Presentation is the lifeblood of CSR

Corporate social responsibility is arguably the most important thing on any brand marketer’s mind. It’s important because studies increasingly show that consumers will spend their money on brands that reflect their values and concerns.

It is also important because when it comes to many of the global economic, environmental and social issues, such as climate change, action is sorely needed. Big business brands have correctly realised in recent years that as large organisations that employ vast workforces and operate in many markets around the world, they have the potential to make an impact.

It’s a bit of a headache then, that CSR is one of the hardest things to get right. It really isn’t just about doing “the right thing”, it has to be authentic. It has to look natural sitting alongside your brand. For if you are not believed by those consumers you are trying to inspire and motivate, your failed CSR programme has the potential to scar your brand image.

Two quotes in particular struck me in this week’s cover story on page 16, a case study investigating MTV’s excellent (and non-branded) socially responsible and environmental initiative – Cherry Girl, a fictional blogger read by young adults and teenagers across the globe.

While explaining why Cherry Girl’s creators invented a fictional character to promote good causes among a specific audience as opposed to identifying a suitable celebrity to endorse the causes that concern MTV fans, Richard Peters, of co-creator The Scarlett Mark, said: “We wanted to get away from the types of people who can afford to be eco-friendly in a ‘my-second-car-is-a-Prius’ kind of way.”

The other quote is from Sharon Greene, managing director of ethical business consultancy Risc International. On discovering more about a Procter & Gamble scheme to provide clean water to children in emerging markets, Greene was “astounded” by its brilliance. Why wasn’t P&G talking about the initiative?, she asked. “Because we are P&G. When we put our head over the parapet, we get knocked down. So we just get on with it and do what we can,” came the reply.

Both sentiments are laced with the implications that getting one’s CSR initiative wrong can have on a brand. As consumers regard with disappointment the world’s politicians dithering and bickering over issues such as the parameters of the Kyoto Treaty’s successor, they will become used to seeing brands as architects in the solutions, not just participants. But beware, because presentation is everything.

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