Socially Responsible Advertising: What Brands Can Do to Create a Positive Impact

Jake Michaels
November 19, 2020
6:30 pm

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In 2019, actor Jameela Jamill called out reality television star Kim Kardashian-West for an Instagram post that endorsed an appetite-suppressing lollipop. Jamill called Kardashian-West, who has over 191 million followers on the social media platform, a “terrible and toxic influence” on the young people who look up to her.

That was not the first time that the “The Good Place” star called out Kardashian-West and her equally popular sisters.

Advertising has an effect on the audience’s perception of society, health, friendship, romance, and other facets of life. Children and teens, in particular, are susceptible to negative messages, whether intentional or not, that they encounter on commercials or on social media.

Ads can damage their self-esteem and, in some cases, lead them toward making a decision that will harm their physical and mental health.

Brands should push out advertisements and marketing campaigns that are socially responsible. Materials that may end up in the hands of young people specifically should adhere to standards considered to be ethical.

The Truth and Nothing But the Truth

There are regulations around the world that forbid brands and advertisers to make incorrect and unfounded claims about the products or services they are selling to the public. Some, however, find loopholes.

So, for instance, an ad for a liquid iron supplement should not claim to cure serious illnesses. It is recommended to be consumed by young women, the elderly, and vegetarians who may not be getting their daily dose of iron from their regular diet. However, it should not imply that it kills cancer cells or prevents dementia.

Ads and brands that are socially responsible do not aim to deceive consumers in order to boost sales. They gain the trust of the public and offer the services that are expected of them, not make promises that they could not keep.

Ads that are not true will also do more harm than good. It raises the expectations of your customers. They will be disappointed when the product does not give them the results they desire.

An Instagram photo of a juicy burger will bring people into the store, but serve them with an unappealing meal, and they will never come back again. Worse, they might post a photo of the product on social media where it will go viral.

The business’ reputation will suffer significantly if the lies were made public. It will be harder to gain back people’s trust once they feel betrayed.

Transparency at its Core

brand concept

Consumers demand transparency from brands, especially on social media. For more than half (53%) of customers, the decision to make a purchase or not depends on whether a brand is transparent across all social media platforms. Nearly all of them (86%) would not trust a brand and instead patronize a competitor if they do not see transparency.

Only 15% of consumers believe that brands are currently being transparent on social media.

Transparency would not be easy and it can be risky. However, if successfully implemented and encouraged, it can give the brand rewards. It can improve customer retention and loyalty which would ensure steady profit and sales for the foreseeable future.

Lifting Up, Not Putting Down

Old ads were notorious for pointing out flaws of the consumers and offering them a product that will correct said flaws. Ads created an ideal that is unattainable for most people.

Nowadays, the strategy would receive backlash.

A socially responsible ad does not put down people for what they do not have. It lifts people up and celebrates what they already have.

You have seen Nike’s “You Can’t Stop Us” ad which went viral across all social media platforms earlier this year. The video featured athletes who were Asian, Black, Muslim, and White. The message: regardless of differences, we are all the same and, united, we can do anything.

If a brand wants to reach out and capture the attention of consumers, especially young people, it has to care about social causes. In the case of Nike, the popular athletic gear brand promoted diversity, collectivism, and social justice. It came out during a time when much of the world, particularly the United States, was divided because of contrasting political and religious beliefs.

The audience is composed of various people from all backgrounds. Children may be watching, too. It would be unethical to send a message that reimposes the same harmful sexist, racist, and bigoted statements that were common a long time ago.

Ads do not just sell products. They can impact the lives of the people who see them in a major way. Brands should make the choice: do they want to harm or help the consumers they serve.

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