October 20, 2017 How to be a socially conscious organisation

By Tali Samoylenko

hand holding a small globe

Recently, I attended the DM Forum – a quarterly networking event where fellow marketers get together to share their stories and enjoy a presentation. Adrian Mills, Managing Director at McCann Agency, presented a critical analysis on what’s considered ‘the best’ in brand advertising right now. The audience was taken through this year’s trending ideation strategies. From organisations using outlandish humour to engage with audiences to contrasting product results, a lot of fascinating ground was covered. But, one particular strategy stood out to me the most: supporting social issues as a brand.

These days it seems some organisations are choosing to back certain social issues based on relevancy, instead of genuinely aligning with a cause and taking active steps to affect change. When it comes to taking a stance against these social problems, are corporations really interested in making a difference? Or are they just jumping onto a social bandwagon to raise their bottom line? Being a socially conscious organisation means being genuine about the social issues you support. Getting it wrong can be detrimental – both to the cause and to your business.

A bad example of an organisation trying to be socially conscious:

Pepsi’s diversity advertisement.

What’s the issue?

Equality for people of different genders, colours and sexualities (we think).

Why did it fail?

Pepsi’s advertisement faced huge backlash earlier this year after depicting Kendall Jenner (celebrity model and socialite) joining forces with a range of youth in protest against… well… we’re not exactly sure what. The campaign failed to consider the real issues faced by people affected by societal judgment and prejudice, dismissing their hardships and offending minority groups rather than giving them a voice.

In just one minute, Pepsi trivialises the entire point of people standing up for their rights by making protests seem like a fun, light-hearted outing with friends. This severe dismissal could have happened due to a lack of audience understanding. Had Pepsi taken the time to research its target market, it could have come up with a more effective campaign.

A good example of an organisation trying to be socially conscious:

The Department of Social Services’ Respect Campaign.

What’s the issue?

This ad clearly tackles the issue of violence against women.

What’s good about it?

According to AdNews.com, the Department of Social Services’ Respect Campaign was one of the most watched Australian advertisements on YouTube in 2016 – and for good reason. The campaign tackles this social issue with a genuine understanding of how young boys and girls are socialised and moves audiences with content that’s both relatable and moving. It shows that the Department of Social Services has identified the roots of this issue and is using this information to change behaviours.

Lessons learnt

Once your business publicly takes a certain stance on an issue, it also takes on a degree of responsibility. That means it’s up to you to own your opinion and show that you’re taking measures to action change.

While leveraging your brand as a voice for a particular cause can be great for publicity, it’s important to be sure that you’re willing to do the issue justice. This could mean putting your reputation on the line, especially if certain members of your audience don’t agree with you.

A good social issue campaign is respectful, genuine and has the power to change opinions and behaviours. Here are a few key tips on how to be a socially conscious organisation:

  • Never jump on a social issue because of its current popularity in the media
    Choose to represent issues that are close to your organisation.
  • Research those affected by the issue
    Know their experiences and their outlooks before you craft your messages.
  • Actually contribute to the cause
    Ensure that you’re taking steps to improve the social issue as opposed to just using it as part of a campaign.
  • Understand the issue and its implications in detail
    Have a deep understanding of an issue to create more thoughtful and unique campaigns.
  • Check that your staff agree
    Never run a campaign that people won’t champion.