Colgate South Africa Puts a Smile on Everyone’s Face


Bright Smile, Bright Future


“Brand Purpose” advertising has had a rough ride from commentators lately. Objections to brands hitching their wagon to social causes tend to take as a starting point that purpose-driven advertising doesn’t work. And sometimes it doesn’t, with the brand failing to entertain, inspire, or make itself known. But purpose is ultimately a tactic in the pursuit of effective advertising, and like any tactic it can work very well, driving positive emotion and reinforcing the brand. And of course, it helps people too.

A great example of an ad firmly focused on social responsibility that’s also highly effective is this work from Colgate South Africa. It focuses on Colgate’s mission to improve tooth brushing and toothpaste use among South African kids, and the way they’re doing this is simply giving out brushes and toothpaste to kids. If children are brushing their teeth regularly, not only their oral health but their self confidence will improve, leading to better outcomes.

The execution of the ad hits exactly the right note for a community-based project like this. The only person we hear from is an oral hygienist, Zoe Khulu, who talks movingly about the confidence a smile can give kids and about her experiences with families who have to share brushes so one child often misses out. Zoe’s testimony is heartfelt and at one point she even starts crying, and our FaceTrace of the advert shows a big swell in Sadness in viewers who empathise with her. All that sadness soon gets resolved, though, and as the kids get brushes and toothpaste tubes we see Happiness rise to a peak.

In our Greenprint report about how ads can put across sustainability messages effectively, we talked about how ads use a behavioural science principle called the Messenger Effect, where the authenticity or expertise of the person giving the message of the ad can have a real positive impact on its effectiveness. Zoe Khulu’s interview here is a great example – this isn’t a Colgate executive or an actor, it’s someone who directly works with the kids the brand is helping, and that authentic perspective helps get rid of any negative emotion around the campaign.

The ad scores a strong 4.2-Stars for long term brand growth potential, but also an Exceptional short-term Spike and Brand Fluency score. One of the biggest risks with brand purpose campaigns is that the good cause can overshadow the brand, and audiences will feel good but not remember the company involved. Very clearly, that isn’t happening here.

That points to another reason this particular campaign works so well for Colgate. Another way purpose-driven campaigns can fall flat is overreach – the brand is taking on an issue consumers see as too big for it or not relevant to the business. Oral hygiene, on the other hand, is at the heart of what Colgate does as a brand, and working in poorer communities to improve kids’ brushing is exactly the kind of thing consumers hope a toothpaste brand would do. Brand values, brand purpose and brand assets all align to create an ad about childrens’ smiles which makes audiences smile too.

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