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“That feeling of it being a necessary evil is kind of completely at odds with what the industry is increasingly trying to do which is make the connection between brands and people more positive and more meaningful.” Amy Williams is talking about the reality that people currently see advertising as something to endure rather than enjoy.
But Williams, the Founder of “ethical ad-tech platform” Good-Loop, believes that advertising can do good; brands just need to be given the tools to do so. With Good-Loop, Williams wants to invite brands “to put their money where their mouth is.”
“If we can get them to action their values, to action their purpose in that space, we can do a hell of a lot more good,” she adds.
Prior to founding Good-Loop, Williams worked in the creative team at Ogilvy, for brands including British Airways and Unilever. It’s an experience which Williams says she really loved and learnt a lot from. But it also made her realise how much of brand purpose exists, as she puts it, in “beautifully designed PowerPoint slides and strategy decks and one-minute anthem films.” And not in tangible action.
The current crisis, believes Williams, “feels like a perfect storm of different factors” as we exist seemingly more online than we do in the physical world. As Williams explains, “we’re using the internet as a way to connect and feel less isolated, so it’s become a much more important place for our lives.”
Don’t tell me what your values are as a brand; don’t tell me what you stand for.Amy Williams
Brand purpose has been a fast-growing conversation in recent years, as consumers grapple with establishing whether a brand’s purpose rings true or remains incongruous to what it’s making and selling. Williams believes this trend has accelerated over the last few months, with a shift towards kindness and community, imbuing people with a sense of belonging. “So, brands that don’t connect with that,” she adds, “feel more at odds now than they ever did before. They feel out of touch.”
Although already starting to occur, the crisis has only heightened the reality that people are now looking to brands for action, not words. As Williams says, “Don’t tell me what your values are as a brand; don’t tell me what you stand for. There was a time for that maybe five years ago. But right now, those words are quite hollow.” She goes on to add that, “people want to see how a brand is living its values.”
Brands that are really cutting through in the current crisis are acting, whether that’s using their factory lines for emergency supplies, funding food for frontline workers or perhaps lighter responses like Netflix’s social watching tool or Chipotle’s virtual lunches. Every brand, believes Williams, can find a space in which to operate: “there’s so many different needs that society have right now, and every brand can find where their collection of tools and resources are going to be most valuable.”
Williams points to the simple philosophy by which the Unilever brands operate: ‘Brands say, and brand do’. This allows them to establish whether the purpose is true or ringing slightly hollow. Williams explains, “right now, consumers aren’t really interested in your PowerPoint deck with your values slide; they’re interested in what you’re doing. And I think that’s where brand purpose can fall down is when a brand says but doesn’t do.”
Good-Loop exists, Williams explains; “as an ethical layer you can apply to any ad campaign.” The platform works by taking an existing video ad, wrapping it in the ethical player and then inviting the viewer to choose whether to watch and donate. As Williams explains, “it’s never a forced view, it’s always a choice.” But, she adds, “if somebody chooses to give an advertiser a bit of their time, a bit of their attention, then they unlock a free donation funded by that brand. So, the person gets to do good for free and the brand gets much better results because somebody’s chosen to give that time.”
“It’s about converting attention into funding for good causes,” she says. For Williams, when it comes to working with brand partners, it always comes back to three questions; “it’s always a conversation of what impact do you as a brand want to have? What really matters to your consumers? And then finally, what causes do you want to support?”
Good-Loop conducts a lot of social listening to find the causes that are going to resonate with particular target groups. Sometimes brands will have existing charity partners they work with; her example is H&M who always support WWF because they know that sustainability and the environment are causes that their consumers care about.
Consumer focus shifts however, as Good-Loop establishes through the social listening it does. While 2019 saw a sharp increase in the number of campaigns around plastics in the ocean, for 2020, there has been more of an emphasis on mental health and wellness.
[We are] building a brand that makes people think differently about advertising.Amy Williams
Williams’ goal with Good-Loop is to both reframe how consumers view advertising but also to encourage brands in turn; the business is, she says, “creating that opportunity for people and brands to create that positive change together.”
