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How CSR Can Ruin Brand’s Reputation

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CSR has gained a lot of attention in recent years at a global level. The humanitarian image that it is associated with has attracted marketers of big corporates. With the alignment of a social cause or public service endeavour with a company’s core beliefs and ethics, CSR helps in building a brand identity beyond just a product-based value exchange. These campaigns are run in order to build an image of a brand to be a “Do-Gooder”. It helps them create a meaningful connection with the customers and even earn their loyalty.

However, campaigns can also backfire. When CSR campaigns address highly politicized issues in a culture, they have just as much potential to divide people – even flipping previous brand loyalists into sign-wielding protesters. This was seen in Gillette’s anti-“toxic masculinity” marketing in response to #MeToo where many people including some celebrity loyalists of the brand turned against the campaign. This is because certain marketing messages diving headlong into political and social waters can be interpreted in vastly different and unpredictable ways by diverse audiences. Especially, if a controversial political skew is part of the message, the brand likely risks offending some 50 per cent or more of the population.

Certain brands, however, embrace these outcomes in order to take a stand and attract a specific niche of an audience. While there is no correct answer as to which of the practices are best for business, brands need to consider the following things before taking a stand on CSR campaigns.

  1. Campaigns predicated on culturally divisive issues can turn out to be explosive. However, if that is the outcome one is aiming for, then ensure that it does not blow out of proportion.
  2. Focusing more on pure philanthropy than politics is the best bet if your brand’s CSR message needs to be low-risk to avoid backlash.
  3. Knowing one’s audience is extremely important. An in-depth audience analysis is a must before taking a stand. A brand may have many audience segments, not just geographically or demographically but also ideologically – with big implications to the strategy.
  4. Consider all the controversies that may follow the big explosive campaign of taking a stand. Think about the repercussions it may have over several years. Reconcile whether such an ad campaign on a potentially divisive platform is worth the PR headaches.
  5. Seek advice from public relations professionals who are also skilled crisis planners in crafting a strategy that won’t create unintended harm on the brand’s reputation.

Thank you for reading the column until the very end. We appreciate the time you have given us. In addition, your thoughts and inputs will genuinely make a difference to us. Please do drop in a line and help us do better.

Regards,
The CSR Journal Team

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