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A Socially Conscious Super Bowl: The Ads of 2018

I am not much of a football fan, but I always watch the Super Bowl so that I can keep up with conversation the next day. Like many others, I look forward to seeing the creativity and humor of the advertisements that take up the most expensive hours in American television.


After a tumultuous year full of political unrest and natural disasters, it is clear that companies felt compelled to advertise with a sense of larger purpose and a sincere desire to do good in the world. From the Dodge RAM ad featuring a Martin Luther King speech on the importance of service to the Budweiser ad showcasing the company’s efforts to bring water to disaster zones, businesses are trying to articulate a value proposition that goes beyond a product or service.


The reason seems to be clear: the millennial generation is looking for social meaning in their purchases. There’s plenty of data that demonstrates the growing importance of millennial purchasing power in the next few decades:

The Market Opportunity of Millennials in the United States

  • Over the next few decades, the biggest and wealthiest generation in U.S. history will transfer roughly $30 trillion in assets to the millennials (Forbes).


  • 73% of millennials are willing to spend more on a product if it comes from a sustainable brand (Nielsen).


  • More than 90% of millennials would switch to a brand associated with a cause (Cone Communications).


  • 64% of millennial females have bought a product associated with a cause in the last 12 months (Cone Communications).


The question is: is a well-designed marketing campaign enough to make consumers believe that you are truly a socially responsible business?


Social impact has become a hot buzzword in corporate reports and marketing campaigns in the last decade. Many firms are choosing to disclose their environmental and social impact in addition to their financial performance. According to Morgan Stanley, millennial investors are nearly two times more likely to invest in companies or funds that target specific social or environmental outcomes. However, despite the increase in information and attention around the subject, it is not entirely clear which businesses have truly committed to improving their environmental and social impact.


As consumers, we must train ourselves to cut through the marketing and hype that a company generates and focus on solid data and evidence that shows a company’s commitment to sustainability and responsible supply chains and growth. While I am pleased to see how many companies are incorporating messages of inclusivity, service, and equality in their brands – I will be buying and investing when I see impact, not just glamorized intention.


Ultimately, true social impact isn’t a brand, it’s a set of tangible and consistent processes that drive real outcomes and results for sustainability and reduced inequality.

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