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April 2017

How Responsible is Marketing In South Africa?

By | Food for thought | No Comments

How Responsible is Marketing In South Africa“Responsible marketing” is when a business has the best interests of the consumer linked to their strategic goals. It’s a marketing philosophy we’re seeing more of. Responsible marketing is increasingly being built into brand values and business allegiance with social causes (cause marketing).

The push towards more responsible marketing has been on the rise globally as technological innovation has greatly enabled the growth of corporate citizenship. Social media has made the customer the client and most brands are now sensitive to that. We’re noticing marketing trends encouraging (sometimes forcing) brands to become more socially aware. But how does South Africa fare with regards to responsible marketing?

A high percentage of the big brands in South Africa are global brands and therefore bound by the responsible marketing codes from their global head office.  They have to take into consideration what’s in the best interests of the consumer and their society. Responsible marketing is not longer “soft” or “nice to have”; it’s good business, as former President and CEO of Novo Nordisk, Lars Rebien Sørensen, says, “In the long term, social and environmental issues become financial issues.”

In SA many big global brands are advertising their commitment to responsible marketing as much as they’re showcasing their products. Unilever is one of the most visible of these, with their payoff line and hash tag “When you choose Unilever you help create a #brightFuture.” Looking at their Facebook page (which has over 3.6 million fans) their pledge to a bright future is more prominent than their product placement. Not surprisingly then, Unilever CEO Paul Polman notes; “Our sustainable living brands are growing 30% faster than the rest of our business.”

Other big global brands we watch with interest with interest are Coca-Cola, KFC and Pfizer’s brand, Centrum.  While Coke SA has been positioned as “feel good” with their #EnjoyTheFeeling hash tag, they’re facing the dilemma of the sugar in their products (now for sugar tax reasons as well as health issues). Their “responsible” solution is introducing a new Coke variant called “Life” which contains 37% less sugar, using stevia leaf extract instead. Interesting to note that in the UK the Life product has met with some backlash and the brand’s been accused of “health washing”, as a can of Life still contains the full recommended (adult) daily allowance of sugar.

An offshoot of responsible marketing is cause marketing – something that South African brands do seem particularly good at. Cause marketing is not necessary built into a business model, but makes a difference to a particular community or cause. By making a monetary or service contribution, the company shows a commitment to being responsible or accountable to the problems in society.

KFC South Africa’s Add Hope Campaign is cause marketing worth celebrating. The brand is aligned with a feeding children initiative which motivates the consumer to get involved in a good cause. Add Hope has been amazingly successful so far; raising over R39 million in 2016, feeding 100 000 children every day, simply by asking people to donate R2 extra with their purchase. It is heart-warming how many people contribute and the clever marketers at KFC know your donation will make your take-away taste even better.

Another cause marketing allegiance which appealed to the country’s generous spirit was between Centrum® and the Emergency Services (EMS) of South Africa. Over an eight year long campaign Centrum® Guardians raised almost R4 million, which went towards EMS Training. The additional benefits were more awareness of the excellent work that EMS do and entrenching customer loyalty.  From One Lady & A Tribe’s point of view, we got to meet the crews who save lives daily, and fulfil our own mantra of “doing good and doing good business.”

When we look at local brands not governed by global counterparts, the responsible marketing picture isn’t quite as bright, although things can change quickly. This January Woolworths responded in haste to their plastic egg carton fiasco, trashing the boxes after a social media post went viral. This is a step in the right direction but the big SA supermarkets use an extraordinary amount of plastic packaging in their products. This makes the consumer feel bad (and irresponsible), no matter how much recycling we do. Hopefully there are plans in place by Woolworths, Spar and PicknPay to go the Original Unverpackt responsible marketing route and phase out plastic bags, cellophane and plastic trays altogether.

In closing, a note on South Africa in general. Where we stand currently doesn’t look bright for those most vulnerable in our society. I predict we’ll see an increase in responsible marketing, as businesses step into the areas where government is failing, going beyond doing good and doing good business and into (hopefully temporary) survivor mode.

Sheila McGillivray, Tribe Leader