2018 has seen an explosion of brands asserting their corporate social responsibility (CSR) following growing public concerns about environmental sustainability. And I have no doubt in my mind that the BBC’s Blue Planet II was the driving force. It seemed as though the global sense of inertia was finally lifted following David Attenborough’s exposé of the devastating effects that plastic pollution is having on our oceans. In a powerful and emotive final episode, Attenborough’s parting words were:
“We are at a unique stage in our history. Never before have we had such an awareness of what we are doing to the planet, and never before have we had the power to do something about it. Surely we have a responsibility to care for our blue planet. The future of humanity, and indeed all life on earth, now depends on us.”
Whether the chilling ultimatum or the realisation that there is still time, the penny appeared to finally drop, and more than ever before people are now taking responsibility for their actions. In a need to keep up with the times, brands have followed suit, and companies worldwide are waging war on plastic. Morrisons are the latest to engage with this as they have reintroduced brown paper bags made from recycled paper. This very simple step will save a staggering 150 million plastic bags every year, the company claims. They are also incentivising customers to bring in their own containers for meat and fish, offering an appetising 100 loyalty points to those who do.
Similarly, Adidas, one of the world’s biggest and most fashionable brands, recently launched a collaboration with Parley for the Oceans. The campaign promoted the UltraBoost Parley shoe, which is made from ocean plastic. The partnership also worked to promote ‘Run for the Oceans’, running events where people could come together to show their commitment to the oceans as they raised money and most importantly, awareness. The campaign was slick and remained true to the Adidas brand, as they used their platform to encourage a change in ideology that recycling and environmental responsibility is for everyone, not just ‘eco-warriors’.
However, it has become apparent that some brands merely exploit CSR as nothing more than a marketing tool to generate sales. So let’s take a look at some of the good, the bad and the damn right ugly displays of brand purpose that have come to fruition over the last few months…
MASTERCARD WORLD CUP
Ahead of the World Cup, Mastercard announced a campaign in conjunction with the World Food Programme. The goal was simple, they would donate 10,000 meals every time Lionel Messi or Neymar scored. Though at first glance this could be mistaken for a charitable gesture, what they didn’t factor in was the insensitive trivialisation of a global crisis that it promoted. Hunger: a force to be gambled with. Whether a disregard of empathy, or more likely an absence of rational thought, the campaign appeared to ‘forget’ those who it was supposed to help. What’s more, this placed the players in question under high stakes and begged the question: why should two individuals carry the pressure of whether or not thousands of people will be able to eat?
Unsurprisingly the campaign received heavy criticism before it was ultimately discarded.
Mastercard released a statement saying, “we don’t want the fans, players or anyone else to lose focus of the crucial question of hunger and our efforts to help this cause”, but was this enough to give them clearance? Needless to say, they won’t be receiving our man of the match.
OLD MOUT CIDER
Born in New Zealand’s Moutere Valley, Old Mout cider has been intrinsically linked to its cultural geography from the beginning of time as it is embedded within the brand’s look and feel. So when they discovered their national species and brand mascot had been placed
onto the endangered list, they saw it as their duty to step in.
“When we found out that up to 200 species go extinct every day and that our national icon, the kiwi, could be next, we decided we needed to help the little fellas out!”
With the help of presenter, Michaela Strachan, and charity Kiwis for Kiwi, they created a short Springwatch documentary in a bid to save the bird from extinction. With enough support, Old Mout in collaboration with the charity hopes to relocate kiwis to sanctuaries on predator-free forgotten islands. To do this, Old Mout promise to donate 20p to the charity for every person that signs their petition and joins them in their mission.
While critics may be quick to link the campaign to drive sales of their drink, namely Old Mout Kiwi & Lime, they need to take a step back and take a “bird’s eye view” as all one must do is sign up with an email, no strings attached.
They certainly pass our test of authentic moral decency. Live and let fly.
If you want to join their mission to save the kiwis, visit: oldmoutcider.co.uk/help-save-the-kiwi
BURGER KING (RUSSIA)
The Russian division of global fast food chain Burger King left a bitter taste in everyone’s mouths following an advert they released in the run up to the World Cup. The advert promised ‘free Whoppers for life’ to any Russian lady able to get impregnated by one of the home players. Tasteless and demeaning in its manner, the post’s rationale was that in doing so, these women would bear the best genes to procure the future success of the national team. Yet, while undoubtedly sexist and belittling, the post also appears to encourage manipulation and exploitation.
