audience.  (Check out the campaign here.)  

Consider this & other cultural mo(ve)ments.  What resonates authentically with your company, ethos and product strategy?  What strikes a chord in the heart of your users?  When choosing to take a stand, or at least, speak from our heart, where do we draw the line between authentic, company driven alignment to a culture moments and “being trendy”? 

Gillette’s latest, highly controversial ad, The Best A Man Can Be, inspired by its tag line of nearly 30 years  “The Best a Man Can Get”, was the company’s stab at taking a social stance.  Inspired by the movement to defeat toxic masculinity in the age of #MeToo, the brand’s choice to make a social stance itself was new, with no evidence of action taken by Gillette to in fact move the community in this direction.  

Does that warrant the level of dislike (1.2M+ thumbs down on YouTube versus just over 708.5K thumbs up), and in some, rage, that it has elicited?  This reaction points to a larger social stratification plaguing our country.   And we’re not here to talk politics.

The takeaway?  Before taking the leap as a brand, we must ensure that we honor the cultural moment beyond our messaging, and in the actions of the brands we speak for.

-Dell Blue Strategy