Ignore ethics at your own peril

Sean Brierley’s article on the “new ethical agenda” that is facing businesses was timely and thought-provoking. As the article mentioned, Business in the Community was formed in 1982, in response to the riots in Toxteth and St Pauls, and now has over 700 member companies, including 70 per cent of the FTSE 100, in helping to address the social issues of the day.

Research shows that over 70 per cent of consumers in the UK expect companies to be involved with the social issues of the day, and want to see more companies addressing them.

These are complex issues and companies and brands need to be careful about giving the impression of taking the moral high ground. Companies certainly should not use cause-related marketing as a sticking plaster to cover up a poor ethical record.

As Brierley points out, marketing departments are about “supporting and building brands”. As we know from research across all sectors, brands’ price, quality and functionality are increasingly similar and, as marketers increasingly understand, brands of the future will be based on values. Research shows that brand equity is made up of functionality and affinity and that, depending on product category or sector, consumer affinity can represent between 50 and 90 per cent of brand equity. Cause-related marketing is, therefore, about supporting and building brands.

Apart from showing the link between cause-related marketing and brand affinity and equity, recent research has provided some compelling evidence of the impact of cause-related marketing programmes, not only on brand affinity and equity but also on consumer perceptions, loyalty and buying behaviour. We found that 77 per cent of consumers who had taken part in a cause-related marketing programme were positively influenced by the link to a cause or charity, while 80 per cent of consumers who take part in a cause-related marketing programme will continue to feel positive about a company and 67 per cent of all consumers (that’s 32 million people) have taken part in cause-related marketing programmes.

When done well, therefore, and based on sound principles, cause-related marketing can be the platform on which to build and sustain company or brand differentiation.

The research evidence, the anti-capitalism riots of last week and earlier, attest to the strength of public feeling about critical social issues around the world. Companies and brands can be part of the problem or part of the solution. Marketers, through those brands, have the power to make a constructive contribution.

Burying heads in the sand on these social issues is not a strategy for the 21st century. Things have moved on in the social, political, economic, business, marketing and brand arenas. Marketers have two options: ignore these trends at their peril, or consider and help address the issues from a foundation, not of cynicism and exploitation, but of integrity and transparency for the benefit of all.

Sue Adkins

Director of cause-related marketing

Business in the Community

London N1

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