Why your brand’s founding purpose is an inheritance to remember

Three of the world’s biggest brands are going back to their beginnings. Unilever, Coca-Cola and Procter & Gamble are using the next few weeks to push major initiatives that focus on some of the companies’ founding social principles.

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Unilever has just launched Project Sunlight, which builds on its already established Sustainable Living Plan. The initiative takes both its name and inspiration from the company’s early beginnings in 1888 when Lever Brothers built a model village – Port Sunlight – for its workers to provide them with much-needed decent living conditions.

The 2013 Project Sunlight is a different kind of initiative but is still based on the idea of providing people with the tools or information to live better lives – in this case sustainable lives. It features an online platform where consumers can interact with the project in real time, as well as a special online video created by Oscar winning director Errol Morris.

Meanwhile, Coca-Cola is focusing on the equally important issues of diversity and inclusion. Again, this harks back to the beginnings of the brand. Back in 1971, the brand released ads featuring a multicultural group of teenagers singing together on a hilltop, at a time when such images were not common.

The 2013 version of Coke’s inclusivity message comes as the brand is under fire from campaign groups for its sponsorship of the Sochi Winter Olympics. Russian president Vladimir Putin signed a law earlier this year prohibiting any promotion of “non-traditional” relationships to minors, which is widely seen as an attack on the gay community.

Coke’s recently promoted senior vice-president of integrated marketing communication and design excellence for North America, Jonathan Mildenhall, says that while the brand has to be “respectful” of differing governments and policies, it now plans to “put out more pointed messages about Coke’s brand values. Coke as a brand has always believed the world is a better place when you are accepting.”

Mildenhall is explicit about the link between the new inclusive approach and Coke’s heritage. “Perhaps we have not been as loud in communicating our beliefs in diversity and equality as the hilltop days, but you will see us go back to [talking about these] beliefs.”

Meanwhile, Procter & Gamble, a company that was already implementing employee profit sharing in 1887, has appointed Martin Riant, its group president of global baby, feminine and family care, to the role of executive sponsor of sustainability. Riant must now ensure the senior leadership fully integrates the business mission with its social and environmental mission.

I believe that all brands should examine their original founding purpose regularly as there is often fuel for the future here. After all, few companies start life as global corporate entities; most of them started small, with a passion to do something better than everyone else. And that is a concept that should never be forgotten.

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