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Corporate social responsibility messages

Corporate social responsibility messages pop-up year-round. Here are the five most common types, good and bad.

It’s June so that means it’s LGBTQ+ Pride month. Cue corporations to layer rainbows on their logos and hand out rainbow-colored this, that, or the other thing at parades across the country. This support is relatively new and is a welcome contrast to the decades of, at best, indifference and, at worst, persecution.

Corporate social responsibility messages are not unique to LGBTQ+ equality. From Pride to Breast Cancer Awareness and Black History Month, there are plenty of corporate social responsibility messages out there at any given time. From my perspective, there are five main motivations for crafting and promoting corporate social responsibility messages:

  • Build the Corporate Brand. Organizations like to demonstrate their corporate social responsibility through messages of support or education. According to the Digital Marketing Institute, many companies—such as Ford Motor Company and Wells Fargo—are going all-in on supporting social causes and reaping rewards.
  • Build the Employer Brand. Many companies see a correlation between attracting and retaining the best employees and clearly showing commitments to certain social causes. For example, as CNBC reports, many corporations publicly condemned Florida’s recent “Don’t Say Gay” law.
  • Sell. Companies are also prone to align sales and promotions with a social cause. As pointed out in this LinkedIn post by Brian J. Packer, Unilever created a limited Juneteenth edition of Vaseline petroleum jelly. (Go ahead and read that again. It sounds like a Saturday Night Live reel, I know.) Be certain to read Packer’s spot-on response as to why such a move is problematic, at best. Walmart was also called out on their Juneteenth merch, including a special edition ice cream.
  • Repent. Many companies, having been taken to task on a particular issue, will lean into the subject matter in a “nothing to look at here,” fashion. Sometimes it’s in earnest, as with Subway’s support of the Boys & Girls clubs in the aftermath of its spokesperson’s conviction on child pornography charges. Other times, it’s really the brand marketing equivalent of a racist saying, “I’m not racist. Many of my best friends are Black!”
  • It’s the right thing to do. Then there are those corporations whose leaders embrace their corporate responsibilities because it’s the right thing to do. Dolly Pardon’s organization dropped the word “Dixie,” from their stampede-themed dinner show because, as the icon herself says, “I don’t ever want to offend anyone. It was the right thing to do.”

Whether we are consumers, marketers, and social entrepreneurs, we all need to do due diligence on the corporate social responsibility messages we see or create. No matter your role, consider these questions:

Why? What’s motivating their support? Do they have a clear connection to the cause or are they simply trying to move some merch or sweep some unfortunate business under the rug? For example, the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, named in honor of the Wendy’s restaurant chain’s founder, has a clear connection to the cause. Thomas was adopted and proud of it

Are the corporations walking and talking? How many of those corporations with rainbow-colored logos score well in the HRC Corporate Equality Index? The index is the national benchmarking tool on corporate policies, practices, and benefits pertinent to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer employees. Changing your logo is one thing. Not supporting transgendered employees in their transitions is another.

Similarly, what politicians are they supporting? It’s great if a company comes out again the aforementioned Don’t Say Gay law, as long as they’re not making donations to the bill’s sponsors’ political campaigns.

Is their support material? Will the support they offer to make a difference? Will the recognition they receive to be less than, equal to, or greater than the impact they have?

Don’t get me wrong. The increase in corporate social responsibility messages is profoundly important. However, as with anything important, it requires focus, due diligence, and scrutiny.

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