To enable that, Williams aims to ensure Good-Loop is operating wherever people and brands interact and making that interaction “more positive and more meaningful”. They are already on Snapchat and Instagram with plans for Facebook afoot and even perhaps connected TV and digital OOH in the not-too-distant future. “Who knows where that could go?” she adds.
Alongside continuing to grow the business, Williams has another clear ambition: “I just want to build a company that I’m proud of. I want to build a company that people love working for,” she explains. Her talents as both a leader and a business founder have already been recognised by the industry; Williams is one of Forbes Europe’s 30 under 30, eConsultancy’s Rising Star of 2019 and a face of the United Nations #SheInnovates global campaign.
A big mark of success for Williams, she says, will be when Good-Loop hits its charitable donation targets; the business is aiming to donate £2 million by the end of 2021. They have more ambitious targets to come but, says Williams, she also cares deeply about the business’ churn rate, continually asking herself, “are people sticking around because they love this company and because they feel we’ve got an amazing culture and they feel we’re really building something they care about?”
From supporting her employees to empowering both brands and consumers, Williams says that ultimately, she is “building a brand that makes people think differently about advertising and makes people think differently about the role that advertising plays in the world.”
Good-Loop closed an investment round in January 2019 with a focus on US investors in order to grow understanding of that market. Williams believes that consumer attitudes to brand purpose are different the world over; “it’s definitely maturing at different rates,” she explains.
Williams points to the absence of a welfare state in the US as leading to “more crossover between the private sector and the third sector”. The role of charities in the States is different, she says, and almost seems to be bigger. She explains, “there’s a lot more corporate responsibility and there’s a lot more expectation from consumers for big brands to give back.”
This creates different parameters for a brand to operate in as corporate expectation is heightened. But many brands by which Williams is inspired have grown exponentially in the US, brands like Patagonia and Toms for example. Williams believes that there is perhaps, “a lot more willingness to accept positive business” in the States.
The current COVID-19 crisis has been interesting for international business, she adds, pointing out that before the lockdown, she was visiting the States about once a month. She believes that America has much more of a face-to-face culture, while business in Europe and Asia is more open to business being done remotely.
What she has noticed however, is that “this crisis has really broken down that barrier.” She explains: “we’re actually getting more traction now because everybody in the States is Zooming. It kind of means that you seem less foreign because they’re Zooming their colleague down the road.”
US marketers would’ve never accepted Zoom before, says Williams, acknowledging that, while it’s amazing how quickly behaviour can shift if it’s collectively accepted, she doesn’t think this is a trend that will continue post-lockdown. “I think it is just a real specific cause of the moment,” she adds. Williams says however that she’s having more and more exciting international conversations from her living room, with people seemingly more receptive to having a chat. “It’s quite a wonderful silver lining isn’t it?” she smiles.
That’s really where we’ve built this whole product from is the idea of treating people as an equal partner whose time you have to earn.Amy Williams
One key component of how Good-Loop operates is that it wants to give consumers back choice, especially when it comes to choosing to do good. Williams explains, “the number one reason people state they use an ad blocker is they hate being out of control; they hate being forced into things.”
Giving people fair value for their attention is key, believes Williams. “It’s really that feeling of value exchange and empowerment,” she says. “That’s really where we’ve built this whole product from is the idea of treating people as an equal partner whose time you have to earn.”
“People are increasingly tired of the bullshit,” Williams says, as she adds that consumers are increasingly taking control of where brands can talk to them. A shift she believes means that “brands have to connect with us around the stuff we care about.”
“If you don’t talk about the things I care about, I’ll just block you,” explains Williams as she highlights the reality that, while the idea of brand purpose has grown ever more prevalent, so too has that of an individual’s personal purpose.
For Williams, she has built a business that speaks to the reality that people care about doing good; but they also want to feel like they are choosing to make that decision themselves. As she says, “a beautiful manifesto ad doesn’t change the world; it changes people’s opinions, but it doesn’t necessarily have a meaningful impact in terms of behaviour.” The behaviour change will come in time, believes Williams. A shift which perhaps spurred on by a global lockdown that sees our experience with brands during this crisis potentially defining our experience of them once it’s over.
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