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Brand Marketing in the Age of the Socially-Conscious Food Consumer

Every day, consumers are faced with many choices. What to eat? What to wear? What to watch? What to read? What to buy? Often these choices involve opening our wallets; but what triggers us before we are willing to do so? Product quality and reliability, price, convenience and consumer attitude are all influences, and advertising can be considered a large part of the equation, as well. Increasingly, though, there’s another powerful force at play: consumer social-consciousness.

Indeed, consumer social-consciousness is a global trend that shows no signs of slowing down. According to a March 2012, Nielsen Report, The Global, Socially-Conscious Consumer, 66% of global consumers surveyed said that they prefer to buy socially-responsible products and services, with 46% saying that they are even willing to pay extra for them.

Perhaps no industry better targets and engages the socially-conscious consumer than the food industry. In The Scarecrow, a recent animated Chipotle marketing video – with more than 7.1 million YouTube views at the time of this article – the gourmet burrito chain attempts to make an emotional connection by reinforcing its established anti-Big-Food, pro-Independent-Farmer stance. We watch a scarecrow “worker” who sorrowfully toils away at his day job in a dystopian factory landscape, where all food is processed with additives and lies. When he returns home, his spirits (and ours) are lifted as he prepares a wholesome meal straight from his very own sustainable mini-garden. The assumption is that this is what Chipotle does – it’s what they’ve been doing all along – and that you, the consumer, from your Toms shoes to your Tom’s of Maine toothpaste, will have been moved enough by the video to choose to eat at Chipotle. Your social consciousness will (hopefully) be raised a notch or two through the power of effective video marketing.

In today’s social-media culture, consumers have become more profoundly involved with the food they buy than ever before. Photos of food are instantly posted and shared on Foodspotting and Instagram. Shopping apps like Grocery iQ and Fooducate help consumers scrutinize the price and nutritional value of brands in the grocery aisle. And Buycott, an app that says it can “help you organize your everyday consumer spending so that it reflects your principles,” can assist shoppers with making socially-responsible food choices.

Some of the world’s most recognized brands are built on – or starting to develop – ethical viewpoints and the wisdom of investing the time and resources required to engage with consumers who share those same values. By reinforcing, testing and refining their messaging in innovative ways, Chipotle, and hundreds of other companies, food or otherwise, are simultaneously strengthening consumer relationships and even broadening their customer bases. As the global, socially-conscious consumer trend marches on, only the most cutting-edge brands are being inspired by their consumers, and maybe – just maybe – helping to create a better and more sustainable future for all of us.

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