marketing, digital marketing, video promotion, social marketing, social responsibility, ethical marketing

The dos and don'ts of socially conscious marketing
Chloe Edgley gravatar avitar

The dos and don'ts of socially conscious marketing

Author: Chloe Edgley | Posted on: 14 December 2017

2017 hasn’t been the smoothest ride as far as social and political discourse goes, with the latest discussions at the dinner table ranging from Brexit, all the way to whether Donald Trump wears a toupee or not. (Apparently it’s not but I ask you - how can we be sure???)

A controversial climate like this deter companies from incorporating a social or political message into their marketing practices for fear of a backlash, but when social awareness is incorporated in a way that is, well, actually aware, it can prove to be a real attribute to a company’s reputation.

Vlad Tchompalov March for Science Social Activism protest

Research suggests that millennials largely favour brands that have an ethical conscience both in their public message and their business practices. Forbes writer Sarah Landrum notes that ‘millennials are the first generation to become jaded about the fact that most marketing is wholly self-interested. That might sound a bit funny, in the “Well, of course it is” kind of way, but consider the alternative: a company that splits its attention between self-interest and interest in the improvement of society.’

This might sound like a tricky balance to strike, but it’s by no means impossible.

Socially conscious marketing asserts your company’s values and can make a positive impact, which in turn can instil customers with trust in your brand. But customers will also detect a superficial attempt in seconds, and so to be socially conscious for the sake of your own profit defeats the point. Instead, customers are demanding that companies must put in a genuine effort before they can expect to gain any rewards for themselves.

Marketers ought to be paying attention to these cues, not least because millenials are the fastest growing force in the marketplace, but because concepts like these are a real opportunity to change how businesses operate for the better, and that’s something to get excited about.

Needless to say, companies don’t always get this quite right.

Take the infamous Kendall Jenner Pepsi Ad, for example. The commercial features the famous Kardashian-relative as a model having her photograph taken, when a cheerful band of protesters holding ambiguous signs such as ‘Join the conversation’ and ‘Love’ begin pouring down the street. Encouraged by these non-points, Kendall whips off her blonde wig and joins the march. When they approach a wall of police officers, she saunters forward and offers one a can of pepsi. He smiles and takes a sip from the can and the crowd roars, all conflict apparently ended.

The ad received an enormous amount of backlash online for making light of the Black Lives Matter movement, protests against racially motivated police brutality which it clearly drew inspiration from and yet undermined in its massive over-simplification of the issue. Among those to mock the insensitive ad was Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King, who tweeted a photo of her father being confronted by a police officer at a march with the caption “If only Daddy would have known about the power of pepsi.”

A more recent example of a social action misstep is YouTube’s 2017 ‘rewind’ video, their annual review of the year filled with nods to inside jokes and cameos from its largest creators. Around halfway through, the video slows down a little to show its featured guests holding hands whilst audio of this year’s headlines about disaster relief efforts plays in the background in a moment to promote unity. Whilst this positive message might have been well-intended, some have begun to critique YouTube for its hypocrisy.

The video-sharing platform has made a number of headlines this year for its controversial advertising practises, whether this was due to companies realising their ads were playing alongside extremist and hate-speech videos, or due to the demonetisation of certain videos that include LGBT+ themes. To many, the company’s attempt to be socially conscious could not be considered genuine until they implemented the same consciousness into their business practices.

Some companies, on the other hand, are demonstrating real success with their campaigns for social change. Following President Trump’s controversial travel ban to prohibit all entry from seven majority-muslim countries and to suspend the USA’s intake of refugees, brands such as AirBnB and Starbucks have taken a bold opposing stance. AirBnB offered free accommodation to refugees affected by the ban, whilst Starbucks vowed it would hire 10,000 refugees over the next five years.

Marketingweek reports than in the week following Starbucks’ announcement, the coffee chain’s reputation score increased on YouGov’s BrandIndex by 5.9 points, which was the second biggest weekly rise on a list of 38 of the biggest fast food and drink brands, and proves that a quick response can provide quick results.

Tesco, the UK’s biggest supermarket chain, also made strides this year by renewing its campaign to tackle food-waste, focusing on its primary goal to ensure that no food fit for human consumption will go to waste by the end of 2017. Its CEO David Lewis stated that he wants the company to be more ‘purpose-driven,’ and added that ‘what consumers need now is trust in the business behind a brand and we want our customers to know Tesco will behave responsibly on their behalf.’

So what are the lessons companies who want to be more socially conscious can take away from these examples?


  • Get informed. Listen to the discussion going on in your area of choice, and really engage with the matter at hand, unlike Pepsi’s tone-deaf ad that failed to give the Black Lives Matter issue its due justice.

  • Make it a cause that your company can do something about. Starbucks and AirBnB’s initiatives were so appropriate because they utilised the kind of conglomerate hiring power and the shelter spaces that only those companies can offer. Choosing something you can really help with won’t just benefit your brand, but importantly will do the world some good.


  • Pick a cause for the sake of it. It has to be something you genuinely care about, and values you genuinely hold. Customers will be able to spot hypocrisy between your message and your behaviour very quickly, as with YouTube’s rewind controversy, so make sure you’re always practising what you preach.

  • Be opaque. Honesty and transparency are always important values for a company to have, but are particularly vital with this approach to marketing. Be like Tesco CEO David Lewis, who acknowledges his awareness that social consciousness can be a strategy to help build trust, but emphasises that this isn’t the only reason for launching a campaign.

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Author: Chloe Edgley

Chloe Edgley gravatar avitar
Chloe is our copywriter here at Ember Television. Her interest in telling stories led her to study English with Creative Writing at the University of Birmingham, where she developed a specialised interest in screenwriting and digital media.
The dos and don'ts of socially conscious marketing



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