Social Responsibility in the Global Spotlight

Corporate social responsibility and marketing with a higher purpose were central themes at the Global Marketing conference on Wednesday in New York. The event, hosted by the Association of National Advertisers and World Federation of Advertisers, was held during Global Marketer Week. Senior marketing executives from around the world discussed how CSR applies to their brands.

“The fundamental shift to purposeful marketing from the 1970s mantra to deliver shareholder value is now underway,” according to Marc Mathieu, marketing SVP at Unilever. Jim Stengel, former global marketing officer at P&G, further noted the need for a new business model since “only nineteen percent of Americans have confidence in big business, according to a Gallup poll.”

More talk about why CSR is so important these days after the jump.

More high profile companies are adopting responsible business practices. “In the 80s, CEOs wrote checks to their favorite charities, in the 90s there was more cynicism about CSR, but in recent years, companies realize it’s important to have all their business practices be aligned,” reported Luke Dowdney, CEO and founder of Luta Limited, a clothing brand founded in Brazil that donates half of its proceeds to charity.

Other corporate examples include Unilever, which has been undergoing a “massive transformation to embed sustainable living in our business model,” Mathieu reported. “It’s a work in progress, but our top management believes in reducing our environmental footprint.”

Beer companies such as Anheuser-Busch InBev have adapted accordingly. Their CMO, Chris Burggraeve, described their initiative for Norte beer, a local Argentine brand. They launched a series of ads with the theme “the best excuse ever,” which gives guys a respectable reason when going out with their friends to bars since the company donates a portion of beer sales to local environmental programs. (Clip above.)

Marketing should use more consumer-friendly language. “Marketing now still uses language borrowed from war, referring to consumers as ‘targets’, which creates distance between us and our customers,” Mathieu observed. “If we want to be trusted in an increasingly transparent world, we need new vocabulary to portray shoppers as human beings.”

Changing the corporate culture depends on employee buy-in. “Your employees should be insanely fired up, be willing to buy your brands and be fired for your brands,” Mathieu emphasized. Coincidentally, the conference occurred on the same day as Greg Smith’s Goldman Sachs resignation and Mike D’Antoni’s resignation as head coach of the struggling New York Knicks.

“Walking the talk” is not an easy exercise, though Burggraeve said his company has been featuring employee and consumer feedback on the front of their annual report. He also admitted that buying into the company’s products isn’t hard when the product is beer. “Our senior leadership meets in real life and shares beer. That’s where we solve many of our business problems.”