Is a Social Cause a Necessity for Brand Reputation?

6 min read
May 12, 2021 2:10:38 PM

Trust is one of the primary factors that determine how well a company will perform in the long run. Building that trust is necessary, but it must be founded upon authenticity and genuine concern.

A social cause is a venture that builds brand trust and makes a measurable impact.

So, if you are a business owner, how do you build trust? Do you attach yourself to a social cause just for the sake of marketing? How do you show that you care about a specific issue? Well, the answer is simple – by caring about it. But there is a lot more nuance to the execution of an effective social cause campaign that we will discuss in this article.

Social cause examples mental health

Types of social cause


The Library of Congress maintains an index of social causes in America. Examples include academic fraud, hacking and church-state separation. Gangs, hate speech, suicide, urban spread, and unions are just a few examples. When a new president is elected, social issues are given a lot of attention.


The past couple of years has seen a series of disheartening affairs, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the resulting economic crisis, global political instability, and the outcry over systemic injustices.


The 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer (research that has been analyzing public trust for two decades) has discovered that the public did not trust any of the four institutions (government, business, NGO, and media) that the study measures. 2021 has only seen an increase in that mistrust.


A social cause in business


Well, no, it isn’t. No one is compelling a brand to take a stance. However, given the growing public mistrust, it is high time that businesses shed their apolitical stance and use their platform to create long-term changes.


A social cause or mission can provide tangible and intangible value to stakeholders, which will increase their willingness to invest in your company. Corporate social responsibility is becoming so appealing to investors that many people are leaving companies that do not share their social cause or mission.


A response to this growing mistrust should not be a lukewarm attempt to “get with the times” and use a social cause as a digital marketing strategy.


You might ask what I am doing mentioning marketing, online reputation management, and social issues in the same article. Well, because you can have a successful and flourishing business and care about causes of social issues simultaneously. Established brands already have a platform to influence change more than an individual such as myself.


Besides, actively advocating for social justice definitely does well for a brand. I personally would much rather buy from a brand that speaks out about current social issues.


For example, recently, there has been a backlash against fast fashion brands. They are highly harmful to the environment, and the clothes are often manufactured via cheap labor at sweatshops. The young generation, mostly consisting of generation z, and the older Gen z’s seem to have shifted to more sustainable clothing choices and thrifting! You can hear them speaking out about their feeling toward these social issues on TikTok.


The Edelman study that we mentioned showed that 56% of global respondents believed capitalism was doing more harm than good. Given the current climate crisis, income inequality in developed countries, and other factors, can we blame them?


Naturally, it is time that companies step up and use their power for the better. But why should brands care about the current social issues in America?


Brands taking a stand on social issues


Social issues in America are endless – sexism, racism, economic inequality, homelessness, homophobia, and the global climate crisis.


If a brand has the capability to make positive change, why shouldn’t it, especially when smaller voices are constantly being stifled?


Secondly, with economic growth, money isn’t a zero-sum game anymore. When a company shows social responsibility, it gains not only more consumers but also loyal ones. There are some good brand activism examples that we will be examined shortly. By standing up for social justice, a brand has nothing to lose really. Instead, they can help others as well as their own reputation.


Besides, even if your brand does not create any negative impact on anyone, not standing by a social justice campaign can harm your image. People can ask:


  • Does the brand treat its employees well?
  • Do they make products that are harmful to public health?
  • Do they care about the environment?


These questions aren’t necessarily an attack on your company but rather an opportunity for you to grow your brand.


Empty advertisements promoting a vague sense of social justice do not really bring the positive clout companies often want. In the age of social media, your online reputation is everything. Hence, these days, companies have to show customers they care to gain a positive brand reputation. And the only way to show that you care is to actually care.


Social cause marketing examples


The last decade has seen a growing sense of social responsibility in the most popular brands. But a lot of such content marketing strategies have failed miserably. Below we have listed some of the worst cause marketing campaigns that lead to online reputation repair.


The Pepsi Debacle

 social justice campaigns

We all know about the 2017 Pepsi ad starring Kendall Jenner. In a rather misguided attempt, the company tried to use the Black Lives Matter movement as a marketing strategy. However, the advertisement came off as incoherent, tone-deaf, and seemed to trivialize a movement that had been tirelessly addressing systematic racism for years.


Needless to say, it received a lot of backlashes, especially from millennials, whose consideration of buying from Pepsi was at the lowest even one year after the ad was released. Moreover, in July 2017, Pepsi’s brand perception level hit the lowest it had in the previous eight years! 


After widespread condemnation, the ad was removed on Wednesday. critics accused the drinks giant of taking over a nationwide protest movement after police shootings of African Americans.


Moral: If you want to contribute to a social cause, help the cause not just your bottom line.


Nike and Consistency

 Social movement campaigns

Nike is a trusted brand with an inspirational backstory. Yet, in 2018, their ad campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick brought mixed reactions from the audience. Interestingly, even though their stock fell by 3% immediately after the campaign, its value went up by $26.2 billion since their deal with Kaepernick.


The company stuck by the social cause when later in 2020, they released the ad saying, “For once, don’t do it.” The ad referred to the BLM movement, which had gained momentum right after the murder of George Floyd. They even donated $40 million to the cause.


Moral: Find something you believe in and commit to it.


Brewdog, the Underdog

 Recent social movements

Back in 2018, Brewdog got mixed responses over their “beer for girls” campaign that aimed to address the gender pay gap. A lot of people explained how the ad failed to send the correct message.


But later, in 2020, the brand announced that it had become the first carbon-negative global beer business. They also purchased 2,050 acres of land in Scotland with the goal of planting one million trees and restoring 650 acres of peatland. 


Moral: A substantial effort is better than an ‘empowering’ or ‘heartwarming’ advertisement.


How to contribute to a social cause


  • Wealthy brands tend to start their own non-profit foundations where they have control over how their resources are used. But, this is not really feasible for most companies out there.
  • Use your platform to inform your consumers about a specific social cause. You can also donate to NGOs or organizations working on that issue.
  • Be a brand that follows the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). You can also make small but significant changes such as regulating what kind of raw materials you use or reducing your plastic usage.


Closing Thoughts


Don’t attach yourself to social cause campaigns because it increases your bottom line. Do it because you believe in it, because it will pave the way for positive development and because it is the right thing to do. If you are authentic, the result will automatically speak for itself. There are always social causes to be passionate about, find one you can make an impact on and commit to.

List of social movements

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