“We are sorry about the clearly offensive promotion that the team in Russia launched online. [It] does not reflect our brand or our values and we are taking steps to ensure this type of activity does not happen again,” read a statement that the company sent to The Associated Press. We’re not sure about you, but having to pay the extra few pounds for a burger is a sacri-fries we’d be willing to make for the sake of our dignity and those around us.
LUSH SPYCOPS CAMPAIGN – STICK TO WHAT YOU KNOW?
Last month, Lush unveiled an unusual approach to store décor as it layered its windows with fake police tape reading ‘Police have crossed the line’. Coupled with posters screaming ‘Paid to Lie’, the campaign alluded to the 1968 scandal surrounding the undercover spy unit, Britain’s Metropolitan Police’s Special Demonstration Squad (SDS). In 2011 it was revealed that members of this police force had entered into intimate relationships with those they were infiltrating/ shadowing for work purposes.
While the intentions of the campaign were undoubtedly good, it faced fierce backlash with many misunderstanding the campaign and stating that Lush were anti-police or anti-state. Che Donald, the vice-chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales expressed how the campaign was ‘damaging to the overwhelmingly large majority of police who ha[d] nothing to do with this undercover enquiry’.
While Lush were quick to fight back that it was not an anti-police campaign and that they ‘full[y] support them in having proper police numbers, correctly funded to fight crime, violence and to be there to serve the public at our times of need’, they reiterated that “as a global campaigning company, [they] believe in using [their] voices, shops and online presence to bring awareness and support to a variety of issues”
Consequently, Lush view their corporate social responsibility as existing beyond the market with which they work. So maybe it’s time we stop fighting and make-up. Or maybe it’s time Lush make-up their mind about a cause they want to fight for and lipstick to it.
THE BODY SHOP
By contrast, Lush competitor, The Body Shop, is a great advocate for authentic, relevant and consistent campaigning as evidenced through their plea to prevent animal testing. ‘I am forever against animal testing’ is one of their key slogans, and their website’s sub-heading reads:
‘Cruelty-Free Skincare and Beauty Products’, proving how the campaign has become embedded at the company’s core. They have also been working with charity Cruelty Free International for the last 28 years.
And it exists much further than through their online petition. The Body Shop encourages its customers to become activists, while also injecting money into rounds of influencer marketing. While undoubtedly this functions to also promote the brand, the call to action on their social media posts is a link to the petition, rather than to the products page.
Ultimately, The Body shop wins our squeaky-clean seal of approval.
Innocent, perhaps the most conflicting of them all, adhered to their namesake when they started using recycled plastic in their packaging almost 15 years ago.Last month they stepped things up a notch with the launch of their new bottle which is made up of50% recycled material and 15%plant plastic. And they’re not stopping there. By 2022,Innocent claim their bottles will be entirely renewable.
Pioneering the war on plastic packaging, they are also founding members of The UK Plastics Pact which seeks to champion the recycling revolution. An undeniable force for good… So what’s not to like?
In addition to their fight for environmental sustainability, the company announced their focus for 2018 was ‘health and wellness’ in response to the sugar-tax implemented in April. To this endthey declared a need for healthier drinks on the market while reiterating that they do not add any unnatural sugars to their products. However, despite their products being made of 100% fruit, the drinks are arguably deceptive in their branding as indisputably ‘healthy’. A 250ml serving of their Strawberry and Banana smoothie contains 26g of sugar while a recognisably unhealthy original glazed Krispy Kreme donut contains a mere 10g. I’ll let you do the maths, but at this alarming rate, can it really be sold without a health warning?
In spite of this, at the very least the ingredients are naturally occurring, and we may even be persuaded to turn the other cheek for the sake of all of Innocent’s other great ventures. For example, Innocent donates an honourable 10% of all profits to charity, with the majority of it going to their own Innocent Foundation which supports global projects to prevent hunger.
But just when you may have found yourself trusting Innocent again, Innocent’s brand and communications planner, Jamie Sterry, announced:
“We were one of first brands to have purpose truly at the heart. That part of the business hasn’t changed at all as we’ve grown. Our business is probably more relevant in today’s world than we were then.”
Sounds innocent enough, right? Wrong.
What Innocent don’t like to share is their not-so-innocent sell-out to the Coca Cola company. Now we’re under no illusions that companies need investment to grow, but being intrinsically linked to a company who contradicts the very essence of your brand is both hypocritical and spineless; how can a company that seems to pride itself on healthy living be affiliated with a company that serves to do the opposite? But what may leave you even more s-peach-less is Innocent’s emphasis on their ‘humble’ beginnings.
Where will you draw the line?