Advisory: Integrity Marketing

We are all susceptible to media and marketing messages. An obvious statement, perhaps, so why then don’t businesses hold themselves to a higher standard about how they market to consumers? We think there’s an opportunity to raise the bar to a new standard we call Integrity Marketing—being responsible and principled in marketing practices and communication.

There are 4 characteristics of Integrity Marketing:

1. Market to motivations, not expectations. What do businesses sell to consumers? Simply stuff? Or, are they selling solutions to problems, or alignment to a self-goal or self-concept, such as aligning to attitudes, beliefs, core motivations, and emotions? What’s more successful and responsible is to meet the consumer where they are, rather than set an expectation for them to meet. It’s time for brands to start to operate from a more positive, responsible position and align their marketing communications to consumers’ motivations and goals, not external expectations. It’s a more respectful and helpful way to interact with consumers. Do you want them to reach societal or business goals or meet their own? This marketing approach can be similar to behavioral economics where people design processes to elicit positive behaviors that benefit the individuals themselves.

Aligning marketing to consumer goals rather than those of a company or society also means making sure advertising is relevant by representing people as they see themselves. In a survey we fielded this year, only 28 percent of people agreed with the statement, “I think brand advertising represents people like me.”1 There’s an opportunity to be more inclusive and have messages relate to the full diversity of real consumers.

Consider these examples in pointing the way to what this can look like:

  • In 2016, Unilever, which has the second highest advertising budget in the world, made a pledge to speak to motivations not expectations by making a promise to eliminate stereotypes in its advertising, especially around women. The company conducted a global ad study and found that stereotyping was more problematic in how it showed women, finding not only that just 2 percent of ads show intelligent women, but also that 40 percent of women didn’t feel represented in advertising at all. Chief Marketing Officer Keith Weed said, “The time is right for us as an industry to challenge and change how we portray gender in our advertising…. Our industry spends billions of dollars annually shaping perceptions and we have a responsibility to use this power in a positive manner.”
  • Nike and Dove are two other companies that present examples of how brands can more positively influence through their marketing. Nike’s support of women athletes has been strong for decades. Many of us are still positively impacted by the “If You Let Me Play” campaign from the 1990’s, but as you can see here on their site that the company has championed women’s athletes for some time. Similarly, Dove’s Real Beauty campaign has been running for over 10 years now. Both brands dug deep and rooted their messaging in the understanding of women’s underlying true motivations associated with their categories.
  • Consider also this 2018 announcement from CVS stating that the company will no longer edit beauty images used in its marketing. It’s a purpose-driven and responsible act focused on reducing expectation-setting influences. Helena Foulkes, president of CVS Pharmacy and EVP, CVS Health said:

As a woman, mother and president of a retail business whose customers predominantly are women, I realize we have a responsibility to think about the messages we send to the customers we reach each day. The connection between the propagation of unrealistic body images and negative health effects, especially in girls and young women, has been established. As a purpose-led company, we strive to do our best to assure all of the messages we are sending to our customers reflect our purpose of helping people on their path to better health.

2. Contribute a positive voice. Brands have an opportunity to use their platforms to set a different tone by projecting positive messages. In our study we found that only 40 percent of people agreed with the statement, “I think brand advertising is more positive than negative.”1

  • Starbucks is one company that projects this philosophy. For example, in 2016 Starbucks came forward to address race relations in the U.S. after the events in July with the killings of black men by police and the killings of police officers in Dallas. According to a CBS/New York Times poll at the time, 68 percent of Americans believed that race relations were bad, a level not seen since 1992 around the time of the Rodney King verdict. In response, Starbucks acknowledged its role and presence in communities across the country, aligned with its longstanding strategy of being the “third place” for people to gather, and released a statement to promote unity and togetherness through a collection of songs offered on Spotify and played in its stores. The idea was rooted in how music can serve as a unifying force in society. According to the company’s press release, Starbucks founder and CEO Howard Schultz said, “I am deeply troubled by the events of not only the past week, but the last few years as we face the dysfunction and discord present in our great nation. With stores in nearly every community across America, Starbucks has long served as a place for connection. And while ours is but a small role to play, I am humbled and honored to share this curated music selection during a time when our country needs to heal and demonstrate empathy for one another more than at any recent time in our history.”
  • Schultz has used his position and his company to make his opinions known and stand up for many important causes. It started even with his commitment early in the company’s history to provide comprehensive healthcare benefits to part-time and full-time employees, called partners. So it wasn’t surprising that the day after the Presidential election he sent a message to Starbucks’ partners titled, “Onward Together.”  It presented a positive message not just to the company’s employees, but to the world, on how we can respectfully move forward together: “I am hopeful that we will overcome the vitriol and division of this unprecedented election season…. Whether you are pleased or disappointed by the outcome, we each still have a choice. Today and every day, we have a choice in how we treat one another in our homes, in our neighborhoods, and of course in our stores….” Schultz didn’t have to say anything, but again understood his role and power to set a positive example.

