A decade ago it seemed that every brand was positioning itself in the ethical space and usually in one that involved the environment. But now ethical claims are so commonplace that companies probably feel compelled to jump on the bandwagon and that means their claims play little or no role in differentiating their brand.
From a psychological perspective, we do care about ethical issues as a society and as consumers. But we are prone to put all that to one side when other psychological drivers are dominating. Say I am buying a high tech gadget that I think will make me look cool, my drive for status is almost certainly drowning out my concern for the employee care programme in the factory that makes it.
One of the primary reasons that brands are quick to jump on the ethical bandwagon is bad market research. When they are asked, consumers generally say they do care and are ethically minded. But this is just measuring how people respond when they are asked the question.
Here are some approaches brands might consider when deciding ethical policy:
- Do the minimum to comply with prevailing perspectives of what’s ethical. That means there is little risk of being punished if your brand has jumped on the wrong bandwagon.
- Do what you believe to be right because you believe it to be so and recognise that others may not follow. But your brand will still have to meet consumers’ needs in order for it to make money.
- Pin your ethical colours to the mast and hope that enough consumers will care about the issues as you do. But still not every consumer will make purchase decisions on ethical criteria. Competitors may not bother so much with these issues and then out-perform your brand on other factors. Take Apple as an example. Steve Jobs cancelled the firm’s philanthropic initiatives some years ago. But did its reputation suffer? Did its sales decline?
But there are inspirational ethical companies and initiatives, to be sure. Innocent Drinks is a well-known example. And a more recent one is law firm Linklater’s sponsorship of the British Museum’s Magna Carta 800th anniversary exhibition. For a law firm this is a perfect fit and Linklaters is sponsoring a series of events around the arrangement.
From The Marketer Jan/Feb 2015