Civil society is calling on brands, says Sally Uren

Sensemaking / Civil society is calling on brands, says Sally Uren

If corporates are to achieve any degree of social transformation, marketing departments need to be on side, says the Chief Executive of Forum for the Future.

By Sally Uren / 30 Oct 2014

Brands are coming under pressure from civil society. People are waking up to the reality of climate change, resource scarcity, civil unrest and conflict, and beginning to ask, what are brands doing about this? NGOs are channelling this pressure. Oxfam’s campaign ‘Behind the Brands’ tells consumers, “The world’s largest food and beverage companies have a lot of power – but you have more.”

While governments around the world dither and fall short of their Millennium Development Goals, civil society is marching, signing petitions, and asking brands to step up. Some already are – like Grameen Danone, forged in 2006 by the yoghurt brand and the people’s bank to provide children in Bangladesh with key nutrients missing from their diet.

The strength of brands is that they can capture the imagination and create an emotional connection, which is generally the precursor to changing perceptions and then behaviour. We’re beginning to see ‘super-hero’ brands: those that don’t just want to clear up their own mess, to change their external environment through innovation, creative collaborations, and influencing policy. Unilever’s Lifebuoy has always had this mission.

If corporates are to achieve any degree of social transformation, marketing departments need to be on side. Sustainability metrics are being incorporated into standard business performance metrics. Very soon a marketer’s primary KPI won’t just be stuff sold: there will be KPIs on the type of goods and services, who they were sold to, and even ‘in kind’ services transacted. Brands will answer to society.

Image credit: Nick Irvine-Fortescue / Flickr

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