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The Double-Edged Sword of Social Responsibility and Brand Values

In his groundbreaking comedy special 'Inside,' Bo Burnham brilliantly captures a prevalent marketing trend: using a brand to stand for or against a cause. In a satirical sketch, Burnham impersonates a brand consultant and suggests that the question has shifted from "Do you want to buy this product?" to "Will you support (insert brand name) in the fight against Lyme disease?"

A milk carton being held in the air.

This approach to marketing is indeed a double-edged sword.

On one hand, it's crucial for brands to advocate for the values they believe in. For example, you wouldn't want to purchase children's toys from a company with a notorious history of child labor. However, advocating for such values should not be a marketing gimmick; it should be about genuinely refraining from using child labor, not just because it's detrimental to the brand image. In essence, brands that use causes like feminism or support for the Black Lives Matter movement solely as a marketing ploy are undermining the true purpose of social justice movements.

This emphasis on brand values has been dubbed "purpose-driven marketing." To genuinely address societal demands for social justice, companies should not rely on marketing trends or strategies. Instead, they need to conduct a sincere and comprehensive assessment of whether their actions align with the values their brand claims to support. This means implementing real change within the company that will be reflected in the brand's image, rather than creating a facade that panders to popular causes without following through.

Failing to do so results in companies mirroring the pretentiousness depicted in Burnham's sketch, feigning concern for social causes when their primary goal is profit. While it may seem harsh, the sketch highlights the limitations of companies. No one expects a breakfast cereal to dismantle populist politics or eradicate racism entirely. However, consumers can reasonably expect the companies they patronise to implement fair and just practices that they can trust and feel good about supporting.


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