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How Adidas’ Sustainability Messaging Crushes Reformation, Levi’s and Everlane

Sustainability isn’t just a buzzword brands like to bandy about; it also has something called “media impact value,” an algorithmic measurement used by data-analytics firm Launchmetrics to quantify, in monetary terms, the reach and engagement of placements or mentions across print, online and social channels.

Fashion brands associated with sustainability-related terms such as “sustainable fashion,” “slow fashion,” “ethical fashion,” “recycled” and “vegan,” for instance, generated a collective MIV of $40 million in the first half of 2019, according to Alison Bringé, chief marketing officer at Launchmetrics, which published the white paper “Making Sense of Sustainability: A Data Analysis of the Fashion and Cosmetics Industries” this week.

What that number reveals, Bringé said in a webinar on Wednesday, is that sustainable fashion is no longer a niche concern. Now that venerable glossies like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar are covering the topic, “the time is now for sustainability, especially in fashion, and people are taking notice.”

The “millennial state of mind” is one of the leading reasons conversations about sustainability are becoming “front and center,” especially online, Bringé said. While baby boomers and Gen X-ers might have discovered brands through the pages of a magazine, their younger cohorts prefer to connect with products and services on social media, where they also interact with their peers. They’re increasingly coming into their spending power, too.

By 2025, Gen Z—that is, the generation born between 1996 to 2010, by most accounts—will power 45 percent of the luxury market, according to the marketing agency PMX. Brands hoping to woo this demographic in the future should consider themselves put on notice: A McKinsey study found that 70 percent of Gen Z-ers say they try to purchase products from companies they deem ethical.

“These new customers have different values,” Bringé said. “They want to be inspired by brands, they want to feel a part of that community, they want to share authenticity in the messaging from the brands.”

Brands that drew the greatest MIVs for sustainability, according to Launchmetrics, included Adidas ($13 million), Reformation ($11 million), H&M ($10 million), Stella McCartney ($8.5 million), Nike ($7.3 million), Levi Strauss ($3 million), Everlane ($2.8 million) and Timberland ($2.2 million).

While brand chatter about sustainability usually relates to physical products, Adidas, the top-ranked brand, garnered an MIV of $3.2 million just for mentions of Run for the Oceans, a running campaign that raises money for Parley Ocean School’s youth-directed marine-education programs.

Again, the level of engagement is indicative of younger consumers’ desire for inclusivity and community, Bringé said.

“Adidas isn’t just doing something related to its products, but it’s also doing these different campaigns and activities to get its fans involved,” she said. “It has also done a really good job of finding a way, through Run for the Oceans, of including people who maybe are not Adidas fans, but they feel empowered by this cause.”

Similarly, Reformation, the L.A. brand beloved by “woke” celebrities like Meghan Markle and Emma Watson, has created a “beautiful story,” only instead of ocean conservation it’s “you can be high fashion and sustainable,” Bringé said. Millennial-friendly campaigns like Carbon is Canceled, which encourage customers to switch to renewable energy or purchase “climate credits” to offset their environmental impact, feed into that story, too.

“So one of the takeaways is, it’s not just the product or just the activation that can help your brand drive the right amount of media impact value, but it’s the perfect mix of all of them and how you communicate them,” she said.

When it comes to what Launchmetrics dubs “voice split,” meaning the origin of any hype, third-party media still owns the biggest share at 63.6 percent, or the equivalent of more than $31 million in MIV. Owned media, operated by brands, comes in second with a 20.8 percent slice, followed by celebrities (8.4 percent), influencers (6.2 percent) and retailers and partners (1 percent.)

But the dominant voice can vary widely by company: Adidas, for instance, received the most media impact value—$808,000—from celebrities, specifically professional footballers Lionel Messi and Paul Pogba. So did Stella McCartney, whose leading champion, the supermodel Gisele Bündchen, helped rake in $698,000 in MIV. (She’s also the top celebrity “driving the conversation around sustainability,” with a personal MIV of $1.5 million.)

For Nike, it was third-party media like Hypebeast ($156,000). Reformation squeezed its highest MIV ($86,000) from its own website and social media.

No matter how brands go about it, however, sustainability is, in the end, about future-proofing business, said Morten Lehmann, chief sustainability officer at Global Fashion Agenda, the Danish think tank behind the Copenhagen Fashion Summit. But he also cautioned that consumers can quickly pick up on insincerity.

“It think the most important thing is find out what is your brand DNA and how can that relate to sustainability,” he said during the webinar. “I think the most successful companies are the ones whose sustainability strategies are so interlinked with their brand strategies that the salespeople will tell this story, not because they’ve been told to do it but just because this is just who that company is.”

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