Much has been written about the impact of social media on marketing and the demand for greater transparency and accountability from brands. The business landscape is now littered with examples of its impact from the ousting of high profile CEO’s at companies like Abercrombie and Fitch, American Apparel and the LA Clippers, to brands mitigating the risk of consumer activism by changing their products including CVS, Chick-fil-A, and Subway.
The level of accountability now demanded of brands is only getting higher. Brands are now under siege from watchdogs that will not only hold you accountable for your company’s behavior, but also scrutinize the partnerships you keep in terms of your stated company values.
A very powerful example is playing out right now as Green Peace reacts to the partnership deal struck between Lego and Shell Oil. Green Peace states the oil company is using Lego’s high profile and positive image to try and improve the perception of its arctic drilling in the form of 16 million Shell-branded Lego toys being sold or given away at gas stations in 26 countries.
Green Peace has asserted that this licensing deal effectively uses children’s playrooms for Shell’s public image management as it tries to “buy friends who can make its controversial arctic drilling plans acceptable and misleadingly associate it with positive values.” Greenpeace went so far as create a compelling film that takes the very brand recognition that Lego established through its charming commercials and hit movie and turns it against the brand.
This is a costly PR crisis for Lego and not surprisingly, they were quick to react sharing tweets stating, “We are determined to leave a positive impact on our society and children. We’re sad when the Lego brand is used as a tool in any dispute.” While this is an understandable attempt to separate itself from the environmental impact of Shell’s arctic drilling, it is hard for Lego to avoid guilt by association which can be extraordinarily costly to the brand’s reputation in the short and long term.
This dynamic between Shell, Lego, and Greenpeace demonstrates the fact that brands are now being forced to address three key issues:
1. What do they stand for?
2. How do they tell that story?
3. How do they show meaningful and measurable impact?
If the leadership, marketing, and employee base within a company does not have an answer to these three questions, the brand runs the risk of being miscast as part of the problem rather than part of the solution in the minds of consumers. Too often, however, leadership, marketing or PR firms point the finger of blame at other parties when it comes to who is responsible for damage to the brand’s reputation.
Yet as the adage states, “when you point your finger at someone else there are four fingers pointing at yourself.” If your company fails to recognize the reality of the world in which they live, to authentically put their shoulder behind the core values of their brand, and to demonstrate their authentic commitment to social change through all their efforts including partnerships, they only have themselves to blame for an inevitable PR crisis.
Join us Oct 7-8 at the 2014 We First Brand Leadership Summit for two days of hands-on training on how to define, frame and share a brand story that empowers your company to lead business, shape culture, mitigate risk, and position itself at the heart of what the transparency-driven marketplace will reward.
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Simon Mainwaring is the founder of We First, a leading brand consultancy that provides purpose-driven strategy, content, and training that empowers companies to lead business, shape culture, and better our world.