June 6 2023
Until a few years ago, it was unthinkable for a brand to join and support a cause on purpose, because brands were expected to maintain neutrality and objectivity. It was a big No-No for brands to have an “opinion” on things like humans do, and corporate communications was restricted to announcements and figures on the company’s performance.
In recent years with the advancement of social media networks, communication without strong messages has become pointless as it lacks impact and fails to attract followers.
As a result, today you can see that, for example, a shampoo brand is claiming its packaging is sustainable, a retail loyalty company is saying it “cares about people”, or a technological irrigation company is arguing that it “contributes to solving the challenges of climate change”.
But what is behind each of these PR strategies and messages?
The world has evolved, and social movements underline that capitalism today cannot only be about buying and selling goods. Consumers are people with interests, challenges, and their own deficiencies and brands are expected to relate to these issues. For some reason, however, still only 18% of brands say they are very likely to speak out on any social issues, according to a recent study, while more than half (55%) were unlikely to take a position on social topics.
It seems to me that many brands still put a handbrake on such value-based communication in some countries because another trend has emerged recently, known as greenwashing.
Skeptics have called attention to this phenomenon and for the need to take such announcements with a pinch of salt.
This is why in my opinion communications strategy cannot blindly follow timely fashions and trends in such a commercial way. Communications must be coherent with how the company works with partners and suppliers, how it operates its production processes, how it shapes its relationship with the environment and must be coherent with its past.
The call is not to go to the other extreme and to think that not all communication can be associated with causes and social issues. While more brand activism is a positive trend helping us live together in a better world, the media and journalists are out there and evaluating whether it is simple greenwashing or true and purpose-driven communication that sits behind these strategies. And this division is proving even more detrimental to brands in successfully managing their corporate reputation.