Companies everywhere are having a go at social purpose. And columnists everywhere are having a go at them for it.
From Owen Jones in the Guardian to Mark Ritson in Marketing Week, to every balding middle-aged ad exec on LinkedIn, there’s a huge wave of cynicism directed at brands like M&S, Gillette, Lush and Nike. It seems like woke brands can’t win.
Brands are accused of not really meaning it, because it’s not costing them money.
Or of washing their hands of negative issues by making cynical donations.
They’re accused of just using social purpose to sell products.
Or being naïve and not selling any.
They’re accused of not living up to the promise of their social purpose.
Or not having one at all.
Brands can’t win.
Of course, it’s absolutely right to call out blatant ‘purpose-wash’. But by bashing every attempt every brand makes to do something positive or purposeful we could end up with brands that decide not to do anything at all. While trust collapses, while people suffer discrimination and hatred, while politics eats itself, while the seas choke with plastic and people with pollution.
At a time when we need it most.
Cynicism hasn’t got us anywhere. And no organisation is perfect – no business, no charity, no political party, no movement. There are skeletons in every cupboard, compromises in every decision and problems in every solution.
So maybe we should be happy that M&S has an LGBT sandwich, rather than just a BLT. Maybe we should be pleased that Paddy Power sent an empty bus to Pride, rather than nothing. Or that Natwest clumsily apologised to female customers, rather than ignoring them.
Because, what starts as a cultural trend, can become a social norm – even if the path to get there is a bit clumsy.
So, to all the brands that want to make a difference. Think about how you can do better. Just please: don’t do nothing.