The financial sector, perhaps more than most, has a tarnished reputation as questions around trust and corporate responsibility (or irresponsibility), exacerbated by a succession of financial scandals and negative media coverage, have impacted greatly on consumer and corporate relations. Previously self-contained institutions existing in ‘imagined communities’ – of which financial corporates and MPs must stand up and be counted – need to step outside themselves and engage fully and openly with consumers or risk ongoing damage to their reputations.
However those keen to ‘take part’ need to be fully aware of the substance and credibility corporate social responsibility (looking at charitable partnerships in particular) requires, with core business activities at the heart of any programme, rather than a philanthropic leaning or chairman’s whim – the right cause considering long-term goals, a real synergy with a corporate’s business interests and values and aligned objectives. A genuine, transparent and well-thought through community involvement strategy is key; if a corporate is seen as exploiting an opportunity with no real engagement with or ‘in’ the cause, it has the potential to be counter-productive.
One campaign that did just that was Cadbury Trebor Bassett’s Get Active! CRM initiative in partnership with Youth Sports Trust in 2003, which aimed to encourage children to become more active and involved in sport. Despite Cadbury’s saying that children would eat chocolate anyway, but should do so sensibly as part of a balanced diet and healthy active lifestyle, the campaign was condemned by children’s and health groups, including the Consumers’ Association who described the scheme as “an irresponsible ploy to encourage unhealthy eating among children” and “nothing short of a scandal”.
Strategies must therefore enable consumers to take part in the brand in order to create a ‘reservoir of goodwill’ to draw upon when ‘other people’ put a reputation in jeopardy. A programme of social responsibility can play an important role when built into the core of marketing and brand objectives – adopting a programme may bring a corporate to the same level as their competitors, but ultimately those not engaging or taking part will end up being the most affected.