Oh, Mary

Corporate Social Responsibility Reinvented

May 18, 2020
Kasia Guzik

Step back ten years, and you would have found me enthralled by brands that emphasized strong corporate responsibility. At the time, that would have without a doubt included the famous shoe brand, TOMS. I remember thinking, “I know it’s a lot of money, but for every pair of shoes purchased, a pair is donated to help kids all over the world who can’t afford shoes.” 

This business model proved to be remarkably effective at the time, as it incorporated philanthropy into the customer’s purchase of the shoes. However, consumers like myself began to ask how much of a real impact this was making on the people who need shoe donations and the greater issue of extreme poverty. 

Consumers began to realize that by purchasing these shoes, there was no statistically significant proof that this was having any positive impact on the issue of extreme poverty. Although this business model clearly had good intentions, after the initial surge of popularity many consumers began to see it as a marketing gimmick. This intersection of philanthropy and a for-profit entity not only did not best fulfill the mission of providing shoes or other goods to the needy, but it also did not best serve its consumers with a quality line of diverse products from sustainable producers.

So, what does this mean for brands trying to win back loyal customers today? There has been a clear shift away from using corporate philanthropy as a main marketing tool, with brands focusing more on holistic product sustainability. One thing’s for sure, conscious consumers want to ensure their shopping habits have a measurable positive impact. 

My friends know me for being all about the minimalist life, and with that comes an obsession with clean home products, skincare, and makeup (my top favorites including Kjaer Weis, RMS Beauty, and Kosas to name a few). These brands share a belief in using only toxin-free ingredients and they focus on using recyclable packaging or have a refillable system as their socially responsible business model. 

Consumers judge brands not only on their products, but the mark they are leaving on this world. Marketing approaches can take advantage of this by either highlighting pre-existing responsible practices, or by helping to bring change to companies that previously did not prioritize socially conscious practices. For example, Glossier, the lifestyle makeup and skincare brand recently had to discontinue one of its products containing glitter, which was deservingly controversial due to its negative environmental impact. The company re-evaluated its product portfolio and audited its practices, and then made a statement on its future goals and commitment to sustainability

With more consumers ready to consider the consequences of their shopping habits, a good product is no longer enough to win their favor. We have seen companies focus heavily on social responsibility, but if their goal is to achieve a vision rather than serve their customers, then maybe they would be better off restructuring as a nonprofit. Consumers value social responsibility, but they also value honesty. If a company is marketing themselves based on a business model of philanthropy, then they will be held to different standards than other companies. Successful businesses stay true to providing top quality products to consumers, while continuously striving to have a positive impact on our world.