LONDON/WASHINGTON DC: Brands that are seen to be ambivalent about global social issues risk provoking a negative reaction that could hit their sales, the head of marketing at the United Nations Foundation has warned.

Aaron Sherinian, the UN Foundation's Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, said in an interview with The Drum that younger consumers, in particular, want to see brands taking action on sustainability issues.

"Silence on social issues could be the kiss of death for brands, especially [if you look at] the way that young customers are engaging with them right now. They're going to vote at the cash register," he said.

"They want to know that the big brands that they support in their lives – that are part of their households... that they carry around with them in their pockets – have a stance on what matters to them."

Sherinian issued his warning as he outlined the UN's plans to promote its Global Goals for Sustainable Development, a list of 17 targets that it wants the world to achieve by 2030, which range from ending hunger to conservation and ensuring sustainable consumption.

He explained that social media will be key to the initiative's success and that the UN is already using Twitter, Facebook and Google to encourage people around the world to discuss social issues and sustainability.

By "talking to everyone", the organisation expects that conversations will develop to the extent that politicians, policymakers and boardroom executives will be forced to act on growing pressure from the general public.

And marketers have a vital role to play here, Sherinian added, not just owing to their professional knowledge but because consumers might ask why brands aren't telling their story and what they're doing to help.

"We believe that if you're going to get some of these global goals accomplished, we've got to work with the people who are very good at changing behaviour. And that's [the marketing] community," he said.

"Whether it be Madison Avenue, whether it be the community in Cannes, or whether it be the folks who are at South by Southwest in Austin, we've got to be bringing these issues to them and helping them see how it works for their clients."

Data sourced from The Drum, United Nations; additional content by Warc staff