What is the ethos of your brand? Does it take an ethical stand on issues? Does it welcome and embrace responsibility to its community? I’d argue that few do, especially in today’s climate where social media audiences are incredibly fickle and vocal minorities can control the online narrative.
Taking an ethical stand in corporate messaging or advertising is dangerous. Businesses such as Starbucks that have taken a stand on gay rights or guns in stores have faced a lot of backlash from the social media public.
For example, the National Organization for Marriage called for a boycott of the international chain in order to pressure the company to change its HR policies, which are supportive of gay marriage and benefits.
Arcompany’s Amy Tobin writes about the backlash Toms shoes faces daily for aligning its business with a social cause. Toms seeks to make a difference by giving a pair of shoes to people in impoverished areas of the world for every shoe purchased by its consumers.
However, Amy Costello, Host and Senior Producer at NPR, argues that what they’re really doing is taking jobs away from those they’re giving the shoes to and thus doing more harm than good.
Demonstrating Your Brand’s Ethics
Canadian lingerie retailer Forever Yours Lingerie is one of those companies that built its brand around an ethical code and takes bold steps to honor it. Its goal is to make “woman feel beautiful,” but, unlike retailer Abercombie & Fitch, it does not add a size precursor to its definition of beauty.
Specializing in bras and bra fittings, the retailer stocks 70 different sizes, from B to K cup. Demonstrating its commitment to an ethical brand, it does not discriminate when it comes to the models it uses in its advertisements.
A year ago, it featured Canadian model Elly Mayday, an atypical model at size 14, in a series of ads (see above below). In an interview with ABC news, Sonya Perkins, the co-founder of the retail chain said they chose Elly because they wanted to properly represent that look.
“In the lingerie industry, it’s not something you do,” Ms. Mayday shares. “It’s all about long hair and big breasts and arched backs. But it’s important to show what real women look like underneath their clothes. Most people have some issue they are dealing with.”
However, last summer Ms. Mayday was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and underwent treatment which dramatically changed her appearance. She decided to keep working and Ms. Perkins, understanding the ethics that her brand stood for, embraced the opportunity to continue to work with Ms. Mayday.
They played on her situation with clever copy instead of glad-handing a cancer charity or patronizing its audience. The ad reads: “Whether you are training for a marathon…or kicking cancer’s butt, you need a great support. Save $20 off any regular priced sports bra.”
They could have taken advantage of the model’s story and jarring bald head and scars (courtesy of the cancer treatment) and offer a $20 donation to charity, as many marketers would have. It would have been easy, and possibly generated more sales, but that would have been contrary to the ethics of the brand.
Brand Ethics and the Courage of Convictions
Maintaining the integrity of a brand is not easy. It often requires employees to put the needs of clients ahead of the interests of the brand, in essence, pitting the brand against itself. It requires courage to take such as stand, to be honest about your intentions, and to be consistent in your delivery.
Many businesses claim their products are environmentally friendly, good for your heath, or made of 100% organic ingredients when in reality, those claims are just marketing slight-of-hand.
Social media amplifies both positive and negative brand stories and so if you’re going to embark on developing an ethical brand, be sure the corporate culture (and shareholders) can stomach it.
Be sure that its ethics are not merely brand-washing (creating a general, broader impression of brand to move attention away from reality) and is an honest representation of your operating practices. As with Forever Yours Lingerie, stick with your model regardless of the scars.
- Is society simply too cynical to embrace ethical brands? Do we question the integrity of all regardless of the message?
- Can a brand that invests in its ethics truly reap bottom-line rewards?
Join the conversation.
Feed Your Community, Not Your Ego
Image Credit: Forever Yours Lingerie