Social Responsibility of Corporate Marketing

Tweetable summary: “Rating the social responsibility of corporate marketing. Advertising spending in the US is $170B/year, 1/6th the size of education spending.” (sources: ads, education – public and private at all levels combined)

Context: Much of what we, as North Americans, learn is from media sources including marketing. There are several corporate social responsibility (CSR) rankings for companies which focus on the core business activities, not on the effects of their marketing. Who is tracking the educational messages going out and keeping companies honest about how they are shaping the societal norms and discourse? The messages are “educational” because, whether we like to believe it or not, people learn from and mimic what they see.

Idea: A free rating/scoring/grading/ranking system of the social responsibility of marketing messages is set up. The system would start with the biggest marketers, which are not hard to find, at least not in the US. A list of simple criteria could be developed to start, such as:

  • Gender identity / empowerment
  • Anti-racist
  • Environmental (energy, water, waste, air, etc.)
  • Health
  • Civic understanding & engagement

Not all these criteria are equally relevant to the marketing activities of every company. As such, it is the degree to which they communicate a positive & progressive / negative & regressive message in the areas their marketing touches on most that is weighted heaviest. In relevant areas they could be ranked on a scale, for instance: “Laggards”, “Status Quo Perpetuators”, or “Leaders”.

Example: Dairy Queen currently markets itself as “Fan Food not Fast Food (TM)”, which is misleading people in the health category as it is the epitome of fast food. They could take a leadership role in the area of Gender identity / empowerment by leveraging the “Queen” part of their name to support queer and trans* positive events and campaigns in their sponsorship and marketing messages.

Difficulties: This is not an altogether easy system to establish. Some reasons include:

  • Hard to measure all messages
  • Measuring messages is an inherently subjective exercise and open to debate (which is the whole point!)
  • Who are the judges / architects of the criteria?
  • Could be seen as preachy and trying to push an agenda
  • Which companies to start with
  •  How to pull examples of good marketing that are not the biggest companies

Already Doing This: Where’s the FCC in all this? Nowhere. Do marketing awards address this? No. Maybe there’s space for someone like Corporate Knights to get involved…

Other possibility: Why not also rate/rank the messages in our TV shows, music, magazines, etc?

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