Tillamook, a 106-year-old farmer-owned dairy cooperative in Tillamook, Ore., recently did something new: It let customers weigh in on how the co-op is run and what products it offers.

That sounds like a corporate governance decision, but it came from the company’s advertising agency, 72andSunny in Playa Vista. It’s the first piece of work to come out of the agency’s recently launched practice called Brand Citizenship, which aims to help brands do good – specifically the kind of good that makes for good marketing.

The firm tapped Jim Moriarty, former chief executive of San Clemente nonprofit Surfrider Foundation, to head the new practice.

“Corporations have learned that they need to be responsible to the Earth and they need to be responsible to personnel and labor,” Moriarty said. “And what they haven’t reached yet is the opportunist kind of mind-set to say this can help drive our business.”

Advertising agencies pushing brands to be more socially responsible isn’t new, but the practice has been gaining momentum among brands as consumers become savvier about marketing. Brands have also seen the success of companies such as Venice’s Toms Shoes, which started out in 2006 by giving a pair of shoes to the needy for every pair purchased and lately has pivoted to helping the underprivileged with eyeglasses and medical care.

Companies have long been involved in various charities, but what’s different now is that they are going beyond sponsoring the local 5K or giving to the United Way. And that’s where ad firms come in; they help the company figure out what type of cause makes sense then help it execute the strategy.

Susan Franceschini, executive director of ad industry trade group ThinkLA, said agencies have been talking about brands having a purpose for years and clients are finally listening.

“We’re in a time where greed doesn’t really serve a purpose,” she said. “As a brand you have to take a stand for something, (but) it doesn’t mean everybody has to be a nonprofit.”

Franceschini said she began hearing about “purpose-based” marketing for clients several years ago but has only seen a handful of agencies such as Enso in Santa Monica, Omelet in Culver City and 72andSunny take steps to specialize in that area.

“Not a lot of agencies own that space,” she said. “You might see it creep into their philosophy and strategy but they haven’t formalized it.”

That’s the case at Santa Monica ad agency Phelps, where Tori Young, vice president of brand strategy, said it’s a growing part of the firm’s business, though not a specific practice.

“It’s always been part of a larger brand strategy, but now we see clients asking for it themselves,” she said. “Agencies are promoting it, brands want it and studies are showing consumers want it. It’s really this magic trifecta.”

Taking stand

John Boiler, 72andSunny’s chief executive, said consumers want a different relationship with brands – one that goes deeper than just knowing what products they sell.

“We believe brands can make the world a better place, but they shouldn’t do it to pay some sort of guilt tax,” Boiler said in a statement. “If it’s true to the brand and is held to the same standards that any other marketing activity is, brand citizenship can drive business success.”

In launching its new practice, the agency hopes to help clients find ways to run campaigns that have a social purpose, like the one it did for Tillamook.

As part of Tillamook’s Dairy Done Right campaign, the agency created an online community for consumers to join called Tillamook Co-op. Once consumers sign up they can vote on new product ideas, access board meetings, offer suggestions on how to run the business and get access to exclusive foodie events. Each member is also given $5 to lend, on Tillamook’s behalf, to an independent entrepreneur focused on sustainable farming through microloan program Kiva Zip.

Patrick Criteser, Tillamook’s chief executive, said the co-op launched about two months ago and it already has close to 50,000 members.

“We didn’t anticipate how fast people would sign up,” he said.

For 72andSunny, the new practice is an extension of the firm’s existing services. Moriarty said he’ll work with a number of brand teams such as those handling projects for Google and Samsung, pitching those companies and other clients on brand citizenship opportunities, just as other teams from the firm might pitch a more traditional ad campaign.

Part of the process, he said, is to find out if companies are already making socially conscious decisions without letting customers know about it, uncovering potentially useful marketing material. Another part is to pitch clients on activities and practices that not only relate specifically to their brands but will help drive sales.

“What I’ve found is the majority of companies are coming off of five to 10 years of corporate social responsibility programs and questioning their return on investment and really wanting initiatives that are tightly tied to the brand,” Moriarty said.

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