Want to do ethical marketing? Then back it up with something, says Lisa Hogg of TOMS.

“I have a little bit of an issue with the Nike Kaepernick campaign,” Hogg told an audience at Advertising Week Europe. “Great as it is to talk about the issue and raise social consciousness, is Nike backing it up with funding for Black Lives Matter, the issue he’s actually standing for?”

Nike created waves in September last year when it unveiled a new campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick, the NFL quarterback who chose to ‘take a knee’ rather than stand during the national anthem before games, in protest at violence and injustice toward African Americans. He subsequently found himself without a job when his contract ended.

“You can pay him money because he doesn’t have a contract with the team, but are you actually working with non-profits in that space to create systemic change?” asked Hogg. “If you want to do ethical marketing, that’s great, but have some balls on it.” Like Patagonia: “they’re taking Trump to court on public lands – that’s really going on the full distance on something.”

As the marketing director for the EMEA region at TOMS, the shoe brand, Hogg has some skin in this game (read WARC’s report: TOMS marries brand activism with media effectiveness) and some useful advice to pass on to brands thinking of getting into ethical marketing.

“Spend a little money on good qualitative research and just really know what you’re talking about,” she counselled. “And spend some time with non-profits who are in that space already – you will learn so much.”

TOMS has only been able to do what it does – in terms of donating footwear, correcting eyesight and ensuring water supplies – because of its links with such organisations. “They know how the systems work in the countries we want to make impact.” And it has made a difference – giving 86 million pairs of shoes, correcting the sight of 600,000 people and delivering 600,000 weeks of safe water to the communities it sources its coffee from.

“As brands, or even as people, what we sometimes think is helpful is actually not really helpful,” Hogg cautioned. “It’s really important to go and speak to people who are really in the thick of it to understand how you can truly make an impact. Because if you’re going to do ethical marketing I think there has to be an element of impact there. And then back it up with KPIs.”

And while businesses are always being told not to work in silos, “you need functional expertise from non-profits”, she insisted. “As a brand, you don’t come in and create the program, you come in and support the program; they already know what needs to be done.”

The opportunities for brands are growing as consumer expectations of them evolve. Where only a few years ago it might have been enough to just operate responsibly, in terms of things like packaging, the supply chain and logistics – all matters within the direct control of a company – now consumers increasingly expect brands to have a positive impact in society.

As Amy Williams of Good-Loop argued in the same session, “brands are a way for us to consume consciously in an age of uncertainty”.

Whether it’s Trump, Brexit or climate change there’s a sense for many people that their votes don’t count for much, that their voice isn’t being heard, “but one way I can make a difference right now is in the money I spend”. Brand ethics are becoming a point of differentiation and a potential competitive advantage.