Vrity’s latest research sets out to prove values-based advertising can affect the bottom line

climate change revenue

Anyone in marketing and media hears a lot about values like sustainability, environmentalism, purpose-driven advertising and promoting diversity, equity and inclusion. But conventional wisdom tends to point to those messages as being noble in spirit but largely useless when affecting a company’s bottom line. 

Research firm Vrity set out to prove there is actual business value to values-based advertising — and, according to its latest effort, it may have succeeded. Working with BIGtoken, a free app that gathers consented data from consumers and rewards them financially for that data, Vrity was able to connect consumer sentiment towards a brand’s value-based message (I support X brand store chain because it tries to reduce its environmental impact) to actual purchasing behavior (I shopped at that store and spent Y amount of dollars).  

“Consumers say they’ll shop where they see the brand’s doing good for the world. But when they’re not sitting in front of the survey and are deciding where to shop, are they really going to follow through with that?” said Jesse Wolfersberger, Vrity’s CEO and co-founder, who said he believes this is the first time a researcher has connected direct action to consumer sentiment in this area. “If you can align your values with the consumer, you’re looking at a 60-100 percent lift in how often that person visits your store. We’re talking major lift, and I was surprised it was that big.” 

“People said they did something based on a specific value, and we were able to actually prove that through the signals we collect from them,” said George Stella, co-founder and president of BIGtoken, which has consumers’ opt in to share banking info, shopping info and other personal data, rewards them with cash, gift cards or digital currency — and lets them control how their information is used. BIGtoken was able to tap 3,500 people in its user base to confirm the premise of Vrity’s research in December 2021.

Vrity tracks values across 20 categories, including equality and environmentalism, but also more of-the-moment ones like employee empowerment, which addresses how companies treat their employees. “Turns out it does have high lift, and a big effect on how many people visit the stores,” said Wolfersberger. “That was surprising but also an encouraging indicator on how consumers are approaching the economy. Without being able to show that these things have a lift, [ad] budgets [featuring these types of messages] get squashed.” 

Some of Vrity’s insights: 

  • People who think a retailer values diversity and equality visited that retailer 84.0% more often than those they did think do not. People who think the brand is honest and authentic shopped with in 75.7% more often. People who think the brand treats their employees well shop 65.3% more often, and people who think the brand is good for the environment are patrons 64.1% more often.
  • These lifts persist across age, gender and income levels. Age does have an effect on the size of the lift, with people under 35 significantly more likely to shop based on their values.
  • Costco, which is known for paying employees a $17 minimum wage, saw a significant lift for Vrity’s value category of “Employee Empowerment.” Consumers who recognized Costco as treating their employees well were 287.7% more likely to visit.
  • Kroger, which has made a commitment to sustainability, saw a significant lift in Vrity’s “Environmentalism” category. Consumers who recognized that trait were 147.8% more likely to visit.

Neither Costco nor Kroger responded to emails seeking comment. 

Seth Hargrave, CEO of Media Two Interactive, said values-based messaging has been a factor in many of his clients’ media efforts, including the Charlottesville, Va., Convention & Visitors Bureau (which the media agency just successfully defended this week), which is promoting its sustainability bona-fides such as farm-to-table dining. 

“Anytime you’re looking at research from our perspective it’s a matter of how does that translate to return on ad spend? Something like this [Vrity’s research], that’s more specifically saying, ’Our expectation is you’re going to see X amount of lift or X amount of return on ad spend as a result,’ is absolutely valuable,” said Hargrave. “That gives us media buyers a point that we can begin to forecast results off of, and get buy-in from the client side as well.”

For Hargrave, what’s missing is the effect on lifetime value of this research, given it indicates that people under 35 were more likely influenced by these values, “Are you then using a customer data platform to then prove what that lifetime value is? All of that ties into your media buy as well in terms of how you’re tracking that.” 

Vrity’s research stands in stark contrast to a recent poll conducted by conservative-leaning The Heartland Institute and Rasmussen Reports, which found that American voters believe businesses should focus on traditional business metrics and that a majority of voters who have heard of the Great Reset movement (which incorporates many of the values the Vrity tests for) reject it. The survey of 1,016 likely voters, completed in early January, found that 45% of voters believe the highest priority for businesses should be “providing individual consumers with high quality products and services at the lowest prices,” compared to just 1% who said “using business resources to pursue social justice causes.”

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