Digital Marketing and Corporate Social Responsibility

Adidas recently ran this controversial SM campaign, using the hash tag #therewillbehaters, and featuring footballers who have attracted attention for racism and violence during matches. 

Source: Marketing Magazine UK
Source: Marketing Magazine UK

Adidas’ director of brand strategy, Stefanie Knoren, spoke about the campaign at a Forrestor forum in London, and revealed that it marked the start of a shift in Adidas’ marketing strategy, from advertising to really creating value for customers. She said that millenials (those aged 18-35) were now expecting more from companies – not just great products, but that they ‘do good’, also.

So how much of this shift is due to social media? Is the ability to raise and discuss things that matter to us shaping the way that organisations operate? How important is this online voice to ensuring that companies don’t just pay lip service to their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policies, but actually live them every day?

Source: Elizabeth Tower
Source: Elizabeth Tower

There has been a strong business case for CSR for a while now, according to the author of this Harvard Business Review article. Social media commentary from consumers is immediate, permanent, and very public. Many companies have learned the hard way that they cannot get away with things that they may have been able to just a decade ago. Notable examples include Abercrombie and Fitch’s program giving clothing to the homeless, and TOMS shoes’ one that gave shoes to third world citizens.

In both of the cases mentioned above, the companies were – at least on the surface – trying to do ‘something good’. Their attempts backfired. Why?

Well, in my opinion, social media now requires that brands must be not only doing the right things, they must also be doing them for the right reasons. If they are not, the cracks will show – and the cynics among us (bless them!) will sniff it out from a mile off and shout it from the rooftops. I have no doubt they have always done so – but now, of course, their rooftops are virtual – and with an unimaginably wider reach than in the past.

Smart brands understand this, and know that they must genuinely be making life better in order to avoid the kinds of consequences mentioned above.

But how can this need to really, genuinely want to do good in the world be balanced with a (publicly listed) company’s fiduciary responsibility to its shareholders – in other words, to have profits as its first priority? I’m just hoping that I’ll be an awful lot wiser before I’m in a position to have to figure that one out 😉

What do you think? Does social media really hold companies accountable, and if so, how can they balance that public accountability with the needs of their shareholders?

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6 thoughts on “Digital Marketing and Corporate Social Responsibility

  1. I agree! I guess CSR have been pretty ‘fake’ to a certain extent be it with social media or without social media? But social media makes it easier for mistakes to be recognised and comments to be heard so companies have to be extra careful? Kinda “fake it till you make it” or otherwise be authentic! Appreciate if you could share your thoughts on my latest post. (https://digitalcrusaders.wordpress.com/2015/05/09/the-buzzfeed-case-study/comment-page-1/#comment-47)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post Pagan! Haven’t come across the #therewillbehaters hash tag yet but I love the concept!! I love the highly engaging and positive impact of many active wear, sports and health product companies online. Stop by my blog for a visit when you get a chance- I just posted about Chobani, Lorna Jane, check it out 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love the ad (maybe because its English!) – and good point. The digital space is so busy brands need to do something different to stand out and if it’s not authentic it’s so obvious. We have the power to reach so many more people with our messages of disdain nowadays – brands need to be nimble to respond if a campaign backfires. Great post Pagan.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Emma. The downside is of course that some brands may give up on trying to do good things as it’s hard to get right, which would be a shame. Personally, if they are doing good, I don’t mind if they are motivated by the almighty dollar rather than altruism 😉

      Like

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