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#SB14London: Are Marketing and Sustainability Like Oil and Water?

L-R: Given London's James Payne, David Hawksworth and Becky Willan, | Image credit: Meritxell Taboada Zamora

Virginie Helias, Global Sustainability Director at Procter & Gamble, opened this Monday afternoon session talking about how to bridge the existing gap between marketing and sustainability.

P&G is a company targeting 5 billion people. Its marketing approach used to be “traditional,” often focused on its products’ performances, but over the years found that some of its ads were not effective anymore. As a consequence, the company decided to move out from its comfort zone and to articulate new messaging that better engaged its customers.

As Helias stated: “Every aspect of traditional market is today challenged by sustainable marketing and the only common point is based on the consumer’s question: What is in it for me and for my family? Sustainable marketing is not about adding aloe vera to the products but is about linking your greatest environmental and social impacts with what your brand stands for.”

Life cycle assessment, a company’s efforts to reduce its carbon footprint and other similar relevant approaches are the ones that have the power to engage customers.


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Helias explained the importance of showing customers how a company achieves sustainability with purpose and how marketing could be an effective tool to inspire consumers.

Purpose can inspire and enrich the content of brand messages, she said; overall, marketing and sustainability should be linked in order to send a purposeful message to stakeholders.

Helias closed by providing some insights on how to engage the market: Integrate sustainability to the company and to the processes; make sustainability desirable and inspirational; and provide experiential learning.

Next, David Hawksworth, Creative Director at Given London, introduced the latest Given research on the opportunities for Marketing and Sustainability to collaborate and bridge their gaps.

As Hawksworth stated: “The past was about brand image; the future is about brand substance. Brand substance is about having a positive impact in the lives of people, as individuals, in their communities, and in the world at large.”

Hawksworth emphasized companies’ challenge to mix marketing and sustainability. He explained how the relationship between people and brands is changing and how a ‘brand image’ is no longer sufficient. The right message today is about ‘brand substance,’ meaning building brands that create positive change on different levels:

1) ME: for people as individuals

2) MY WORLD: for the communities they are part of

3) THE WORLD: for the world people live in

As Hawksworth confirmed: “Being a better company is only half of the story.” Traditionally, sustainability thinking does not easily link to marketing thinking and, on the other hand, marketing is sometimes perceived as a bottleneck.

A mindset shift is crucial as well as a new common ground where marketing gets interested in sustainability and where sustainability brings a new value to marketing.

Hawksworth then shared the “Brand Substance Handbook” and gave insights on a new way of building brands, based on the value that they can create in people's lives:

People: Skills and experience

  • 1. IMMERSE. Immerse your marketing team in the brand substance. Although corporate brands share sustainability and CSR work widely with their organisations, the impact of corporate initiatives such as these on brand thinking is not widely understood or shared. Immersion in these trends is key.
  • 2. SHARE. Bring marketing expertise into your CSR team and vice versa. To deliver on brand substance, marketing requires the clear insight and creativity of marketing and the holistic perspective of responsible business strategies and trends from CSR and sustainability. Shared expertise is ultimately required to bridge the cultural divide between the two.
  • 3. EMPOWER. Empower youth. Similar to the digital macro trend, younger brand marketers could be better placed to lead the way integrating 'brand for good' thinking into marketing communications

Processes: Ways of working

  • 4. ALLOCATE. Allocate a fixed-proportion marketing budget to brand substance initiatives. Marketing is very process-led and often the major planning cycles are rigid and do not allow for innovation and new approaches. Initially giving separate resources to develop capabilities can get around this.
  • 5. TARGETS. Empower marketing teams to set longer-term Brand Substance marketing objectives. Marketing is at the front line of short-term business thinking and so approaches that aim to create longer-term trust and brand resilience are difficult to adopt.

Strategic: Principles to adopt

  • 6. VISION. Recognise the need for a single brand substance idea to unite employer, customer, and corporate brands.
  • 7. UNIQUE. Make sure your brand substance strategy is unique and builds on your brand equity.
  • 8. INNOVATE. Create a longer-term road map for innovation opportunities.

Delivery: Executional rules of thumb

  • 9. ONGOING. Adopt an always-on mindset, audit existing touchpoints for ways to express responsibility in an ongoing way. Brand substance is never a done deal and is based on entering into an ongoing process of stories, updates and reminders in relevant channels.
  • 10. RELEVANT. Define focused engagement opportunities based only on the issues that matter most for the business and the consumer.

Hawksworth asserted that marketing needs a radical rethink and sustainability plays a fundamental role in this change process.

Finally, TUI Travel PLC’s Senior Brand Manager Annette Pledger, and Sustainability Planning and Communications Manager Rosie Bristow, closed the session sharing their company’s case study on how marketing and sustainability are effectively working together in practice.

Today the company integrates sustainability in the whole brand story and adds a sustainability message to its trips and journeys in order to increase customers’ experience.

The panel illustrated that in the end, marketing and sustainability are about the same thing, and an open, transparent, clear and honest communication between them could help prevent their mutual goals from being “lost in translation.” 


Veronica is a social entrepreneur and Founder of Bridge For Good, a social entrepreneurship project aiming to facilitate collaboration between the private sector and the third sector. She also collaborates as blogger and researcher for CSR International and… [Read more about Veronica Recanati]


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