Zzz. Wait, what?
CSR is short for Corporate Social Responsibility. It’s when a brand contributes to the greater good of society — even though they technically don’t have to. For example:
Brands wouldn’t pour funds into CSR activities if it weren’t for a sense of responsibility amongst the people who work there. However, most brands would agree that it would be nice if their customers would acknowledge their goodness. Because in general, it’s difficult to get public recognition for CSR-activities. A global brand could be allocating millions of dollars for good causes, but they’ll only make headlines when they do something that’s … well, not so good.
Why is it so difficult to promote CSR — and what to do about it?
Why CSR is Great … in Theory
As a company serving the greater good through various CSR activities, in theory, you’d probably want something like this:
However, in reality, it probably looks more like this:
Most people find CSR activities to be both important and noble. Commendable, even. But interesting? Not so much.
How did we end up here?
The Conversion Theory
Imagine going out on a busy street to ask a thousand by-passers of their opinions. If you would ask them whether or not they think it’s important to save the rainforest, a vast majority would answer “yes”.
But how many of these 1,000 people would actively endorse brands who are pouring millions of dollars into saving the rainforest? Out of a 1,000 people, maybe one — sometimes not even that.
As strange as it may seem at first glance, people tend to engage with less intensity when it comes to majority positions.
In scientific literature, this is known as the conversion theory. Serge Moscovici’s found that we tend to become more engaged if we feel that we belong to a misrepresented minority. If 99,9% of your peers think that the rainforest is worth saving and you agree, you don’t feel as if you belong to a wronged minority — and you’re therefore less like to become engaged.
But, of course, most CSR issues tend to be backed by sound majorities. In terms of marketing effect, this is why CSR activities works best in those rare cases when a brand identifies a smart minority to liaise with against a stupid majority. Brands are perceived by the general public as powerful and wealthy. To be accepted as the underdog, the brand must put themselves in a truly vulnerable and brave position to deserve public acknowledgement.
Essentials for Your CSR Activities
1. There must be a clearly defined enemy, and the stronger the enemy, the more interesting the story.
In the case of the rainforest, we know that there are companies profiting from laying it to waste. Or maybe they are victims, too? The public must know who the enemy is; a vague notion won’t do. If you want people to stand by your side, they’ll need to know who you’re up against and that the brand is putting itself at real risk.
2. There must be obstacles and stakes to keep the brand accountable and the audience engaged.
It’s basic storytelling; not only do you need a strong enemy, you must accept a hero’s journey. You can’t expect people to trust or respect you if you don’t put your brand in harms way for what it believes in. There must be something more at risk than just some charity funds.