NEW YORK: Major advertisers like Procter & Gamble and Unilever are adapting their approach to building brands in light of the substantial changes in consumer behaviour taking place across the globe.

Speaking at the 42nd IAA World Congress in Moscow, Marc Pritchard, P&G's global marketing and brand building officer, suggested that the onset of the financial crisis had produced a seismic shift.

"We will, some day, look back and view this great recession as a time when we hit the reset button and then we recalibrated," he said. "Now is a critical time."

More specifically, Pritchard argued the end of unbridled consumption in regions such as North America and Western Europe should usher in an emphasis on "purpose-inspired brand building".

"The biggest challenge our industry faces now is how we rethink concepts of branding. To do that we need to change our mindset from 'marketing' to 'serving'," Pritchard continued.

This step-change will require focusing on why a product exists, what it stands for and how its marketing communicates these core messages.

Adopting this kind of strategy will help brand owners connect with their customers, who are demanding higher levels of integrity among the firms they buy goods from.

Moreover, the vast amount of information, both official and consumer-generated, available on the web means shoppers can conduct in-depth research and hold manufacturers to account in this area.

"They want to help the world, not just themselves, and as a result will choose those brands that share their values and beliefs," said Pritchard. "They can see what we are doing." 

This modification of the marketing "craft" advocated by Pritchard will involve moving beyond simply selling and towards building communities of loyalists who care about a brand's goals.

As part of this process, P&G recently unveiled a Supplier Environmental Sustainability Scorecard, through which it will assess the ecological credentials of all its corporate partners.

"We must continually innovate and grow responsibly and sustainably," Bob McDonald, Procter & Gamble's chief executive, said of this scheme.

"Keeping sustainability at the core of our business fuels innovation and strengthens our results."

This initiative is ultimately expected to extend to its advertising agencies, which include shops from both WPP Group and Publicis Groupe, and even to media companies.

It will also build on the Future Friendly marketing programme rolled out by P&G earlier this year, which aims to educate 50 million consumers in the US about how to save energy.

Unilever, one of Procter & Gamble's biggest rivals, has also stepped up its emphasis on implementing a range of green practices, and the company has been recognised for its pioneering approach by the UN.

"Multinationals historically haven't always been seen in the best light," Keith Weed, Unilever's chief marketing officer, said.

He added that these corporations could actually be the "solution for the environment and sustainability" due to their global reach.

"We can optimise the whole value chain. I think actually the multinationals working across multiple markets ultimately are going to be the people who can lead the agenda," said Weed. 

Simon Clift, Weed's out-going predecessor at Unilever, has also advanced the view that it is imperative for all companies to transform their working practices to reflect changing preferences.

"What is fascinating and scary is the nature of brands is changing," he said.

"That requires a cultural change for companies like Unilever. We have to listen to genuine customer concerns. Companies aren't set up for that."

Data sourced from Reuters, The International, M&M; additional content by Warc staff