CSR in the Spotlight

One look at both the Super Bowl’s biggest ad winners and 2013’s best campaigns reveals that brands are bringing their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives out from the dusty corners of their corporate websites and into the spotlight.

Budweiser Super Bowl

Coke Super Bowl

Dove’s real beauty

Unilever’s sunlight campaign

This shift in brand image makes sense when viewed in light of the fact that increasingly powerful millennial consumers are acutely concerned with their contribution to and impact on society and the planet.

Brands are recognizing that the best way to reach the millennial population (which is set to outnumber the baby-boomers 78 million to 56 million by 2030) is to position themselves as “the good guys.” Consumers are willing to pay a premium for products that have a charitable component. In fact, a Cone Communications study posits that an immense 85% of Americans had a more positive image of a company that supported a cause.

While the millennial generation has been defined as concerned by the state of the planet, some cynics claim that it is probably more accurate to say that they are defined by the desire to appear concerned. Brands then, are merely green-washing themselves to appeal to consumers who seek to green-wash their own identities by buying green-washed products. To put it simply—by claiming that buying a coke isn’t actually polluting the planet but celebrating cultural oneness, brands allow individuals to consume guilt free and increase their own profits in the bargain.
This whole “heal the world” mentality is just a way to ignore the facts and allow both sides of the market to continue in a mindless pursuit of materialism.

Perhaps the situation isn’t as grim as this. Fifty-eight percent of millennials claimed that they’d be willing to take a 15% pay cut to work in a “job where (they) can make an impact.” Further, while campaigns centered on CSR initiatives might seem showy and devoid of real sentiment, they actually might be working toward the “greater good”, albeit not quite in the way one would expect.

Check out this ad for GoldieBlox sponsored by Intuit QuickBooks. Intuit promoted its own brand by bringing the story of a small business to the Super Bowl stage. It aligned its company with a positive, socially productive narrative and perhaps more importantly positioned itself as the big guy who cares about making sure the right voices are heard.

The GoldieBlox ad itself, while not particularly interesting or entertaining, is breaking from stereotype. Even if neither Intuit, nor GoldieBlox were actually engaged in empowering young girls, their ad is powerful in challenging the highly gendered understanding of children’s’ toys. That’s the point. Brands’ CSR themed campaigns can infuse society with a set of desirable values.

At a time where 65% of consumers claim to have made a purchase decision based on the “conduct” of a company, telling the human story and emotionally connecting with the consumer has assumed paramount importance to brands. In fact, Euro RSCG’s “Future of the Corporate Brand” study claims 69% of respondents believe that the most successful and profitable businesses in the future will be those that practice sustainability, and a whopping 86% agreed it was important that companies stand for something other than profitability.

Bringing CSR to the fore of brand image has been made uniquely possible due to the power of online video. The online format gives the brand an opportunity to create a relatable, human story about its CSR successes rather than merely airing a short “we did something good, look at us” TV spot or a presenting a dated PowerPoint to a room full of bored employees.

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