Recently many advertisers have boycotted Facebook, Instagram and Twitter over their inability to handle misinformation and hate speech in the US. The movement gained momentum and some of the biggest advertisers including Coca Cola, Unilever, Adidas, Ford and Honda, among others have joined. One important question is “Were there any indications of growing concerns of advertisers on social media or this just snowballed into something this big as one-off event?”
- In 2017, Molly Russell, a British schoolgirl, committed suicide and later it was discovered that she had been checking distressing content over Instagram related to depression and suicide. Later Instagram took down all glorifying self-harm images from the platform. However, ads for brands such as Marks &Spencer’s and The Post Office appeared alongside such content. Source
- In early 2019, a video blogger Matt Watson demonstrated how child abuse predators use videos of children for exploitation. Nestle and Disney, among others paused their spend on the platform over child safety concerns. Source
- In New Zealand, a gunman attacked a Muslim community killing 50 people and live streamed the act on Facebook. The videos went viral over other social media sites such as YouTube. Many advertisers pulled their spending from Facebook, YouTube and other sites. Source
Negative impact on brands of any wrongdoing or misjudgment is more pronounced as information takes only seconds to pass from one corner of the world to another. Hence, margin of error has reduced considerably for brands. Moreover, brands have also increasingly become cautious over time with regards to their partners in the media and communication domain as the association also impacts their brand image.
This new sense of consciousness is partly driven by the consumers, especially millennials and GenZ. Today, consumers want brands to take a stand on social issues and demand ethically and morally acceptable content from brands. For the same fact, marketers who do not know what their advertising budgets are funding are in perennial danger. Similar facts are resonated from the various research conducted to understand consumer perceptions around the responsible marketing.
For instance, the conversation around masculinity has moved to a more inclusive definition, devoid of stereotypes. MensXP has been championing this change in India with its concept of Newhood which essentially explores codes of masculinity and encourages progressive men to choose the man they want to be. The introduction of the MensXP Mud range is a logical progression to the idea of Newhood. It was born out of conversations and needs of real people. It’s 100% paraben & sulfate free, with natural ingredients, not tested on animals and what the Founder likes to call “toxic masculinity free”.
“MensXP and iDiva were created as platforms for millennials to voice their feelings and read about issues that affect them the most. Our approach to marketing has been focused on creating digital communities of young people instrumental to the vision of a new India. We’ve striven toward empowering relatable & meaningful conversations on our platforms. And we have done so by refining our voice responsibly and turning it into a science by imbibing audience preferences & what they engage with and have a perspective on. This is also reflected in our subsequent offerings like the marketplace MensXP Shop &private skincare label MensXP Mud among others. It has also permeated to our talents who have become the faces of our brands among millions of Indians globally.” Angad Bhatia, CEO – IndiaTimes Lifestyle Network (ILN) added.
Agreeing with Angad’s point, Ankit Mehrotra, co-founder & CEO – Dineout said, “Staying relevant to your audience during lockdown was a key learning point in this pandemic. As a brand that thrives on social gatherings, we changed our name across channels & encouraged users to “Stay Home Now, Dineout Later” keeping the health & safety of our customers first and be socially responsible. Taking cues from new emerging hobbies of cooking at home, we also extended our platform as a medium for our users to flaunt their culinary skills via Home TopChefs, making our app relevant and engaging during trying times. In the wake of restaurants opening doors to customers again, we ensured safety tags and contactless dining technology to all our partners to promote an improvised way of dining out with minimal touch points.”
In India in a recently concluded ET Catalyse panel discussion, marketing heads of reputed organizations converged to reason that the culture and ethos of any organization plays an important role to enable socially responsible marketing. Siddartha Butalia, CMO, Air Asia, one of the panelists, has additional responsibility for sustainability. He says this new trend reflects the growing awareness among brands for responsible marketing. Fintech is one such segment that has incredible potential to create a lasting impact on the financial well-being of the Indian masses.
“In a country like ours, the penetration of financial products is in single digits & distribution commissions ensure interests of retail consumers take a backseat. To address this, we focus on going the extra mile to connect all our promotional campaigns to the relevant educational content in order to help consumers to make informed financial decisions. We believe a financially literate society can go a long way in ensuring all-round development as well as social security of our nation.“ Santosh Navlani, COO – ETMONEY said.
In 2019 Alan Jope, CEO Unilever, announced that the woke-washing campaigns that promised to improve the world are not only failing to act but also undermining brands credibility. Source He also mentioned that he has asked his executives to assign socially responsible missions to each brand so as to promote real action through closing relating credibility to action.
Many marketers across the globe approach this task or directive in a faulty way. They tend to find a cause and associate themselves or their brands to it. However, this more often than not, does not yield expected results. Being genuinely socially responsible can be achieved by keeping the following pointers in mind:
- Always start from your core values and beliefs: Brands’ values, beliefs and responsibilities are different from those who market it and hence, it’s important for managers who market brands to introspect on core values and belief system of the brand. This exercise would yield social causes which are relevant to the brand.
- Redesign parts of business models that don’t align with your values: It’s no longer socially acceptable for brands to make money on the one hand by compromising social values and on the other hand write checks for the same social causes. Hence, if you are toy manufacturer sourcing raw materials from partners where child labor is dominant your CSR initiative for cancer kids is bound to backfire.
- Be honest and transparent: Marketers need to understand that in today’s world every communication from the brand is recorded in one form or the other and can be retrieved with a click of a button. Hence, it’s not prudent to try and game your audiences; rather one should stay honest and transparent in approach. Therefore, marketers need to be vigilant of everything that gets posted under their brand name while being aware of unethical associations that can impact the brand.
- Structure for responsible marketing: Brands should have clearly laid out guidelines for responsible marketing under a relevant governance structure. E.g. Mars, manufacturer of candy products, has clearly laid out a marketing code which is supervised by the Governance Board. Mars ensures that the agencies and associates which help them execute their campaigns have well understood the guidelines under the marketing code. This code is quite detailed and has guidelines such as “no marketing communication to be targeted at children below 12 years of age”. Source
There are many advantages of being a socially responsible brand such as consumers who align with your brand values are easier to convert to advocates & loyalists and regular positive organic attention, among others. If marketing is executed in a socially conscious, sustainable, privacy compliant and diversity inclusive way then it can yield sustainable competitive advantage. Some businesses such as Tata Group believe that the future belongs to businesses with more moral assets due to the plethora of options that consumers would have, as per Siddartha. The video OTT segment in India is one such example that is shaping how entertainment is being consumed by the masses and shaping perspectives of impressionable millennials and Gen Z in more ways than one.
“At MX Player, we believe that through small, responsible gestures, we can make a significant impact on society because we have the power not only to entertain but also to inform. We aim to drive social actions through our marketing approach – ‘Elections on MX’ saw a 360-degree marketing campaign last year that was high on entertainment as well as in driving awareness and our robust OOH plans for Aashram aided at reviving the growth for this industry in the times of a pandemic that saw brands completely eliminating this medium from their media mix”, said Abhishek Joshi, Head of Marketing & Business Partnerships at MX Player.
Boycotts have happened in the past right from Facebook’s Beacon to YouTube’s Brand Safety without much effect on platforms as advertisers always return after a while. This knee-jerk won’t be sufficient and require conclusive actions to drive meaningful changes. Till then it seems context is king, but ROI is the real power centre in the court of marketing.
Authored by Vivek Pandey – VP, Revenue Strategy & Analytics – Times Internet.