BrainTrust Query: Do you believe in company Karma?

Discussion
Jul 12, 2006
Laura Davis-Taylor

By Laura Davis-Taylor, Founder and Principal, Retail Media Consulting

(www.retailmediaconsulting.com)


Last week, Alloy Media + Marketing released results of their fifth annual College Explorer
Study
, conducted by Harris Interactive, which unveils that environmental and social responsibility influences college market spending. Most interesting is that students prefer
an honest and effective social responsibility campaign to celebrity endorsements when it comes to spending their hard-earned money.


In fact, when asked about factors that drive their purchase decisions, “33 percent prefer brands that give back to the community, are environmentally safe, or that are connected
to a cause,” states a news release.


Also revealed was that 24 percent of the students polled chose a brand based on its social responsibility stance. The top brand was Ben & Jerry’s, with The Body Shop and
Coke tied for ninth place. Burt’s Bees, Starbucks, Nike and Yoplait were also mentioned among the top ten brands.


Based on the study, it’s clear that even top brands need to take notice if younger audiences are edging towards making choices, not only on product attributes and brand positioning,
but for what they give back to society. However, it is interesting that this is the very audience most technologically savvy and distrustful of brands.


Also important is that, with a righteous crowd such as this, social responsibility encompasses many things: environmental respect, open disclosure, fair treatment of employees,
fair animal treatment, and more — often the very things bypassed in the pursuit of company profits.


A documentary called The Corporation does an excellent job of calling out poor behavior from some of today’s top companies, many which position themselves with a whistle-clean
track record. The movie follows a wave of “brand exposes,” such as SuperSize Me, Fast Food Nation and others, that portray some of our most beloved brands as carrying
dark secrets.


Discussion Question: Does a company, like an individual, ultimately become beholden to the laws of Karma? Does it “reap what it sows” in the long run,
even if it gets by with less than moralistic behavior?




We have all worked with companies that carefully script a public story that hides a dirty reality. Many are wildly successful, even though their “karma” should be paying them
back — not only for what they’re doing to society and the environment but for the impact their actions are having on employees and other human lives.



I personally believe that success based on this kind behavior can’t last in the long run. Brands are no longer a promise…they are a promise kept. And it’s not what they say…it’s
what they do.



If a brand today says it’s one thing, but its actions are the opposite, today’s enlightened and digitally connected consumers will find out soon enough. And, they are proving
that they will raise their strong and powerful voices.



As more movement takes place to support ethics in business, hopefully this will lead to some exciting — and much needed — change.


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14 Comments on "BrainTrust Query: Do you believe in company Karma?"


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Warren Thayer
Guest
14 years 7 months ago

I live in Vermont and I question reality. So I’m not sure there’s such a thing as Karma, or not. I’ve noticed that many companies with bad behavior (Fleming, Enron come to mind) end up with falls from grace that are truly extraordinary. But of course their bad behavior is truly extraordinary. Any thoughts here would have to be anecdotal and based on opinion. My opinion is that God amuses Herself by being totally random. That’s if She exists.

Ian Percy
Guest
14 years 7 months ago
I hate to do a ‘glass half empty’ thing here – but don’t the statistics quoted about what drives college student purchasing decisions indicate that 64% DON’T necessarily support companies who give back, etc.? And that 76% of the students polled DON’T chose a brand based on its social responsibility? Now about your karma running over your dogma. In my mind there is no question that at the end of the day you reap what you sow. In the meantime, however, evil does indeed prosper. And that has annoyed the righteous since the beginning of time. If ALL one wants to do is make money and the issues of value, meaning, good and purpose don’t matter – go right to porn, gambling and anything else addictive. The margins are huge and the team meetings are more fun. On the other hand good prospers too. Unfortunately many of us were raised to believe good and gold / purpose and prosperity don’t go together. That is absolutely opposite to the way karma or the universe works. And,… Read more »
Joe foran
Guest
Joe foran
14 years 7 months ago

I find it interesting that this story comes in the same email as one that says people read nutritional labels, but don’t let that get in the way of what they want to eat!

I think there is some room on the edges for successful marketing towards this emotion (fair trade coffee comes to mind), but in the broader sense, folks are going to buy what they want and can rationalize just about anything.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
14 years 7 months ago

I’m with Warren…pass the granola. Oh…and while you’re at it, look at the historical financial performance of arms dealers; big polluters; and Microsoft.

W. Frank Dell II
Guest
14 years 7 months ago

I wonder if the decline in believing high profile spokespersons has to do more with their information from the likes of People magazine and their not so wholesome life style. Too many celebrities think they can change the world only to find out no one believes them. With all the scandals in the sports world, why should young people believe the celebrity is being honest in the commercial?

Greg Coghill
Guest
Greg Coghill
14 years 7 months ago

I think that a certain portion of consumers (certainly not all) are acting in a socially responsible manner as a result of seeing and experiencing what the last 60 years of innovation has done to our environment, health, and longevity. I don’t think the word “karma” is the best choice of terms, by its true definition, because most people are drawing 1-to-1 correlations between corporate irresponsibility (i.e. “externalities,” or “other people’s problems”) and quality of life for themselves and their children right now.

