Is Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) getting too involved in marketing?

Tell your company’s story – not what you think people want to hear
Marketing is, in part, about telling your brand’s story – and this is where CSR tends to get muddled in with it. Think about the major players in the marketing world; they all have stories to fall back on. How many litres of water did Coca-Cola recycle last year? What emissions were saved by Toyota’s hybrid engines? Don’t know, because brands focus on a messages and solutions. Pit this against the responsibility to do the right thing: these are two separate messages entirely.

CSR could be seen as ‘greenwashing’
Dr. Olivier Delbard, teacher of CSR at ESCP Europe, suggests that nowadays it is a case of companies “greenwashing” their image: “Corporate Social Responsibility is seen as a very nice marketing device that will help [companies] get a better image in the society.” It’s easy to sow the ideas of being responsible, ethical and green, but Delbard suggests that companies can come under massive pressure from customers and bystanders to live up to their promises. One slip, and your carefully crafted media blitz showing a pristine, feel-good image is gone. Simply paying lip service to CSR will eventually come back to bite you and could damage your brand beyond repair.

Companies need to follow through
Delbard went on: “…what I see is a growing trend among companies to view CSR as a real strategic issue that they have to integrate into their business model.” CSR is moving from a façade to real, dynamic business attitude. Karen Quintos, senior VP-CMO at Dell, has similar visions about the role of CSR in companies, rather than them using it as a marketing tool. For Quintos, CSR is “a mindset that’s part of [Dell’s] culture…CSR initiatives are often a source of hidden efficiencies and innovation.” Important points, then. Making an actual difference – in Quintos’s case, saving more than $50million worth of packaging by re-thinking the amount needed to ship per product – in terms of both monetary and environmental cost has a trickle-down effect that will enhance your company’s image and make you appear trustworthy to customers and clients, who often share these values and return to your brand because of them.

It’s not an active strategy – it’s a passive message
Aligning business and societal success inevitably helps everyone. Having goals for responsibility – less waste, helping local causes, reducing environmental cost – has a ‘passive’ impact that clients can learn about through your business’s tailored media outlet.

Marketing your CSR is dependent on your consumer base
Of course, this outlet should reflect your consumers. For example, H&M used to be very quiet about their CSR – customers didn’t choose their brand because of it – that’s down to offering high street fashion at a reasonable price. With a consumer base more aware than ever of the conditions the clothes originate from, H&M now champion ethical materials and waste reduction as part of their brand’s message – but use it as an awareness tool, not the basis of a marketing campaign, and only started doing so in 2016.

So CSR can be used in tandem with marketing, but companies should steer clear of basing their marketing campaign on how good they are and what they do, and focus on what they’re telling consumers they can do for them.