Pepsi makes brown sugar water that can contribute to obesity. Dove’s ‘Real beauty’ campaign was created by Unilever that also does the Axe campaign. Walmart has raised the bar on sustainability standards. In fact, almost every brand doing meaningful work can be accused of providing some product or service that can be harmful, and many so-called villains contribute to important social programs. So what do we do? Is it an all or nothing situation? Or is there room for grey?
I don’t think there is anything to be gained by being black and white on this issue. Transparency, authenticity and accountability from brands is paramount. There is no doubt about that. But it’s unrealistic to expect brands to exercise their duty to society and their shareholders without difficult compromises being made. Compromises that mean companies that do good work still source, produce and sell products and services in ways that are undeniably harmful to people and our planet.
Does that mean brands get a free pass to some degree? No. Does it mean we ease up pressure on them to exercise conscionable behavior? No. Does it justify the damage they do to people lives, the environment or to our children’s future? Absolutely not. However, I don’t think this battle can be won by demonizing brands. Instead we must look to work with them and celebrate the good work they do as permission slips for others to do the same.
The power of the Pepsi Refresh Project, Starbucks Shared Planet, Ford’s Invisible People, Nike’s Livestrong, Target Bullseye, Walmart’s Sustainability and Best Buy’s @15 campaigns is not limited to the actual cause efforts they support. Their additional power lies in the shift in corporate thinking they enable. By demonstrating to companies obsessed with self-interest that doing good is good business, they allow others to expand their definition of self-interest to include the greater good.
We must celebrate this growing number of well-intended corporate initiatives even though these same companies can be accused of mixed motives or double standards. We are in a period of broad transition in which – as a function of genuine dialogue between brands and consumers, heightened awareness of crises through the internet, and a recognition of our interdependence within our global community – companies around the world are waking up to their responsibility as social change agents. This transition may take twenty years to complete before the private sector becomes a third pillar of social change in addition to government and philanthropy, but it has begun.
By celebrating the good works of brands we encourage them and others to do the same. As we support the success of those initiatives, these brands can do more to shift the products and services into comprehensive alignment with their core values. Only then will we see the emergence of many more companies who have successfully married profit and purpose, and only then can we realistically demand that all brands do the same.
Do you agree that we should focus on positive brand behavior to enable others to do the same? Or should we take all brands to task for any behavior that has a negative impact right now?
It’s true we live in challenging times. There are so many concurrent global crises, governments around the world riddled with debt and philanthropies are so stretched. But it is also a time of great transition and possibility. As their website explains, IVOH is a global dialogue dedicated to strengthening the role of media as agents of world benefit. Speakers include Asi Burak, Co-President, Games for Change; Larry Kopald, brand architect behind social and environmental campaigns for major corporations; David Mathison, Author, Be the Media; Michaal Skoler, Vice President, Interactive Media, Public Radio International; Eric Whitacre , Composer, conductor and lecturer, and B.K. Mohini Panjabi, Spiritual leader, among others.
What so excites me is the rising awareness that technology is enabling social change in ways never imaginable before. What’s more, in a celebration of the power of collaboration, professionals from different creative fields are getting together to cross-pollinate ideas and drive thinking forward. The internet has democratized information and now social media is democratizing marketing. As such, the creative class and people from all walks of life can exercise greater control over the change they want to see in the world.
The talks are being webcast at: http://brahmamkumaris.acrobat.com/pv/
In the meantime, here are the key points I will be discussing:
While there is much cause for concern in our world, there is also an enormous amount to be excited about. We have barely scratched the surface of the transformative potential of the web. Hopelessness and powerlessness are being replaced by responsibility and opportunity. Working together, there is little we can’t achieve.
As more brands embrace social media as a marketing strategy, many are racing to establish a sizable social footprint. For their marketers, that translates to creative briefs like, “How can you get me to a million Facebook fans fast?’ or “What bots can I use to fast-track my followers on twitter?” This inevitably begs the question: “What good are a million Facebook fans if they are not engaged and won’t do anything for the brand?’
Brands must work to inspire fan action, not merely seek fan acquisition. A thousand fans that share the same core values, that find a brand’s communications meaningful and that are willing to do, say or buy something for the brand are far more valuable than one hundred thousand passive members. In fact, if a brand is only after numbers, they are not only wasting their marketing dollars but the dynamics of social media will work against them. Consumers now look to brands for transparency, authenticity and accountability . That means a brand must show genuine interest in their community as Zappos, Ford, Dell, Nike, Pepsi, Old Spice and Starbucks have done. If they treat Facebook as yet another broadcast medium and twitter like direct mail, the only thing they will demonstrate is their total lack of understanding of social media dynamics.
The reason a brand builds a social community is to provide a fair exchange of value. The company offers something meaningful whether it’s product, service or cause related, and that generates goodwill and loyalty that effectively puts the community to work for the brand through word of mouth advertising. Yet if a brand is simply rushing to hit a “magic number” and has no intention of genuinely engaging with their community, that’s what consumers will share with their friends and peers doing more harm than good.
Social media is not a numbers game. It’s a relationships game. If you’re not interested in your community, they won’t be interested in you. So work out what’s meaningful to your brand and share it with your community. What consumers want is an emotional connection. Once they get that, they’ll build a community for you.
Do you think most brands are building communities the right way? Of are they simply managing perceptions?
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5s-_B2chN5w I recently had the great privilege of participating in a public forum on how media – including social media – can be used to forge cultural bridges. Our hosts, the Levantine Center, just released this video of the discussion, …Read more
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Starting September 13, Ford will be loaning 12 Ford Fiestas to 12 non-profits. Called the People Fleet project, its aim is to help the organizations save money and do their work. To apply organizations submit their mission statements and must perform services …Read more
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Simon Mainwaring is founder of We First, a social branding consulting firm that helps companies, non-profits and individuals use social media to build communities, profits and positive impact.