His dark sunglasses, long hair, pierced ears and casual demeanour are emblematic of the world famous rock star that he is. For the past three decades he has strutted the world’s stage drawing crowds in their hundreds of thousands. Not only are they there for his music, they are also swept away by his passion and his vision to end world poverty. He has international fame and he walks the golden corridors of the privileged. Yet his famous designer shoes have collided with the bare, naked feet of the deprived.

Who is he? Bono, lead singer of rock band U2.

Imagine what would happen if companies, brands, CEOs and marketers had that much passion and desire to make a difference to one important issue in the world? The world would be transformed and brands would carve a unique positing that truly engaged the hearts, minds and souls of their consumers.

If marketers want to create brands that are to thrive in a market threatened by global warming, child labour, water shortages, homelessness and other serious issues, an investment into corporate social responsibility needs to be considered; where companies and marketers together incorporate their values into their business practices and marketing strategies.

Evidence shows that companies and brands that stand for something also stand out. They last longer, are more profitable and have good corporate reputations. Take the following examples:

The Body Shop

Successfully incorporates its five values into all its business practices, including: opposition to animal testing, defence of human rights, protection of the planet, activation of self-esteem and a commitment to strengthening the community. All of its marketing campaigns are based around these values.

In 2006 The Body Shop created a campaign that would support its value of activating self-esteem. The campaign was called ‘Stop Violence in the Home’ and was designed to give support to young people affected by domestic violence. Since 2004, this campaign has raised more than $120,000 for refuges and shelters. Around 370,000 copies of the company’s ‘Expect Respect’ booklet were distributed to educate young people about respectful relationships and more than 111,000 signatures were collected for young people affected by domestic violence.

The Body Shop is clearly a values-led company; not only does it promote the values its supports, but it also successfully incorporates them into its business practices and marketing strategies. It is no surprise that The Body Shop is often nominated as one of the most respectful companies in the world.

Dell Computers

Michael Dell has a stated mission “to create products with environmental guidelines, policies and goals” by reducing energy consumption, preventing pollution and recycling all products.


The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has pledged to give away 95 percent of its wealth, having donated more than $31.9 billion. In addition, Bill Gates has launched a plan to cut deaths from tuberculosis by 14 million in the next 10 years.

Angelina Jolie

The United Nations Goodwill Ambassador is combining her talents as an actress with a commitment to bringing support and awareness to displaced refugees.

Oprah Winfrey

She believes in empowering women, having started the philanthropic organisation Angel Network and the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy in South Africa (to which she has already given $40 million for impoverished girls). What Oprah stands for ensures she has a loyal and passionate following from international audiences that support her wherever she goes.

All the brands and individuals above have firmly stamped their feet in the luscious land of brand utopia. They are international symbols of marketing success. They have reached brand ‘enlightenment’ or, as Maslow would say, ‘brand self-actualisation’. The ultimate spot reserved only for the divine. Public scrutiny will not dethrone them, employees are less likely to leave them, customers will not boycott them and activists will leave them alone. These brands will be revered and followed wherever they go and they will always stand out because they stand for something.

The financial benefits

The hugely successful coffee chain Starbucks (usually mentioned on Fortune’s Top 100 Companies list) is totally committed to fair-traded coffee, which pays a premium to poor farmers. This might mean, for example, that a Colombian farmer will decide to grow coffee rather than the cocoa plant that becomes cocaine and, in turn, destroys communities. Starbucks also promotes sustainable agriculture and biodiversity by favouring shade-grown coffee, which saves land from tropical rainforests that might be used for coffee production and benefits the livelihood of farmers.

What many people don’t realise is that the moral high ground is very profitable and also increases brand equity. The 2004 Cone Corporate Citizenship Study found that the majority of people (90 percent) would consider switching products to avoid doing business with companies that have a reputation for poor corporate citizenship.

Create a brand that leads with its values

It’s important to partner with a charity or cause long-term that supports your values, mission and product. When aligning yourself with a social issue and developing campaign plans, it’s important to keep the following in mind:

  • select an issue that is extremely engaging for your target audience and relevant to your industry, products and service
  • once selected, commit wholeheartedly – avoid short-term solutions or promises you can’t fulfil and ensure this is not viewed simply as a marketing exercise, and
  • recognise that you will be expected to demonstrate your commitments to the cause in your own corporate behaviour, policies, practices and marketing activities.

How to become a socially conscious brand

Follow these tips to cultivate a socially and environmentally conscious brand:

  1. Use recycled paper for all promotional material
    New paper is often white, not because this is paper’s natural colour, but because it is bleached. This bleach (dioxin) is a major cause of water pollution. Dioxin is highly toxic and a carcinogenic contaminant.
  2. Convert to green energy
    Go to www.originenergy.com.au to ensure your electricity is purchased from renewable sources rather than coal-fired power stations that produce toxic carbon dioxide. Promote your commitment to the environment on your packaging and let it become a part of your marketing campaign.
  3. Use fair-traded coffee in your marketing meetings
    Go to www.oxfam.org.au/coffee to ensure that poor farmers in third world countries are paid fairly for their coffee crops.
  4. Set your home page to the hunger site
    Go to www.thehungersite.com and click the ‘Give Free Food’ button and a cup of food is donated to feed a hungry person – promote the hunger site in your marketing material.
  5. Mobile Muster
    Visit www.mobilemuster.com.au to organise a mobile recycling bin in your office. This will help reduce the amount of hazardous waste that ends up as landfill – another way to promote your green credentials to your target audience.
  6. Commit to eliminating the use of toxic chemicals in your products
    Many chemicals that are used in household products are potentially damaging to wildlife and humans. For example, sodium laureth sulphate is a common chemical found in bubble baths, hair conditioners, liquid hand and body wash, shampoos, toothpastes and moisturiser – it can cause skin and eye irritation and is toxic to aquatic organisms.

We need to protect the health of our planet, as all humans depend on it for life. My questions to all marketers are: “What do your brands stand for? What do they believe in? What are the values they strongly hold?”

I will leave you with the inspiring words of Bono:

“When you sing, you make people vulnerable to change in their lives. You make yourself vulnerable to change in your life. But in the end, youve got to become the change you want to see in the world.”