Socially responsible branding: really?
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Make me believe
In 2018, after disturbing stories about how they treat their staff, Uber still grew its US millennial base from 17.3% to 25.5%. And despite some distinctly negative press around tax management and working conditions at Apple and Amazon, nothing seemingly can slow the growth of either of these corporate giants.
I wonder why?
Well, of course, if anyone asks if you want your brands to behave, be socially responsible, thoughtful, caring and sustainable clearly you’ll say yes. But actually, when it comes down to it, we’re generally either too busy to research the morals of our tea bag or toothpaste suppliers or we do what comes naturally, which is order our thoughts and feelings into what appropriate boxes – yes of course I care about social issues and I will think about them in my own way, but it takes an awful lot to stop me buying the brands that efficiently and cost effectively meet my functional needs.
And here’s the nub. When brands pioneer their favourite social cause instead of meeting consumers’ goals, the message can appear patronising, irrelevant and often annoying. As Marketing Week’s Mark Ritson commented: “I do not want Starbucks telling me about race relations and world peace – I want it to serve me a decent coffee in pleasant locations.”
Do as I do …
Multiple brands have felt the anger of the public for lecturing us on topics that appear quite unrelated to their roles in our lives. Audi copt it for lecturing us on equal pay and Pepsi bowed to pressure pulling a controversial ad featuring Kendall Jenner, a ‘high-profile member of the celebrity Kardashian family’ apparently, amid claims the advert appeared to trivialise protests aimed at tackling the causes of social injustice.
The video was removed from YouTube and in a statement, the company said: “Pepsi was trying to project a global a message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly, we missed the mark, and we apologise.” Well quite.
When big brands jump on seemingly unrelated causes they can appear at best confusing, more generally inauthentic and irrelevant. Purpose in this context is about how they, these companies can satisfy our needs and enrich our lives in a fair and responsible way. It is not about how a corporate lectures us on unrelated subjects. All that does is confuse, annoy and generally give the idea of brands having hopes, wishes and desires (a purpose), over and above their profits, a bad name.