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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Strategic CSR - Purpose marketing

One of the biggest dangers to the CSR project is the prospect of greenwashing. The more stakeholders (and consumers, in particular) suspect that CSR is a symbolic exercise, the less likely they are to fully engage. With this in mind, the article in the url below is concerning. It discusses the idea of “Purpose marketing,” which is “also called pro-social marketing, advertising for good and conscious capitalism.” On the surface, the effort seems like it would advance the cause of CSR:
“The goal is to convince potential customers that the companies operate in a socially responsible manner — marketing ‘meaningful brands,’ to borrow a term from the Havas Media division of Havas — that goes beyond tactics like making charitable contributions or selling a product or two in recyclable packaging.”
In reality, however, when the goal is to “woo consumers,” the temptation for abuse is too great. My skepticism is increased when the first and primary driver of purpose marketing is to increase sales, rather than raise awareness and understanding:
“Purpose marketing is becoming popular on Madison Avenue because of the growing number of shoppers who say that what a company stands for makes a difference in what they do and do not buy.”
Call me cynical, but when proponents of purpose marketing say things like “Consumers are seeking ‘authentic emotional connections’ with brands, … and the perception that certain ‘shared values’ can increase loyalty,” I am ready to run in the opposite direction. The danger is that the actions of seemingly genuine companies, such as Panera Bread (see ad here), are lost among a general increase of emotive-laden ads, designed to appeal to the segment of consumers willing to educate themselves about firm behavior and discriminate in their purchase decisions. By virtue of their increased engagement, however, these same consumers will also be quicker to see through the attempts of firms that seek to mislead them in pursuit of inflating sales via vague and, ultimately meaningless, slogans:
“Other brands known for purpose marketing include Kashi, sold by Kellogg, and Whole Foods Market. A newcomer to the trend, Union Bank, is introducing a campaign … in San Francisco that carries the theme ‘Doing right, it’s just good business.’”
Take care
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Selling Products by Selling Shared Values
By Stuart Elliott
February 14, 2013
The New York Times
Late Edition – Final