We have talked about it for a long time – consumers using their purchasing power, or more correctly their purchasing discernment, to motivate companies to make more ethical and greener products, and to put more back into communities. But the dynamics are shifting rapidly – the primary drives that I can see are:

– economic recession – advertisers are looking to make their spend go further and not be ignored

– the internet – the ease of researching products and of expressing dissatisfaction on line.

– greater social and ethical awareness – green issues and working conditions and pay in particular

In an article in Good Cliff Kuang describes how consumers are bypassing advertising in print and TV:

“Against that background of flailing ad effectiveness, companies are shifting their ad budgets, one tiny step at a time, towards meaningful P.R., dedicated to noble causes. But what’s stopping a massive company from working at a grander scale, to really do something?”

The problems that Kuang goes on to describe are a number of companies who are making great strides in reducing toxins in their products, but are too fearful to promote their progress because of the fear of criticism,

“..an industry watchdog told me of a European cell phone maker that is almost a decade ahead of its peers in eradicating toxins from its products—but won’t advertise that fact because it’s afraid that some tiny, unforeseen aspect of what they’re doing that isn’t 100% right might fuel a nightmarish boycott.”

But that seems a little extreme.  Those companies should be removing toxins regardless of the promotional benefits to the company. However, the real point that Kuang makes is really important.  We need to find ways of rewarding companies for doing good.

Daniel Goleman’s new book, due out in the spring is called ‘Ecological Intelligence’ talks about some of these issues. In an article he recently wrote for Edge, Goleman talks about having software in your phone that can identify products when you are shopping and being able to find out exactly their manufacturing profile.  His example: the soles of running shoes is pretty shocking.  

So we are already able to both punish and reward companies …. and consumers are already driving changes.
The other aspect is about companies taking social responsibility seriously – enhancing brands by associating them with good works etc.  Some of this has been criticised… the RED campaign for example is still seen by many as feeding materialism and consumerist thinking.  Adbusters keeps a watchful eye on companies using ‘good works’ to manipulate.
But through all this there does need to be a path where companies can promote ethical products, with low environmental impact, to people that need or want them.  Finding a way to positively influence companies to act socially, ethically and environmentally can only improve things on all fronts.
A very interesting research report by Cone and Duke University examined the behaviour patterns of different consumers related to Cause marketing. The report looks at different types of consumers and their response to campaigns involving social good or charitable giving, and shows that we respond in very different ways.  
One example shows that 18- to 24-year-old Millennials are more receptive to cause marketing: 88 percent would be likely to switch from one brand to another brand, about the same in price and quality, if the other brand is associated with a good cause. (Ironically pictured looking at shoe in the report!)
45 percent are more likely to donate money to the charity (compared to 36% for all adults) 

36 percent are more likely to participate in the charity’s programs and event (compared to 29% for all adults) 

32 percent are more likely to volunteer  (compared to 23% for all adults) 

Nice aren’t they!

Lots to thinking about for everybody. My thoughts always seen to swing back to leadership…

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