By Devi Thomas
Can a brand step in to solve the world’s biggest problems where nations have failed?
In the new wave of political discourse, the biggest question seems to be who’s on first – in the case of social responsibility, who is really on point to solve pressing global issues?
A centennial and even decades ago, there was an expectation that our nations would take a strong, hard look and play a significant role in solving some of the biggest issues affecting our communities, our citizens and our world. This role has increasingly been shared by NGOs, faith-based groups, activists, neighborhoods and even private companies.
Corporate social responsibility has stealthily and meaningfully moved to occupy more floors in corporate headquarters from the grant-making offices of the corporate foundation department and the ethics-bound desks of the environment, health and safety teams, to the floors where purpose really starts – on the calendars of the executive decision-makers: CEOs and brand managers.
We see CSR messages being the main theme behind the company’s profit vision from brands like PepsiCo, Warby Parker and CVS Health. Today, PepsiCo’s main message to stakeholders is about its support of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education for girls; recycling as a way of life; and its Performance with Purpose business model that it claims steeps into every facet of PepsiCo’s global operations.
While relatively new as a global citizen, the socially-responsible, purpose-driven, for-profit brand has been recently asked to take on a newer and more complicated role. In the absence of political leadership that will solve some of the world’s heftiest problems – from climate change to energy poverty to under-five nutrition to women’s reproductive rights – the brand must fill a new role as a global problem-solver.
When REI tells us to go outside on Black Friday and Walgreens matches a product purchase to a gift toward life-saving medicine with Get a Shot, Give a Shot, we are letting our brands reflect our values and create meaningful social change. The values that were once only associated with political parties, nonprofits and churches are now espoused by trusted brands.
Take, for example, Ben & Jerry’s comparison of ice caps to ice cream in its climate justice message. Or look at Dow Chemical’s global employees standing up together in purple this past October for LGBTQ youth on Spirit Day. These company values are bold, loud and often timely with the public policy announcements that indicate the companies' support or opposition to a national issue. And now brands could need to try even harder in the current political climate.
Purpose brands are often trusted more than the profitable business that is behind them. But that also makes them truly accountable to their customers.
Now consumers may expect more of their cause-related purchases – including measuring their own impact on social movements. Beyond how much product partnered with (RED), for example, raised for the Global Fund and HIV/AIDs efforts, can the brand be part of effectively changing the global perception, awareness, and response to the disease? With $350 million going to help over 60 million people in countries like Swaziland and Zambia, the partners in Product (RED) like GAP and Bank of America have a stake in the outcomes.
If we are all in the problem-solving business, it makes sense that corporate brands can take the driving seat – they often have the customers, the strategy, the resources and the motivation. This election has shown as not how corporate social responsibility needs to take a back seat while we sort out trade deals but how CSR is on the precipice of becoming our nation’s next answer to social progress.
Image credit: Pixabay
Devi Thomas is Senior Vice President of CSR for Fenton.