Socially responsible marketing is on the rise. If the recent consumer controversy over Gillette’s ad on masculinity wasn’t enough, everyone in the business world is also talking about the new marketing trend. In the last 12 months alone, Deloitte, McKinsey, and the World Economic Forum in Davos have all noted that more and more consumers are looking to businesses to take stances on important social issues. The numbers are talking as well: 66% of consumers will pay more for products from companies committed to positive social impact. With millennials, this number is even higher. 73% will pay more for sustainable products, and 81% expect companies to take a public stance on social issues.
That means that there is an enormous opportunity at hand. Brands that can properly connect their brand with relevant social causes have grown their audience and revenue by as much as 200%. However, you can spend millions on marketing in hopes of winning favor with the public without realizing that it takes as little as one person to erode the goodwill you’ve built. While socially conscious marketing is helpful and even necessary today, a single revelation of toxic employee behavior can render all of those marketing efforts fruitless. Yes, the numbers suggest that socially conscious marketing pays dividends—but take a closer look and you’ll see the costs of toxic behavior are even greater.
You’re spending millions to win over the public...
In every industry, employees and consumers are increasingly looking to companies to fill the leadership gap and take stances on the issues that matter to them—and the good news is that it’s becoming clear that this yields financial returns. More and more examples suggest that when companies take a stand on controversial issues, they can actually increase brand authenticity and drive growth:
Heineken’s Worlds Apart Campaign: Heineken’s Worlds Apart campaign won hearts and minds even as it remained neutral on its political views. After the ad played, the company saw a 7.3% increase in sales and a whopping 78% of people feeling closer affinity to the brand.
Always #LikeAGirl Campaign: The #LikeAGirl campaign by Always turned an insult into a global confidence movement for women and girls. It achieved over 4.5 billion impressions around the globe and nearly tripled the company’s number of Twitter followers.
Nike’s Dream Crazy Campaign: Nike’s use of quarterback and activist Colin Kaepernick in their Dream Crazy campaign led to mass boycotts. Despite the controversy, the company reportedly increased its sales by 31%, compared to 17% the previous year.
These are just a few among many examples. Yoplait saw a 1,461% increase in brand engagement after releasing a controversial ad about mom-shaming. Food spread company Marmite witnessed a 14% increase in sales shortly after releasing their contentious ad campaign. Socially conscious marketing done well can boost engagement and profits substantially—but if it’s not viewed as simply one piece of a larger strategy in defending against brand risk, it can easily tarnish the image you’ve worked to build.
...but one toxic employee or workplace scandal can unravel it all
No matter how values-driven your marketing may be, it’s all for naught if the public learns that your culture doesn’t support those values. Just as it takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it, all it takes is one person or one major incident of harassment or discrimination to cost your company far more than the money you’d spent trying to win favor with the public.
Nike reportedly spent months of work and at least $4 million on ad buys on the Kaepernick ad to boost their market value. However, this pales in comparison to what companies have lost over internal cultural issues from just one incidence of negative press. Look no further than ABC, which lost over $60 million in advertising revenue over a single tweet by Roseanne Barr. Uber lost 15% of its market share as harassment scandals battered its reputation. Four other brands collectively lost over $7 billion in market cap over revelations about one person’s misconduct in each company. You can spend millions on a campaign that may or may not change the public’s perception—but unless your workplace is protected against harassment, discrimination, and insider threats, you risk losing millions more.
Before you move forward with that multi-million dollar ad campaign, make sure your company is aligned with the values you champion. As the value chain grows more complex and consumer demands continue to shift towards social good, marketing and HR must work together to ensure consumer brands can actually guard their reputations. People are looking to engage with brands that embody their values in both word and deed—which means that in today’s world, a sustainable consumer brand needs to take a stand on social issues both inside and outside company walls.