Brands will gain from altruism

I write in reference to Alan Mitchell’s article: “Why brand altruism will be ultimate litmus test” (MW October 28).

The consumer demand for brand altruism that Alan Mitchell identifies is real and should be listened to.

It has two profound implications for branding. First, it will sharpen the focus on the company as brand. Second, it will enforce consideration of the ethical dimension of industry.

It will sharpen the focus on the company as brand because you cannot pick and choose which bit of the company takes an ethical stance. It will increasingly be all or nothing – and that’s what has been so effective about the Co-operative Bank’s pursuit of ethical banking. To say one thing and do another leads to allegations of hypocrisy and worse – as New Labour’s pursuit of an ethical foreign policy has demonstrated.

The P&G model of self-standing, anonymous product brands is going to be increasingly threatened. Consumers will want to know who is behind that brand and what stance they take on the ethical issues surrounding their industry.

Take food. Which of the major food companies has a publicly stated ethical policy? None that I know of. There have been occasional initiatives such as Birds Eye’s involvement with the Marine Stewardship Council but few that have made any impact on consumers long term. Unless the major brands wake up to this issue they might find themselves once again out-thought by the retailer brands or out-faced by campaigning groups such as Greenpeace, which are not noted for their reluctance to go for the jugular.

It is not going to be easy and it’s unlikely to be a fair fight. But if manufacturers want to win the arguments then chief executives have got to get involved. If they don’t, there won’t be the necessary clarity of intent and implementation.

Graham Harding

Managing director

The Value Engineers

Buckinghamshire

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