Friday, May 22, 2015

Should brands drive social change?

I wrote about some interesting trends in how brand identities with respect to gender have evolved in recent years. Whether any of these speculations are valid, it brings up an interesting debate that definitely happening all over the corporate world.  Should companies care about the impact of their products, brands, marketing, etc on social change?

It is clear that corporate social responsibility is a big debate, not just in the Twitterverse but also in the boardroom.  Companies are moving towards the triple or even the quadruple bottom line.  They are moving beyond an exclusive focus on shareholder value and defining stakeholder much more broadly. 

  • Do they have responsibilities towards employees beyond “a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work” and legally mandated safety and workplace regulations?
  • Do they have responsibilities towards customers to support their well being and best interests? 
  • Do they have responsibilities towards the community where their offices and factories are located or where their employees live?
  • Do they have responsibilities for environmental stewardship?

And now I would like to add a fifth question to this list:  Do they have responsibilities to drive social change?  This is a harder question because I think there is more uncertainty about the direction that social change should be heading.  The headlines these days focus on the most controversial issues like whether a bakery should be required to design and create a cake for a same sex marriage. 

But even when we consider accepted problems such as the glass ceiling in wages, minorities in STEM careers, employee wellness, etc. how far do we expect companies to go?  Is it even their role to influence these challenges on their own initiative?  The article in EID focused on gender stereotypes and how they can be supported or challenged by brands in the way they are designed and marketed.

And then even if we want companies to care about and address these issues, how much will we trust that they are doing it because they believe in it or just as a marketing gimmick?  Can we suspend our cynicism?  And even if companies are doing it out of self-interest, if it works, should we care? 

I don’t have answers to most of these questions.  I have some personal beliefs and speculations on several of these issues.  But I am uncertain enough to worry about forcing these on companies through regulation or mass consumer pressure.

It makes a good long weekend post to give it time to percolate before many of you respond.  But I am very interested in what you think.

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