We are living in an age of the corporate apology.
How can brands be genuine in taking social responsibility for a misfire? Is simply saying “sorry” sufficient for corporations that have such extreme influence over their customer base?
Along with efforts to resonate with consumers, brands broadcast their values to attract talent. These values primarily target millennials, which consider social factors in their search for a workplace, and even for small businesses, there is no exception.
Young people tend to seek out workplaces that implement ethical labor practices and workplaces that align with their values while expressing those values on a global stage. A recent study by Deloitte emphasized that young workers are eager for business leaders to mirror millennial ethics as company values.
Innovation in sustainability, cultural values, and working toward causes that the company believes in is at the forefront of brand competition. But what does practicing corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives look like?
In winning attention over competitors, brands are starting to take on controversial issues - a seemingly major leap from the traditional employee volunteering initiatives. Taking on controversial issues is a new facet of the customer-centric approach to marketing - the need to be bold to gain traction over their competitors.
But how much is too much when it comes to speaking out? What can we learn about which company practices work and which don’t work when it comes to making a splash?
Let’s take a look at a few examples.
Released in the midst of the Syrian refugee crisis, Airbnb launched their #weaccept campaign during the Super Bowl in 2017. Over the 30-second ad, a compilation of faces from all different skin tones are blended together. A voiceover describes the positive impact diversity has on local communities and the world.
The CSR initiative highlighted Airbnb’s efforts to offer short-term housing for anyone in need. This included refugees, workers, and victims fleeing natural disasters.
Airbnb Campaign, #weaccept
Despite the criticism the company received, it became the subject of a massive spike in media engagement. There were 33,000 tweets about the ad during the first half of the super bowl alone.
Airbnb made a call to action for the public, asking for volunteers to open their homes to displaced populations. They received thousands of sign-ups as a result of the ad. Airbnb was praised online, and their social beliefs were broadcasted for consumers to see.
In a similar fashion earlier this year, Gillette launched their “The Best Men Can Be” campaign.
The ad sparked a massive amount of controversy online for its references to the stereotypes of modern day masculinity. The tagline is a play on the company’s decades-old campaign, “The Best A Man Can Get.” The historical campaign has primarily cultivated an image of masculinity in its clients.
Gillette, “The Best Men Can Be”
The campaign, which has over 30 million views on YouTube, has more dislikes than likes. The internet backlash has led many to speak out about “boycotting” the brand for its illustration of men in the ad. Thousands of negative comments below the video and negative social media posts criticized Gillette’s overreach into the social sphere. At its core, Gillette used the campaign to spark a conversation about social issues/stereotypes.
Woven into the stream of negativity, Gillette also received immense praise for speaking out on the global stage. Regardless of opinion, the ad has led to an increase in levels of media activity and engagement. Gillette’s campaign was an illustration of how ads can generate new audiences for brands.
After the campaign was released, Adweek reported that it gained the largest amount of support from women. This finding opened up a broader customer base. This level of support from women was a first in the history of Gillette’s campaigns.
Similarly, Ben and Jerry’s has become consistently vocal in its CSR initiative to combat climate change.
In 2016, the company released a campaign noting the social and environmental impact that a temperature increase of two degrees has on ice cream - and the Earth. The ad increased awareness on the topic and urged policy makers to be more proactive in fighting climate change – a win-win for Earth, and ice cream.
Ben and Jerry’s, Climate Justice Campaign
The Ben and Jerry’s campaign was one part of an increasing standard for suppliers to speak out on social issues and engage in corporate citizenship. This was especially true on a national scale, where the campaigns had far more impact than at the global level. This added benefit allowed Ben and Jerry’s to measure the brand awareness within the country.
The entire supply chain in the food and CPG (consumer packaged goods) industry is being pushed for environmental sustainability initiatives. This CSR program by Ben and Jerry’s changed how the business operates and showcases its social efforts, distinguishing itself from nonprofit organizations by connecting the bottom line. In transitioning toward more sustainable products, brands have catapulted their sustainability efforts to the forefront of their marketing and business models through a meaningful education program.
Controversial campaigns have yielded positive and negative results for corporations. What separates the effective campaigns from the misfires?
Airbnb’s #WeAccept campaign, for example, was released in the heat of a refugee crisis. The company’s success was driven by conversations already taking place about refugees in the social sphere. While companies practice CSR initiatives, they have to take a step back and ask, “Who am I trying to connect with the most through this ad?”