Should brands be better corporate citizens?

Being a good corporate citizen a decade ago was defined by introducing a recycling policy into the work place, reducing your carbon footprint and being carbon neutral. Ultimately a company who are seen to be doing the right thing. All of these components are vital ingredients when it comes to being a socially responsible brand. Society, politics and importantly consumers, are asking brands to play their part to protect the planet for future generations, to continue to do the right thing when it comes to their employee’s and to assist in combatting some of the challenging trends in society. Corporate social responsibility has now formed a critical role, centre stage in all large organisations. Something stakeholders are demanding and their consumers are expecting.

But where does it start and finish? How socially responsible do brands need to become? The reason for pondering this question is, over the past 12 months a number of brands have had their corporate citizenship questioned. VW, Hotpoint, Coca-Cola and recently Dolmio. Firstly, VW; Remember them? The brand that in 2015 were uncovered for deciding to gently tweak the results of their emissions tests, to dupe the World, and make out they are greener than green and squeaky clean. A brand who then went out with a global campaign, the first since ‘said’ scandal, with a tagline telling the families of the World that VW will be there, “Then. Now. Always” Really? Is this a case of too little too late? Doesn’t this show a lack of respect to the VW following? How can a brand that has totally disregarded their consumer, the environment and the car industry, be able to stand publically and ask their consumers to remember the good times? Come on give VW a hug? No thanks? Has this family brand, built on reputation, affordability, and good old German engineering let society down? We are a VW family, but I have to admit I won’t be buying one of their cars in the future. They have a reputation at stake and need to work fast to restore this, to claw back their global corporate citizenship.

Do brands really care about doing the right thing by society? Or is it ultimately about the bottom line? Is doing the right thing a guise, to lure consumers into thinking they are good corporate citizens? Take Coca-Cola for instance, a brand I have had the pleasure of working for. They were at a cross road. The World was shouting about a global obesity epidemic, calling upon FMCG brands to make a difference and take some responsibility. Sugar was identified as being one of the bad guys in this scenario. Oh dear, not the best for Coca-Cola a product that has its recipe rooted in sugar. Diversification is one of the first tactics brands can take to ensure they have placed more virtual eggs in more baskets, to protect the long term future of the brand. Introducing Coca-Cola Life (a product with natural sweetener), or indeed Coke Zero which is being re-launched in June this year, with Zero sugar. All products in their portfolio will be subject to a makeover this year, new packaging which will bring all products together in a uniformed manner. To give consumers more clarity on choosing no sugar options. By aiming to increase their no sugar options to 50% of their revenue by 2020, from 43% currently. Coca-Cola is acting in a corporately responsible way to assist society in tackling obesity. But, with the obvious undertone of protecting their income.

Ultimately brands need to work hard to acquire time and money from complex consumers. In my humble opinion Corporate Social Responsibility shouldn’t even be a word in our virtual marketing dictionary. It has to be integral, something that; Always is and always will be in marketing plans. But there is another side, brands are here to make money after all. Being a good corporate citizen of course means doing the right thing, but making sure shareholder value is being protected. I wonder what would have come first? Shareholder value or doing the right thing. I think I know the answer if I’m looking at VW? But I am prepared to give Coca-Cola the benefit of the doubt. For now?


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