3. Be transparent. Americans don’t have much trust in business. In fact, according to the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer, we are in a trust crisis. Because consumers lack this trust, they are seeking open and transparent communication and marketing. Take these stats:

    1. 41 percent of consumers “feel they need greater transparency into companies to have confidence in their products/services.”2
    2. 61 percent of consumers agreed that they “prefer brand advertising that is transparent.”1
    3. 94 percent of consumers said they’d be more loyal to brands and 73 percent said they’d pay more for a product that are completely transparent.3

Given these data points, is it any wonder why Everlane’s Radical Transparency has made the brand a growing powerhouse with today’s consumer? And why other brands like Thrive Market and Away are taking a similar approach?

4. Build trust through authenticity. Another way to address the issue of distrust is to communicate and act with authentic brand character. Authenticity and character are two distinct principles. Authenticity represents a brand’s purpose and the responsibility it takes on, communicated directly with no hidden agenda. Character is demonstrated through actions—decisions and activity—that are consistent with your brand identity and belief structure, earning a good reputation.

Consumers are seeking this level of authenticity. In a 2014 Cohn & Wolfe study on Authenticity, consumers ranked the following behaviors as important for companies to display:

  • Communicates honestly about its products/services – 91%
  • Acts with integrity at all times – 87%
  • Is clear about – and true to – its beliefs – 83%

These were rated more highly than innovation, functionality, and peer influence:

  • Strives to innovate – 72%
  • Brings truly unique products, services and ideas to market – 71%
  • Has a product that I cannot live without – 61%
  • Is popular among my peers – 39%

Patagonia is a perfect example of a brand that acts with authentic brand character. Here’s a little bit about how the company speaks about itself and its mission:

Mission: Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.

For us at Patagonia, a love of wild and beautiful places demands participation in the fight to save them, and to help reverse the steep decline in the overall environmental health of our planet. We donate our time, services and at least 1% of our sales to hundreds of grassroots environmental groups all over the world who work to help reverse the tide.

REI is another outdoor brand that has a strong sense of identity that has guided its brand activity. Its oft mentioned #OptOutside campaign is just one example that demonstrated its ethos and connection to the outdoors. Another is their 2017 “Force of Nature” campaign focused on encouraging women to get outdoors with a component about changing how women were represented in outdoor industry marketing. Read more in this article on Forbes >. The company also provides in-depth content on outdoor topics, providing valuable information to further consumers’ experience and enjoyment of the outdoors.


Integrity Marketing may make some think that creativity will be squashed, a company won’t be able to make an impact, or a brand won’t be able to deliver business results. Yet the companies noted above have achieved all three—executed highly creative campaigns, had impact in their communities, and delivered business results. The power is in the fact that Integrity Marketing starts from the roots of where addressing needs and motivations should come from, the consumers themselves, a clear company and brand purpose that goes beyond the bottom line, and a company center and character that guides positive brand behavior.

As the above demonstrates, today’s consumers and business and brand success demand Integrity Marketing.


1 Data from an omnibus study conducted by ProdegeMR with 500 U.S. adults ages 18+, June 2018.

2 Nayyar, Sarita, Ingilizian, Zara. “Operating Models for the Future of Consumption,” World Economic Forum & Accenture, January 2018.

3 “2016 Transparency ROI Study,” Label Insight, 2016.

4 “Authentic Brands 2014 Study,” Cohn & Wolfe, 2014.

1 reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.