29/09/2017

Brand salvation in science

By Tashi van der Waerden

How is the powerful union of science, innovation and brand communications driving sustainable business futures?

Innovation and marketing have formed an intriguing symbiotic relationship. Simultaneously, brands are being repositioned by science while science is being repositioned by brands.

Science has gone mainstream. Once niche knowledge is now excitedly discussed around dinner tables (from electric cars and meat-free meat). We know the world is in a perilous position and recognise that new technology will be our only saving. As such, buying into sustainable solutions is the new salve for our consumerist cringe. We want to continue enjoying all our modern conveniences without it costing the earth. Increasingly, we are looking to brands for the way forward. Through meaningful innovation, brands as varied as dishwashing detergent to shoe retailers, are instilling optimism, trust and loyalty anew. 

At the same time as brands are finding good grace through science, science is enjoying the halo of brands. Through creative partnerships and artful communications, innovation is being catapulted from fusty labs to centre stage by all-powerful lifestyle brands. Think of spider silk jackets from adidas or waterless jeans from diesel to name but a few. 

As ever, our relationship with science is a product of our times. Its popularity has waxed and waned over the generations, first cast as the solution, then the problem and back again. Consider our journey with genetic modification of food. In 1970 the Nobel peace prize was awarded to 'American hero and world icon’ Norman Borlaug for his miracle seeds. Burlap’s high yielding dwarf wheat varieties are credited with saving 1 billion people from starvation, lifting rural farming communities out of poverty and saving millions of square kilometres of wildlife. But the green revolution never came to fruition. The true beneficiaries were the all-mighty American agribusinesses. As they profited off patented seeds and herbicides, peasant farmers were left further impoverished and often displaced, as they failed to meet the impossible cost and water demands of the crops.

Most recently genetic modification has been under fire for safety concerns (unknown effects of consumption and environmental risks) and moral recklessness ('playing god’). But when we address the misunderstandings and look beyond the emotional rhetoric, the facts are very compelling. As we have seen first hand at Echo through our innovation partnerships, genetic modification stands as one of the most sustainable solutions for FMCGs and beyond as the demands of our growing population surpass our limited resources. As we can observe from the changing tide on GMO, science is revered when it solves an immediate issue, but can only gain mainstream adoption when supported through human communications. Here are three brand examples of the powerful union between innovation and brand communications

Start ups get cut through
Girlfriend collective, a sassy brand of leggings, has burst onto the scene using cutting edge technology, A-grade ethics and a take-no-prisoners attitude. The perfect simplicity of transforming water bottles into active wear piques interest and inspires advocacy. While their access-all-areas videos are educational and refreshingly raw, instilling confidence and offering a genuine connection to their journey.

NFPS Trigger Reappraisal 
By harnessing the awesome power of science, Cancer Research UK is flipping the traditional charity discourse from empathetic to empowered. With their bold Stand Up to Cancer campaign they are motivating supporters by focusing on the solution, not the problem. Inviting people to take up the good fight and feel encouraged that with science in our corner, we are on the cusp of a win.

Big brands find redemption
Innovation even offers salvation for tarred chemical companies. Rightly wary of public cynicism (consider the ire BP received for perceived green-washing), these multinationals have had to focus on their ‘do’, rather than ‘say’. Last year Shell created the first human and solar powered football pitch. By using the kinetic energy of player movements to help power floodlights, they provided a new form of entertainment after dark, bringing at-risk youths off the streets to achieve positive individual and social outcomes.

Following a similar strategy, ExxonMobil publishes Energy Factor, a digital showcase of the “cutting-edge technology and innovations that are helping to meet tomorrow’s energy needs”. Both brands highlight the individuals in each story; the unsung heroes in the backroom. By introducing their team they dispel the curse of a faceless corporation and become a united, driven collection of people with a meaningful, civic purpose.

Designing your sustaianable future.
8 in 10 people say it is the responsibility of business to lead the solutions of social problems (Edleman Trust Barometer 2016). Equally, people want to be part of the solution too. Through our Win-Win-Win Innovation Program, we help businesses to connect with people through designing shared, sustainable futures. Most recently, we have united scientists and marketing experts to explore the domestication of microbes to replace chemicals in the kitchen. While in the fintech space, we are supporting a start-up on their mission to dispel inequality and inefficiencies in the rental market by turning reputation into a tradable commodity.

As designers, we are trained to find elegant solutions to complex problems. But that is just half the story. Without clever communication these foreign solutions risk rejection. This is where brand can assist with acceptance. As such, our approach to branding begins by strengthening a business purpose to ensure it inspires and supports both communications and innovation. If you would like to learn more about our Win-Win-Win program let’s have a cup of tea.

Recommended For You

Opinion, Inspiration

How are brands like Nootrobox providing fresh alternatives to disrupt the mainstream healthcare brand landscape?

Lexie Forrester
Opinion, Insight & Innovation, Inspiration

Be useful, stand for something and listen. How brands need to communicate to the youth today.

Evie Monnington Taylor
Opinion

To be a design led business you need a business focused design agency

Nick Dormon
Press

Echo has completed the graphic redesign of iconic men’s grooming brand Brylcreem. 

Nellie Veltman