Taking Brands Beyond What They Do: Ellen Slauson, Upshot

More and more consumers, especially Millennials and Centennials, are choosing brands that give back and stand for something other than just a product.

Ellen Slauson
General Manager Upshot

Tell us about yourself and your agency. What do you do?

I have over 20 years of agency experience building brands and inspiring action across a variety of categories. I started my career on the client side and hired Upshot to work on a new product launch for me and then eventually Upshot hired me! I worked my way up through client management and am now the General Manager. Upshot is a full service integrated marketing agency and our purpose is to make people’s lives more exciting--Our consumers’ lives, our clients’ lives and our employees’ lives. We believe that creating excitement allows you to connect on an emotional level and in a way that drives action and builds a lasting relationship.


Has the shift towards more purpose-driven advertising impacted your work and the way you approach it?

Purpose-driven advertising has elevated the expectations consumers have about how brands engage with their marketing. At Upshot, we’ve changed our approach to building brand ideas and activations which go beyond the “what you do” to the “how you do it,” and more importantly the “why you do it” in order to connect with today’s consumers. It has also changed the way we think about what brands we want to work with and what kind of work we want to do. Our employees are passionate about purpose-driven brands and that impacts how we think about going after new clients and assignments.


What do you believe has led marketers and audiences to have an increased focus on what brands stand for?

Two major shifts have contributed to the emphasis on brand purpose and activism. First, consumers have become increasingly frustrated with governmental disfunction so they’re adopting other strategies to address the many societal and cultural challenges we’re currently facing. And secondly, with the communication power and transparency enabled by today’s digital environment, they’re exerting their ability to influence the role that brands and businesses can play to take on those challenges. More and more consumers, especially Millennials and Centennials, are choosing brands that give back and stand for something other than just a product. They believe that their purchases and their collective voices on social media can positively impact the world. And brands have taken note.  


What would you say to critics that believe brand purpose is just another trend?

Purpose as a business driver is here to stay. Brands now operate in an environment of near-total transparency, where as noted above, consumers know they have the power to force change on global corporations. They also have more choice than ever creating a dynamic where standing for something is increasingly the ultimate differentiator for a consumer. We believe purpose-driven brands exert a stronger emotional appeal today, which in this choice-rich marketplace, is essential to long-term loyalty.


Can you name some purpose-driven work or initiatives that have resonated with you?

Internally we often cite REI’s #OptOutside initiative for both its bravery as well as its brilliant insight. They recognized what’s most important to their core consumers, tapped into the mindset that fuels their love of the outdoors, and executed the program in such a way that they shifted the cultural conversation about Black Friday. Now, even non-REI shoppers are apt to reference the act of opting outside. And five years later they continue to build on “opt outside” as a foundation for their brand with content and partnerships throughout the year.


We are proud of our recent work with CA Ventures in the development and launch of their Senior Living brand, Anthology. Their brand purpose is to make a remarkable impact on the lives they touch–from their passionate caregivers (employees) to their senior residents and their families.  We developed the brand name and logo design, content strategy,  digital experience and brand collateral to reflect their brand promise.


Are there any causes your agency or you yourself are focused on? What are you doing to have an impact?

This year is Upshot’s 25th anniversary, and over this time, we’ve seen the growing prioritization of working in a purpose-driven organization among our own employees. To retain and attract talent agencies can no longer just rely on the typical perks of agency settings. Our teams want to contribute back to our community. Several years ago, we initiated our community service program Uplift to encourage Upshotters to get engaged with Chicago-based organizations addressing a variety of needs in our city. Our annual community service day is now one of the most popular events on our agency calendar.  

Is there a specific campaign for a good cause that you’ve worked on that you’re most proud of?                 

Our ongoing development support of Corona’s V Foundation for Cancer Research campaign is work we are extremely proud to create. Together, with Corona and distributor partners, our programming has helped raise over $15 million in donations to the V Foundation since 2010. In 2019, in addition to our ongoing cents per case campaign, we created a unique partnership with philanthropic marketing platform Omaze featuring BALLERS star Rob Corddry. Our programming including digital and social content, retail merchandise, experiential and CRM helped deliver record fundraising to meet the foundation’s mission of achieving Victory Over Cancer.