Brands with Strong Cause-Related Initiatives...What Does This Mean for Their Parent Companies?

I am a huge fan of Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty. I find it refreshing that the campaign is meant to challenge stereotypes, "to celebrate the diverse, the healthy, the real, the truly beautiful." The Dove Self Esteem Fund backs up the advertising campaign and demonstrates the brand’s sincere commitment to building self-esteem in young girls.  The Fund raises money and awareness through forums, workshops and global research.  They have even sponsored a program at Harvard University. I have been buying more Dove products over the last year, and I can’t help but wonder what influence its campaign has had on my decisions.

All that said, Dove has received significant backlash recently because its parent company, Unilever, also owns Axe, the top selling male body spray whose advertising depicts women as primarily sexual objects.  These are two different brands, with their own identities and marketing plans. Neither brand is accountable to the other. However, Unilever is ultimately accountable for both.

As more and more brands are creating powerful cause-related campaigns that strike an emotional and relevant cord with their consumers, their parent companies – often those without a strong brand themselves – are trying to figure out what it means for them. To some extent, the parent company receives a halo and accolades, even if it is not the catalyst or an active participant in the campaign. In other cases, like with Unilever, it creates a new pressure, forcing the parent company to more clearly articulate what it “stands for” in the community and in regards to its responsible business practices.

Cone has worked with several multi-national manufacturing companies with diverse brand portfolios, and has a few best practices for parent companies to consider:

  • Clearly articulate your values to your brands and key external stakeholders. For internal audiences, provide guidelines and tangible examples of how to live those values in action regarding responsible business practices, marketing and communication, support of issues and other key areas.
  • Assess your brands’ current cause-related activities to identify “common threads.”  What issues are supported? Who are the more common target beneficiaries?
  • Create an umbrella cause platform for your parent company based on what you (and your brands) want to “stand for.”  This umbrella will be somewhat broad – it may include several causes or it may focus on benefiting a certain group, such as children worldwide. This platform should be broad enough so that you can package most of your brands’ key programs underneath it. However, the platform should not be so broad that it is all things to all people, and hence, your brands will not understand what it means to them.
  • Conduct a risk assessment to see if there are any brands whose products or practices are in conflict with the cause platform (ala Axe). Address, rectify and/or create crisis prevention plans prior to launching the new platform.
  • Educate all the brands in your portfolio about your cause platform and how they may want to support it in their own ways.  Provide examples about how other brands are executing with success.  Consider providing some sort of incentive, such as additional grant dollars, if they create programs consistent with the new platform.
  • Recognize that you want to encourage your brands to be true to themselves and that not all will fit within your cause platform. Create key messages for your corporate office, brands and partners to use so that expectations are clear regarding your commitment and that of your brands.

Best in class is P&G’s “Live Learn and Thrive.”  Please visit the website to learn more!


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