Coke, Chrysler, Walmart Lean Into Larger Causes

It's what millennials are looking for

The concept of brand values—as in selling something bigger than soda, cars and clothes—has been a recurring theme today at the ANA Masters of Marketing conference.

Marketing chiefs at Coca-Cola, Chrysler and Walmart all espoused the virtues of connecting to larger social issues, be it obesity, the economic recovery or the needs of military veterans. And while the impulse of such companies to do good is high-minded, it's also practical: Consumers, particularly millennials, value companies that give back.

For Coke, that means acknowledging the problem of obesity and giving consumers less sugary options, such as Diet Coke, said Joseph Tripodi, the company's chief commercial and marketing officer. Tripodi spoke for nearly an hour on how Coke has engaged millennials around the world in the spirit of the brand's tagline of "Open happiness." And when ANA chief Bob Liodice asked about his core message to other marketers, Tripodi replied, "Have an optimistic view of the world and in everything you do, look for how you can … do the best for the world as opposed to being the best in the world."

Similarly, Chrysler chief marketing officer Olivier Francois showed ads that eschewed product benefits and instead inserted the company into national conversations about the economy—particularly as it relates to Chrysler's U.S. headquarters in Detroit—and the return of military veterans to America. Looking back on the success of ads like "Born of Fire" and "It's Halftime in America," Francois said, "I saw that America had a story that was bigger than any cup holder." More succinctly, he said he wanted to sell products through a brand instead of a brand through products.

Walmart cmo Stephen Quinn framed the need to lean into social currents in statistical terms, noting that 60 percent of America's families live on 25 percent of America's income. That fact alone has informed the retailer's ongoing push to highlight the per person savings of shopping at Walmart. And like Chrysler, Walmart has embraced veterans, hiring 13,000 in the past few years with a goal of employing 100,000 vets in five years. As Quinn explained, "If you fought, you shouldn't have to fight for a job."