Amid Covid-19, the Black Lives Matter movement, and growing discussions about transgender rights, businesses around the world are reviewing and enhancing their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives to reflect the values of their consumer base.
In response to growing concerns over misinformation and hate speech spread through social media, Absolut and Jameson maker Pernod Ricard has launched an initiative to offer social media users a way to address these issues. The group’s US subsidiary is working to create a crowdsourcing app that will allow consumers to flag content they find objectionable. Brands can then wield their influence to force social media platforms to act.
According to Ann Mukherjee, chairman and CEO of Pernod Ricard North America, past boycotts have resulted in limited change. Speaking to IWSR, she says that Pernod Ricard is taking an “active stance in creating solutions”, adding that “every company needs to act”.
In July 2020, hundreds of corporations joined the Stop Hate for Profit campaign, pausing social media advertising to pressure platforms to crack down on misinformation and hate speech. The campaign was launched by a coalition of six activist organisations, including the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In the drinks world, Diageo, Pernod Ricard, Brown-Forman, Beam Suntory and Constellation Brands are among the businesses that are taking part in the boycott, which will continue until the end of July 2020.
However, it is often the case that brands that join a movement or take a stance on certain issues open themselves up to criticism. Consumers want to see that the brands are truly committed, honest and transparent, and that they act with integrity and authenticity. So, how can businesses ensure authenticity in their responses to political and social causes?
For Mukherjee, transparency and authenticity are critical to effective CSR in today’s world. She says that to act authentically, a company’s values must translate beyond the corporate structure and into the brands they own. “Consumers have relationships usually with the brands – they might know about the company, but their relationship is with the brands,” explains Mukherjee. “So the translation of a company’s values into the brands is an important one, especially in today’s age where consumers are not just looking to buy brands, but buy into brands. They want to know what a brand stands for and what it stands against. [That] is what today’s world of authenticity is. Consumers are far more well informed today than they ever have been; they call out brands when they are not being authentic.”
The translation of a company’s values into the brands is an important one, especially in today’s age where consumers are not just looking to buy brands, but buy into brands.
As such, Pernod Ricard’s brands engage with social causes in ways that suit their own narratives. For example, Mukherjee says Absolut’s messages about responsible sex and consent, and Jameson’s messages about supporting the bartender community during Covid-19 “talk about inclusivity in different ways” and “on a branded basis”.
“I think we’re getting to a point where social responsibility and a brand’s message are beginning to merge,” she says. “People are beginning to feel that when you do good, it actually does well for the brand, [and] we have to find ways to authentically do that.”
Mukherjee says Pernod Ricard will be investing in the app and other CSR initiatives as part of its core advertising and media spend. “This is not something you do on the side; it’s something that should be a part of what every brand does and it should be invested accordingly,” she says. “[There’s] much more to come I think over the [coming] weeks, but there’s no reason why we can’t act with haste.”
Brands are able to more quickly respond to social issues thanks to a new sense of agility instilled by the pandemic, believes Mukherjee. “Covid has changed a lot of behaviours,” she says. “I talk a lot about this notion of advancing through ambiguity, and I think this notion of rulebooks and plans and procedures have been somewhat thrown out the window… [We] are all learning to move much more agile.
“Even when we think about budgeting and we think about branding… we are not thinking a year out, we are not necessarily thinking two years out. While we know where we want the long-term brand to go and the business to go, there are short-term things that now we need to react to. We would pre-plan 80% and keep 20% flexible; I think it’s now reversed and you plan 20% and keep 80% flexible. So you have the ability to quickly pivot when you need to, and that’s exactly what we’re doing with this initiative.”
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