Mon, Jan 14, 2013 - Page 12 News List

A different face

With a corporate world reeling from scandals and missteps, advertising agencies are highlighting their clients’ social and environmental initiatives. But is the public buying it?

by Kristen Schweizer  /  Bloomberg, London

Rupert Murdoch’s The Sun is promoting goodwill as a ploy to make readers forget about its sordid past.

Photo: Reuters

Rupert Murdoch’s The Sun, the UK’s best-selling tabloid known for photos of topless women and celebrity sex scandals, is promoting goodwill and funny cats in its latest ad campaign to wipe away the January blues.

Under its “Big Smile Giveaway” campaign, newspaper readers will be sent on holiday, treated to free tea and even have their road tolls paid by The Sun Smile Squad, which will visit towns across the UK. For the owner, News Corp, the effort may be the latest attempt to restore the tattered image of Murdoch’s media empire dragged down by phone-hacking charges and the arrests of top executives.

The tactics are also part of a push by advertising agencies to highlight their clients’ social and environmental initiatives. With the corporate world reeling from scandals and missteps by executives, companies from condom makers to soda manufacturers are trying to keep brands above the fray, handing ad agencies a new type of marketing method that is boosting their global US$497 billion business.

“For an organization that has a reputational trust issue this type of marketing is going to be critical,” said Leo Raymond, head of planning for WPP PLC’s Grey London, which helped create The Sun’s campaign.

In similar moves, Reckitt Benckiser Group PLC’s Durex donates condoms to Haiti, Unilever’s Lifebuoy soap brand promotes handwashing in Africa and Coca-Cola Co reduces waste by using bottles made with plant-based material.

GIVE BACK

Companies’ social and environmental efforts increasingly play a role in consumers’ decisions on which products and services to buy, said Ian Maude, a media analyst at Enders Analysis in London.

“The feeling now is that in order to win you’ve got to give back a bit and show that to your customers,” he said. “You don’t have to win by screwing everyone else.”

In the US, 56 percent of Internet users said they bought a brand because proceeds went to a good cause or the brand supported a particular cause, according to a survey by AYTM, a San Francisco-based market researcher.

“It’s definitely a significant trend that’s growing, and part of it has to do with transparency,” said Simeon Duckworth, head of business planning at Mindshare, a WPP-owned marketing company that works with Ford Motor Co, Unilever and HSBC Holdings PLC.

The Sun’s 50-second TV spot for the Big Smile Giveaway began airing on Jan. 1. The ad features a young girl singing and dancing about in her room encouraging viewers to “smile through the pain” that is January and to focus on things that make life fun: boy bands, silly puns, funny cats and two-for-ones.

TRUST ISSUE

Executives and companies are being held more accountable these days with the rise of social media, which has placed power in the hands of consumers who can influence their friends on Twitter and Facebook Web sites or even galvanize masses like at last year’s Arab Spring uprisings.

“The behavior of governments and businesses led the world to the edge of collapse,” said David Jones, chief executive officer at Havas SA, France’s second-biggest ad company. “People are now empowered through social media to sanction or support business.”

A company that is responsible and showing that to consumers will do better in business, said Jones, who advised British Prime Minister David Cameron during his election campaign.

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