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Is a Social Cause a Necessity for Brand Reputation?

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.

So, if you are a business owner, how do you build trust? Do you attach yourself to social causes 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 that we will discuss in this article.

Social Cause

Public Trust


The past couple of years have 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.


Is Standing up for a Cause a Necessity?


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 response to this growing mistrust should not be a lukewarm attempt to “get with the times” and use social causes as a marketing tool.


You might ask what I am doing writing about marketing and brand reputation at all. Well, because you can have a successful and flourishing business and care about social issues simultaneously. As a brand, you have a way larger platform to influence change 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 a CSR social issue.


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 the youngest millennials, and the older Genz seem to have shifted to more sustainable clothing choices and thrifting!


In the Edelman study we mentioned, over 56% of global respondents believe that capitalism is doing more harm than good [2]. Can we blame them, given the current climate crisis and income inequalities in developed nations?


Naturally, it is time that companies step up and use their power for the better. But why should brand care?


Why should a brand care about social causes?


Firstly, because it matters. 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 they, 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. By standing up for social causes, 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 an ideal 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 establishment but rather an opportunity for you to grow as a 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, reputation is everything. Hence, these days, companies have to show that they care to gain a positive brand reputation. And the only way to show that you care is to actually care.


Popular Brands and Social Justice


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.


The Pepsi Debacle


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! 


Moral: If you want to contribute to a social cause, educate yourself about it first.


Nike and Consistency


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, their 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


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 social causes


  • 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 specific social causes. 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 stand up for a social issue because it increases your brand value. 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.

social causes


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