Thursday, April 16, 2009

Brand Ethics or Bottom-Line?

During these ‘tough economic times’ (surely the marketing community can think of a better moniker for ‘recession’ than this), one of the truly remarkable things is the miraculous recovery of the environment.

The hole in the ozone layer has grown back, endangered species are now thriving in their natural habitats and all produce sold in the UK is organic, natural and locally sourced. Or at least the absence of these once unavoidable corporate agendas would seemingly now imply…

Those of us who move in marketing circles will no doubt be fully aware that sustainability and green agendas have been noticeably swept under the carpet, no matter how discreet the corporate broom being used.

It seems that the days of lavishing big budgets on corporate social responsibility or building an ethical brand are long gone – or at least on hold until Brown and Obama smooth out this royal financial pickle we’re in.

Whilst this is an understandable reaction to constricting budgets, the abandonment of ethical agendas leaves the more loyal consumer wondering just how dedicated their favourite brands were to these itineraries in the first place – a dangerous game to be playing when every consumer coin is worth its weight in gold.

Many independent businesses have invested heavily to associate themselves with the ideals, values and ethics they hold in common with their target consumer groups, regardless of whether these beliefs are genuinely held or commercially motivated. This is all well and good when companies can afford to market lifestyle and image as opposed to product, but as marketing budgets shrink and brand ethics dissolve, so too does their perceived integrity.

This has already proved disastrous for many brands, as more and more companies are beginning to find out. Whilst no one would doubt the need to focus on the bottom-line during this recession, certain ‘ethical’ businesses may well end up seeing a plummet in brand advocates, as well as in profits.

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