Will we ever have a big CSR brand?

I spent a bit of time this week talking with a fascinating branding consultant, who was presenting at a conference on how some big brands, like Coke, are using sustainability to try and re-define how they will produce and market products in the future.

One conversation I had with a colleague of his was around big brands and CSR.

Over dinner at the second annual Hungarian CSR awards in Budapest, we debated whether it’s possible for a big brand to be as closely associated with responsible business as it is for smaller ones.

Smaller firm examples, like Innocent Drinks, jump to mind fairly easily. Coke bought a non-controlling stake in them recently.

But what about larger companies? Given all their growing and inherent sustainability liabilities, is it possible that in the future, one or more of them will be associated obviously with sustainability in the minds of consumers?

My picks are Unilever (for their lead on certification and others areas) and Marks and Spencer (for Plan A). I’d also throw Timberland in there, for various reasons.

But I’m not yet convinced it is possible.

Big companies, with diverse products appealing to so many different groups, and so many ever-broadening issues to deal with, will largely find it very hard to become eminently associated with ethics first in the mind of their customers.

We all know that companies can be great at many issues, whilst falling down on others.

We live in an imperfect world, after all, and mistakes will always be made, and limits will always be in place. And emerging issues can always jump up and bite you.

If I had to put money on it. I’d go with M&S though.

My question to you, readers, is twofold:

Do you agree?

And do you think I missed any likely candidates?


  1. Good post. See my points about building a CSR brand :


  2. I wish it were, but I don't think it is. Older businesses have racked up a business model, loads of baggage, and have deep cultural issues, each of which makes them very difficult to change.
    We point a lot to IBM under Gerstner as a company that did accomplish all this, but I ask you, was that IBM or a company re-made under the aegis of the Govt? Same as GM, Chrysler and these latter day businesses.
    IOW: no, if they try to do it all themselves as a natural progression of business as usual; yes, if they are subject to some cataclysm that forces them to take protection and have the protection and time, sponsorship and drive to re-model themselves.

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