Should it be the responsibility of brands to be a force for good? Yes, it unifies. Yes, it’s good for business and yes, it accelerates social change.
Branding Risks and Rewards
There is a very long-standing, successful donut shop in my small town. In 2012, they had multiple locations and a sentimental place in the residents hearts. Everyone had a special memory of going there on a Saturday morning with their grandparents and getting hot chocolate and their choice of donut, sitting at the counter and spending time with loved ones. The brand was warm, family-oriented and did well, even with their subpar customer service.
In 2014, the brand came out very strongly in support of a divisive politician. They used his likeness in ads, hung very large flags out with his name, and the owner himself was vocally supportive of the politician in a way that many felt was aggressive. The owner probably felt this was a good strategy. After all, our county voted for this politician.
However, there was a large number of people that did not agree with the donut shops divisiveness and felt that it was not the role of a business that sells donuts to actively campaign for a candidate. This shop ended up losing a great deal of business and has laid off employees as a result. Businesses have the right to advertise how they see fit. However, they need to take into consideration the consequences and risks to divisive or controversial messages when advertising.
Branding Accelerates Change
Brands with large audiences have the power to accelerate positive social change. A poignant example of this would be Rosie the Riveter. At the time Rosie was created, there were people who disagreed with women joining the workforce. But Rosie helped to normalize women in the workplace and create equity among men and women, accelerating social change. Thanks to the media strategy the government used during Rosie’s time, it is now more socially acceptable for women to either chose to work at home or in the workplace.
Branding with a Mission
In the current climate, brands need a positive, altruistic mission statement or else they are overlooked by consumers. Millennials in particular are will actively search out brands with positive mission statements and support them. Consumers, themselves, also share some of the responsibility of asking for what they want. People vote with their dollars and should let companies know they expect better. Slow-fashion is a great example of this. The media made us aware of the human costs of brands like Forever21 and created a request for social change. Now people are buying more vintage and secondhand items. Brands like Rent The Runway are also aware of this and have capitalized on this new consumer preference.
According to “Marketers Find That Doing Good Has It’s Rewards” marketers have found no negative consequences from public relations efforts that successfully highlight their philanthropic endeavors (Belch & Belch, 1997, pp. 609-610). This creates goodwill within the company audience and helps to foster brand loyalty. Indicators of the success of PR efforts include “more customer loyalty, less antagonism, or greater cooperation between the firm and its suppliers or consumers,” (Belch & Belch, 1997, pp. 618).
However, it is equally important that brands backup their claims to good with actionable items. The article “Post-election: 5 Ways Brands Can Be a Force for Good” by Afdhel Aziz and Bobby Jones emphasizes the need for brands to put their money where their advertising is: “Brands need to move beyond highlighting messages of support only via their advertising and go deeper: they need to stand up against discrimination.”
Consumers seem to have a keen eye for disingenuous efforts and will trample a brand that tries to use a movement for monetary gain.
Belch, G. E., & Belch, M. A. (1997). Introduction to advertising and promotion: an integrated marketing communications perspective. Pg. 609-610, 618 Chicago, IL: Irwin.