Corporate social responsibility is dead. Now it’s all about ‘good business’

In this guest post, Nic Mackay argues that it’s time for brands to go beyond CSR.

Corporate social responsibility  is dead.

For those who only recently found out what it is: I’m sorry. For those who think that the only thing CSR refers to is the sugar company: don’t worry, you haven’t missed anything. Both in terminology and in practical operation, CSR is completely outdated.  

Nic Mackay Human Race MumbrellaI’m not suggesting that corporate engagement in ‘doing good’ is unimportant. On the contrary, I believe that it actually represents the future of corporate success. However, there is no room for CSR in that future, and the sooner we realise it the better off we will all be.

CSR emerged out of the traditional view of what it means to be a company. This view stipulated that companies exist to generate profit and that the pursuit of ‘purpose’ (ie: doing good, both socially and environmentally) should be the focus of organisations in the non-profit/social sector.

Until recently, the vast majority of companies operated according to this traditional view, and while many did engage in doing good, they did not regard it as part of their core business. Rather, corporate engagement in doing good was thought of as an entirely separate endeavour, and was assigned its own structure and label: corporate social responsibility.

However, in recent years, forward-thinking companies have begun to see CSR for what is it: a largely tokenistic, inauthentic approach to doing good, which operates as an adjunct to a company’s core business. Moreover, CSR does little if anything to generate commercial returns and, in some cases, it completely undermines a company’s commercial aspirations.

In response, those same forward-thinking companies have taken steps to unify the concepts of profit and purpose, thus signalling the death of CSR.

This shift is taking place in a number of areas.

In marketing, we have witnessed the rise of CRM (cause related marketing). The most recent example of this is PepsiCo, which this year pulled its US Super Bowl ad-buy for the first time in 23 years. It did so in order to establish the Pepsi Refresh Project, which is providing US$20 million in grants for local organizations and causes proposed by the public in realms like health, arts and culture, the environment and education.

In annual reporting, many companies are now choosing to declare not only their financial results but also their impact on the community and the environment, in what has become known as the Triple Bottom Line (“people, planet, profit”).

Finally, many of the world’s leading companies are striving to fully integrate their commitment to doing good throughout every aspect of their business in order to realise the goal of ‘sustainability’. The list of companies committed to becoming sustainable includes some seemingly unlikely names such as Nike, Nestle & Coca-Cola, which not so long ago were regarded as the epitome of corporate evil, but which now recognise the opportunity and imperative to engage in this new approach to doing good.

All of this poses a significant challenge for Australian companies and, in particular, Australian marketers. CSR is dead and in its place is a commitment to integrate doing good within the core business of a company. Regardless of what we term this new approach – ‘sustainability’, ‘good business’ or something else entirely – it represents the future of corporate success from a social, environmental and commercial perspective.

The problem is that most Australian companies are a long way behind. If the US-based Pepsi Refresh Project is an example of forward-thinking business, then its Australian counterpart, Pepsi Hit Refresh, is the antithesis. While it may sound similar, Hit Refresh is nothing more than a glorified treasure hunt, offering free prizes and absolutely no social or environmental change.

Australian companies need to catch up with the rest of the world. Moreover, I believe Australian companies have a huge opportunity to exercise a leadership role. However, the key to success in this area is inextricably linked to authenticity, both regarding the work itself and also the communication thereof. This requires something that rarely comes naturally in the marketing world: honesty.

Be honest about what the company is doing well. Be honest about what it needs to do better. Communicate the company’s desire to go beyond CSR and integrate its commitment to doing good throughout the business… and actually mean it.


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.