Catching Lightning in a Bottle

Posted by Julie Wolpow from Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide — North America on February 7, 2018

In their article “The Science of a Brand Movement,” Deloitte’s Diana O’Brien and Jennifer Veenstra write: “Every marketer dreams of catching lightning in a bottle. It’s that moment when a brand—the product and the values it represents—becomes more than just a purchase. It spurs a movement, centers a community, and becomes part of people’s lives."[1]

In an age when trust in the healthcare industry—and pharma companies, in particular—is dwindling (only 53% of the general population claims to trust pharma organizations[2]), this idea of “catching lightning in a bottle” is essential to our business. We need to do more than create advertisements and campaigns, we need to engage with society on a deeper level by transcending our brands, motivating social movements, and transforming culture. Indeed, 90% of Americans say they are more likely to trust and stay loyal to companies that try actively to make a difference than those that do not.[3]

What do I mean by a social movement? A social movement is a collective mission, most often related to an unmet need, that mobilizes people, creates community, and inspires action. Think ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, Movember, and #MeToo. While social movements often rise from the grassroots, brands can—and should—use their power to influence collective change.

When brands invest in spurring social movements, they must do three things:

1. Address an unmet need in society that is true to the essence of the brand;
2. Have a strong call-to-action or bold rallying cry that stems from an insight about the consumer and encourages a new behavior;
3. Be human-centric, relying on people to relate intuitively, to form community, and to mobilize. 

REI, American Express, and Dove are examples of brands that have successfully inspired social movements. On Black Friday, disrupting popular consumerist behavior, REI closes its physical and virtual doors, and motivates people to “#OptOutside,” by spending time in the outdoors, and practicing higher values. American Express united small businesses and shoppers by coining “Small Business Saturday,” and by encouraging people to “shop small.” And Dove has rallied women around the world by transforming an oppressive cultural standard and celebrating “Real Beauty.”

Some healthcare brands have also demonstrated success in igniting social movements. Unilever Lifebuoy asked the public to share emotional stories about healthy handwashing to “Help a Child Reach 5.” U by Kotex created “Generation Know,” a space for young girls to talk about feminine hygiene, shifting a taboo around menstruation. The Livestrong Foundation empowered cancer survivors with a simple yellow silicone bracelet that became a fashion statement.

By investing in social movements—by catching lightning in a bottle—we have the potential not only to increase trust in our brands, but also, and more importantly, to make a meaningful impact in the world. But, to do so, we must remain authentic to our brands’ best selves, while simultaneously being as human-centric and disruptive as possible.