What makes a meaningful brand?

Josh Peachey's picture

Essity is a Manchester-based hygiene and health company responsible for the Cushelle, Velvet, and the Bodyform brands, among dozens of others around the world. 

Their Communications Manager for UK and ROI, Gareth Lucy, shares some insight on what a 'meaningful' brand actually is in today's marketing landscape...



Having “meaningful brands” is a phrase that gets thrown around quite a lot in the FMCG world. But what does it mean to be meaningful? And does having meaning make your brand meaningful? 

A product that is of better quality than its rivals and does the job more effectively has meaning. A product that you simply enjoy using has meaning. Even a product that sponsors your favourite sports team has meaning. But does that make them meaningful?

My view is that, in order to be meaningful, a brand must earn a genuine emotional connection with consumers. It must go above and beyond the expected actions of a brand that simply desires to be chosen ahead of its competitors. That emotional connection could be positive, or it could be overcoming a negative emotion.

Whatever it does, the most important factor is emotional connection - it has to be genuine and it has to be committed. There are many examples of bandwagon brands that jump on the back of a cultural issue and ride it for profit while wearing the mask of concern.

Consumers see that coming a mile off and if you’re going down that road, you better brief your social media team because it’s going to get messy and they’re going to be busy.

When brands get meaningfulness right though, it can be a powerful thing. It can change culture, benefit communities and improve lives. If a brand does that, then it is meaningful.

Can any brand or product be meaningful? Can a washing up liquid be meaningful? Or a deodorant? What about breakfast cereal or a toilet roll? I would argue that yes, any brand can be meaningful. We’re all consumers and we’ve all got a lot going on in our lives. Some things we talk about and some things we don’t. But we all feel good when somebody or something with no ulterior motive makes our everyday that little bit easier or helps us see that we’re not alone with the things we don’t want to talk about.

Of course, it could be argued that no brand desires to be meaningful if the ultimate outcome is not reflected in sales. I respectfully disagree. And I would refer back to my earlier point that if sales growth is your primary focus in your quest to be meaningful, people will see straight through it and you’ll end up having the opposite effect. 

In the world of hygiene and health, being meaningful is about improving lives every day. Not just through the competence of a product, because that’s what they are there for, but through the cultural and societal changes that brands can bring to everyday life. At Essity, this is what we are striving for.

People don’t tend to like talking about hygiene and health, particularly the more intimate details. But that creates a problem because when not talking about things becomes the norm, then that becomes our culture.

The truth is that we should talk and we shouldn’t hide away. A brand that can change that behaviour is doing something that is really meaningful by helping to drive positive conversation around previously taboo subjects.

In 2019, menstruation, you know that thing that is a monthly reality for two billion women worldwide, remains something people are too uncomfortable to talk about. How did that happen? 30 per cent of men are too embarrassed to buy feminine hygiene products in a supermarket. 50 per cent of dads have never spoken to their daughters about it. 40 per cent of women restrict their social lives while on their periods.

If that’s culturally acceptable then we need to take a long hard look at ourselves. It’s only in the last 18-months that the Bodyform brand has successfully nudged the advertising watchdogs to allow the use of a red liquid to represent menstrual fluid in advertising as opposed to the old blue scientific looking test tube liquid.

Since then, we’ve been able to show blood in advertising for the first time and we’ve been able to show the product not inside packaging and outside of a laboratory setting for the first time. These small steps are moving us towards being allowed to actually talk about menstruation rather than to skate around the subject with subtle hints and metaphors.

That would be a cultural shift and that really would be meaningful.