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Beyond the Promise: 25 Global Brands and the Evolving Sustainability Tagline for Humanity

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We are relentlessly bombarded by big, iconic, and new brands that work hard to make themselves heard and visible as frequently and distinctly as possible. Creating strong brand identity and earning consumer trust requires marketers to blend art and science. Now considered more mainstream, sustainability continues to evolve as a corporate value, business imperative, and brand promise. So as creative and capital resources get deployed to position sustainability into existing and new brands, what can we, the mass marketplace of humanity, learn in the process?

As the needs and values of consumers and society have shifted, so to have the values and purpose of the modern corporation. Today, companies' sustainability objectives have become multi-purposed. The best companies are mobilizing their resources to deliver a better value and sustainable solution for their customers, employees, and the communities and regions in which they operate. With a global context and operating footprint, sustainability leaders are also advancing trust-based and strategic partnerships among governments, NGOs, and other businesses so that they can act upon sustainability goals with greater force, speed, agility, and shared purpose.

Take, for example, the evolution of business sustainability in the past year. 2015 has been a pivotal 'sustainability awakening' for many companies. Big brand companies as diverse as Unilever, Tiffany & Co., Green Mountain Coffee, H&M, Adidas, Diageo, Apple, and BASF are deeply entrenched in all facets of sustainability. Although multinational corporations have dabbled with sustainability as a business value across the past decade, more CEOs and CFOs recognize that sustainability is integral to every facet of their global enterprise (i.e., from R&D to operations, marketing, sales, procurement, supply chain, IT, legal, and finance). The challenge global companies continue to face however is how best to integrate sustainability within their business, throughout their supply chains, and in a transparent and trusted way to consumers.

Building brands is big business, and a necessity for engaging and capturing the trust of consumers. It's estimated that nearly $600B is spent annually on global marketing and advertising. Brands that transcend time and generations of consumers (think McDonald's, Nike, Campbell's), excel at reinventing slogans and taglines that resonate with new audiences, and (most importantly) by continuously improving and delivering upon their brand promise with superior products and services.

As evidenced by Pricewaterhouse Coopers' (PWC) annual survey of CEOs, for big global brands much of this boils down to building and maintaining trust-based relationships with consumers and stakeholders (investors, NGOs, governments, suppliers, etc.). Brands that have experienced longevity rely heavily on the power of story to reinforce the staying power of existing, while alluring new customers. But without consistent follow-through (i.e., designing and delivering products that delight people), keeping the buoyancy of brands among buyers would be an exercise in futility. Brands can only be trusted when their parent company delivers upon the brand promise. But even more significant than that, consumer (and investor) trust in business goes beyond the brands.

Consumer trust in brands burrows deep into the bellows of the corporation, where governance, accountability, culture, and creativity collide. Consumers want to know their products are great, but they equally want to know that their values align with the "who, what, where, and how" their products got to be branded in the first place. For all of its entanglements, sustainability has emerged to be a key corporate currency, material to business growth and performance. Sustainability is ultimately manifested within the performance of products and services. As a medium for communicating value, the creation and advertisement of brands will play a significant role in determining which brands (and companies) are to be trusted.

Below is a list of 25 taglines and slogans for some of the biggest brands in the world. Imagine, just for a moment, that the products/services for each of the select companies and associated slogans and taglines listed below was "Sustainability." For example, "Sustainability - Just Do It." Now read through, and think about the power of branding.

1. "Just Do It" - Nike
2. "It's in there" - Prego
3. "Save Money. Live Better" - Walmart
4. "Innovation" - 3M
5. "Think Big" - IMAX
6. "When there is no tomorrow" - FedEx
7. "I'm Lovin' It" - McDonald's
8. "Connecting People" - Nokia
9. "Mmm! Mmm! Good!" - Campbell's
10. "You Are Now Free to Move About the Country" - Southwest Air
11. "Between Love and Madness Lies Obsession" - Calvin Klein
12. "Dreams Come True" - Disney
13. "We Make IT Happen" - IBM
14. "Because I'm Worth It" - L'Oreal
15. "Never Follow" - Audi
16. "One Thing Leads to Another" - Nescafe
17. "There is No Substitute" - Porsche
18. "Where's the beef?" - Wendy's
19. "For Life" - Volvo
20. "Built for the Road Ahead" - Ford
21. "The Choice of a New Generation" - Pepsi
22. "You can do it. We can help." - The Home Depot
23. "Breakfast of Champions" - Wheaties
24. "Moving you Forward" - Toyota
25. "So easy a caveman can do it" - GEICO

These select taglines and slogans are iconic. They have captivated consumers with humor, inspiration, values, sense of purpose, and the promise of better. Ultimately, isn't that what sustainability is all about? A promise for betterment? (i.e., betterment through efficiency, quality, stewardship, conservation, safety, integrity, accountability, transparency, and so on?)

What if humanity could create its own brand, slogans and taglines focused exclusively on sustainability? What would be our brand promise and value proposition to ourselves, and to future generations? How could we ensure that we deliver upon this brand promise, so that each successive generation continues to "buy into the brand?"

How can we ensure the brand's values supersede time and that each generation drives the values and accomplishments of its predecessors, further and forward? Who should be responsible for creating that brand...Corporations? Government? Religion? The UN? Or should "you, me, and WE" be the driving force? Regardless of who takes ownership, accountability for a sustainable future resides with each of us. To get us started on a sustainability slogan for humanity, I'm going to take the liberty to paraphrase a few of the classic slogans from the list above.

"There is No Substitute" for sustainability. To achieve it however, humanity has to work on "Connecting People." Together, "We Make IT Happen." Of course we can, through sustainability, "Save money. Live better." But there is so much more to it than that. Sustainability, is the "Choice of a New Generation," a generation that aspires to "Never Follow." With a firm commitment to sustainability, we know that "One Thing Leads to Another." Let's start by making sustainability the "Breakfast for Champions," and "For Life."

Beyond that we need to also "Think Big," and embed sustainability within all new "Innovation." Imagine that we get so incredible at integrating sustainability into our products, services and lifestyles, that we never question its authenticity. We just know, "It's in There!" But to get to that special place, we have to make sustainability much more intuitive, and "So Easy a Cave Man Can Do It." So let's be 100% convinced, here and today, that humanity needs a tagline for sustainability. Together, we can devise a common language and ethic for sustainability. With sustainability we can ensure that all of our "Dreams Do Come True."

But should our journey to come up with a sustainability tagline for humanity lead to frustration, fatigue, or madness, perhaps we can settle on something that is tried-and-true...Sustainability: Just Do It!