Being Real is Being Relevant

Unless you’ve been living under a rock – and, given the state of the housing market these days, this is not altogether unlikely – you have probably noticed that a ton of companies and brands seem to be falling all over themselves to show how much they care about environmental and social issues. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) seems to be a hot topic these days and everyone from BP (Beyond Petroleum? Not so much maybe. And certainly not beyond massive advertising) to Bank of America (Look how much WE lend to small business!) and Pepsi, who would like to Refresh Everything, is jumping on the band wagon.

Watch the evening news or the Sunday morning political gabfests like Meet the Press and Face the Nation and what you’ll really face is barrage of corporate propaganda that would have you believe that the Gulf of Mexico is cleaner than ever before, banks seem unable to give their money away much less lend it out, and that you can help save the world simply by getting an American Express card. You will also learn that the oil & gas industry is swell and – despite well-publicized subsidies in the Billions – really a tough place to make a buck, along with how clean and environmentally friendly coal really is. It almost makes you miss those Enzyte ads with that Bob fellow or long for an honest OxiPitch by the late Billy Mayes. Almost.

Many of these efforts are well-executed and supported by slick Websites and massive media buys. Nonetheless, most of them strike the discerning viewer as insincere attempts to cash in on the public’s newfound concern for social issues or merely transparent efforts to deflect criticism. Are they effective? Do they sway opinion or lead to increased sales? It’s hard to say, since the effectiveness of broadcast media is notoriously difficult to measure.

Online media is a different animal, however, and, judging by the number of views and subscribers the YouTube channels of BP, Chevron’s Human Energy and Pepsi’s Refresh have, there is room to grow. None have more than a few thousand, viral it’s certainly not. Compare this to the Venetian Princess’s Gaga parody at 34 million views or the sequel to little Charley biting the finger at a whopping 230 million. And please bear in mind that both achieved this level of popular exposure without paying tens of millions of dollars to Omnicom Group or any other global ad agency.

Our corporate communicators fare somewhat better on FaceBook, where they are no doubt aided by traffic drive-to from online ads and the fact that you have to “like” them to compete, get discounts or vote. Without this leg up they would no doubt struggle here as well. Bottom line is that it’s just not easy to like you when I know you’re just trying to sell me. It’s telling that the only FaceBook page tied to a brand in the top-25 is one about Crocs. Unfortunately for the shoemaker (if you consider Crocs to be “shoes”, or even “made”, given they are formed by injection molding rubber), this page is hardly flattering and, one can only assume, was probably not started by the company.

So, how does one break through the noise, connect with people and stir them to advocacy on your behalf? Well, honesty, integrity and offering a good product are a great place to start, but we’ll assume for now that these are given. Another important aspect is being real. Be sincere, direct and authentic in every aspect of your business – even if it costs a few cents more. Don’t tout health and wholesome goodness, like Mott’s does, and then sweeten your juice with cheap high-fructose corn syrup or buy concentrate from China. Last I checked we have both cane sugar and plenty of apples right here in America.

Next, try actually standing for something. Ideally something good. Look around for a challenge or problem we face that is related to your business. Trust me, there are plenty out there. Then, look for a solution that is both simple and impactful and work to implement it. Make social responsibility not a just a necessary evil or a marketing gimmick, but live it! Honestly, sincerely and real. More on this next time!

About Daniel Backhaus

Dan has close to 15 years of experience in the field of information technology, brand development, and interactive marketing, working with brands that include Bayer AG, BMW, Daimler-Benz, Deutsche Bank, H&R Block and Wachovia. His diverse background includes service in our nation’s military, and stints at Xerox, TSYS, several technology start-ups and leading interactive agencies in Europe and the United States. Originally from Germany, he has lived and worked in Germany, the Czech Republic, Greece and England before settling in Atlanta in 2005. A PMI-certified Project Management Professional and a Six Sigma greenbelt, his experience includes digital strategy, solution sales, new business development, enterprise systems implementation, project and program management, SEO/SEM and Web Analytics. Dan holds a BS in Business Management from Arizona State University and an MBA with concentration in international business from the European University in Montreux, Switzerland. The parent of three young children, Dan’s interest in environmental sustainability issues stems from concerns over their future well-being and his international background have given him an enlightened perspective on the challenges we face and the approaches other countries and societies have taken in addressing them. Dan blogs about technology, his love of writing, interactive marketing, brand development and strategy and whatever or whoever might have pissed him off the week before.
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