From Cesar A. Vallejo is a Creative Director/ Copywriter at Momentum Worldwide
What advice would you give brands to ensure cultural alignment within their messaging for their company?
It starts with an honest assessment of what the brand actually currently represents to customers, employees and the general public. It is only from here that you can identify the opportunities or needs for realignment and do so through the lens of a much more consciously aware society.
When a brand believes it is something the public does not, it leads to the misguided thinking that sparked so much backlash against "brand activism" in 2020. A slew of companies with beautifully written mission statements tried to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement, only to be outed as hypocritical opportunists once their all-white executive boards were put on blast across the internet. While the initial intention was admirable, the truth was that some of these companies epitomized the deeply systematic plight the movement sought to raise awareness against. What the brands claimed to represent simply wasn't coming from a place of truth.
And that's the point. A brand ethos is more than what a brand writes about itself. It's rarely born from an "aha" moment some exec happens to turn into a brand identity book. Brand ethos is cultivated. It's felt. It's born from within through internal company culture. It becomes tangible through actions. It allows public perception to inform it. And it's never static. As the times change, a brand's ethos changes with it, whether intended or not.
So, how do we assess?
What's the company's internal culture like? How about employee morale? What is the cultural makeup of the people behind the brand—from the ground level to the top floor? Or how about its core customers and supporters? How's the general public perception? What are the headlines around the brand saying? Where does the brand fit into most people's lives?
You can more effectively reshape the narrative with an honest understanding of what a brand represents to all its stakeholders—refine, improve and make amends for what needs to be amended. And then set forth honest visions that make sense for where the brand exists today.
In what ways is your agency working to support the changing times while staying true to the company's values and sensitive to the community?
Your people are your company. It's easier to navigate changing times when you actively employ people who come from the backgrounds and communities driving that change. Then you're not worried about being "sensitive" to these communities because you are these communities.
What are your people's values? Those are the company's values. Employ for diversity. Adopt their morals. Listen to what they have to say. And enjoy looking upon changing times with a more eager and opportunity-rich mind-set.
When I first started at Momentum almost a decade ago, leadership looked a lot like what you'd expect from most ad agencies at the time. While diversity was a stated value, the work environment did not represent it, especially at the uppermost levels. At some point, this was proactively addressed with aggressive recruitment efforts that I see paying off today. Now, every morning I sit on a leadership call filled with leads representing a wide array of minority backgrounds like myself. Black, Latino, female, LGBTQ+. This diverse perspective trickles down across our teams, fostering an empowering space for our associates to bring exactly who they are not just to work, but to the work itself.
As an advertising professional, what advice would you give brands around commenting and/or supporting certain social issues?
How does your brand and its role in people's lives fit into the specific social issue?
It may not make much sense for toilet paper to stand up against systemic racism, but it might make sense for it to support deforestation prevention measures. Simply put, if your brand doesn't have a natural role to play, it's a risky bet to try to jam it into the conversation. It often comes across as inauthentic, ignorable or even offensive.
But, when it does make sense, tangible action garners much more positive sentiment than any statement will. There's a lot that needs fixing in the world. So pick something that feels appropriate for the brand and do something meaningful about it. It's only when brands are naturally in the thick of a cause (or, in many cases today, born from the cause) that their thought leadership is welcome and capable of moving the needle for both parties.
With times changing rapidly, what is the most important part of building brands and ensuring consistency through their campaigns for the future?
It all comes down to brand truth. And now, more than ever, with consumers having access to every esoteric detail about a brand, you have to walk the talk.
So maybe you shouldn't release a gun reform campaign if your top execs donate hundreds of thousands to pro-gun members of Congress. We're past the "do as I say, not as I do" era for brands. Everyone is watching.
Every new message. Every pivot. Every action. All of it should be rooted in truth. Campaigns should directly correlate to what the public perceives about the brand. And, increasingly, who that brand is being run by. Look no further than the reputations of today's megabrands like Tesla, Meta and Amazon. Their leaders have come to personify them, for better or worse.
In today's more consciously aware and culturally inclusive media landscape, if your brand ethos doesn't support your brand truth, it won't be able to hide behind a mission statement for long. Regardless of how masterfully crafted or well-intentioned it is.
Cesar A. Vallejo is a Creative Director/ Copywriter at Momentum Worldwide, New York. He currently leads creative for Verizon’s Hispanic and local market segments and was instrumental to creating award-winning work for Walmart. He was also one of the lead creative pioneers behind ‘A Day for Meaning’, a global annual diversity, equity, and inclusion event