Rick Moss
Guest
14 years 7 months ago

If we can divorce the idea of Karma from its religious roots, it actually makes for pretty good business guidance. Here’s an excerpt from the Wikipedia article:

“According to the Theory of Karma – every action taken to achieve a result or profit (fruit of action) leaves a trace or a karmic residue behind it. It is this residue that keeps accumulating and takes away one’s well being and freedom. Only a person who acts to produce results without worrying about profit (Nishkama Karma or Niskarma) does not accumulate such a Karmic residue. Such action normally comes out of love or pure passion.”

Think about the best business leaders. Would they have achieved greatness had they placed profit above “love or pure passion” for their work?

Brian Stuk
Guest
Brian Stuk
14 years 7 months ago

People can delude themselves into believing what they want to suit their emotional needs at the time. Starbucks made the list and while it promotes all the hot button issues, its product is about as good for you as eating styrofoam.

In the business world, Karma is used for the motive of profit. Not really Karma, but good business. The business of following trends and capitalizing on windows of opportunity.

Pradeep Parmar
Guest
Pradeep Parmar
14 years 7 months ago

Products, companies and we are all time bound entities. Our deeds are reflections of our personality. We all strive for success but our ways could be different. To implement ethics, morality and social commitment in business is challenging and would make success very difficult in a competitive environment.

Hence, businesses should focus on their prime goal for making money for their shareholders with ethics and morality in their actions.

Social commitment is long term and should be kept in the personal domain of individuals. Create wealth for the shareholders and let them pursue social goals – we have very fine examples of individuals doing this.

Race Cowgill
Guest
Race Cowgill
14 years 7 months ago

More than in other discussions, we seem to be dealing with beliefs, philosophy, and world-view here. We have found (yes, we have researched this one, too) that each person sees in the story and data meanings that correspond to their beliefs, philosophy, and world-view. In other words, the replies above are more likely to reveal each person’s world-view than anything else. This also means that our disagreements here are fundamentally over world-views, not data or analyzed meaning. In my book, there is no more pointless argument than one over which world-view is superior or more true. This COULD have been a different kind of discussion.

Peter Ingram
Guest
Peter Ingram
14 years 7 months ago

I’m with Pradeep. Do what you do well, with ethics, morality and passion, be aware of your company and brands’ impact on everything ranging from your industry’s economics to your customers’ behavior (economically and otherwise), and you have the makings of a company who is prepared to both adjust to near-/short-term and long-term business demands and drivers.

I find it interesting how new “trends” or practices are often simply new labels for the same thing, over and over again. Doesn’t seem any different here.

Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 7 months ago

Ethical behavior leads to positive feelings, and those positive feelings can improve morale, make recruiting easier, reduce turnover, and be a motivator. And it’s obvious that although these results are helpful, they certainly don’t guarantee profits. Profits can be maximized via unethical behavior or ethical behavior. Furthermore, people disagree about what’s ethical and what isn’t.

The Sunday New York Times (section 3 page 6) noted that there is only one vice-oriented mutual fund (gambling, tobacco, alcohol, weapons investments) versus 140 “ethical” funds, yet the Vice Fund had clearly superior returns, in spite of some related criminal and civil indictments of selected executives.

Bill Gerba
Guest
Bill Gerba
14 years 7 months ago

I’d love to believe in the idea of corporate karma, but for every example (both anecdotal and data-driven) arguing for the notion, I’ve seen several against. Recently, for example, The Wise Marketer published a short article (Click here to read) with findings that
“more than half of US consumers (58%) categorise themselves as being ‘not green-interested.'” In other words, they don’t care about environmentally-friendly practices, and they don’t base their purchasing decisions on whether a vendor is “green” or not.

Anecdotally, my own shopping habits trend the same way. Even though I do know about Ben & Jerry’s eco- and employee-friendly corporate policies, when I go to the supermarket, it’s not their $3.99 pint that compells me, it’s the $4.99 half gallon of Breyers. I don’t know where it’s made or what the company’s business practices are, I just like the product, and it’s less expensive to boot.

Laura Davis-Taylor
Guest
Laura Davis-Taylor
14 years 7 months ago

Wonderful discussion thread!

Uncannily, an announcement was released today that Ben & Jerry’s founders are re-engaging with the company for the first time since the Unilever acquisition to bring back their social activist roots. Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield are leading the company’s “American Pie” campaign with the goal of creating governmental pressure to shift $13 billion that it now pays to maintain thousands of nuclear bombs into pediatric health insurance, schools or other programs for kids.

Ben Cohen’s quote: “I think that business is the most powerful force in the country. When business starts using its voice for the benefit of the country as a whole, not just in its narrow self interest, it can really be the force that can make the changes that need to be made.”

Barring political leanings, his point is an interesting one to ponder in light of our conversations.

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