8 Inspiring Examples of Socially Responsible Marketing

By: Heather Karbi

Studies have suggested that socially responsible marketing - marketing that advertises a brand’s charitable efforts or ethical practices - is increasingly important to consumers. More specifically, millennials care about social responsibility more than the previous generation, which means inevitable change to the marketing industry.

Take a look at these staggering statistics:

  • 92% of millennials are more likely to spend their money on ethical companies
  • 91% would switch brands to support a socially responsible one
  • 81% expect companies to publicly promote corporate social responsibility
  • 61% report that they’re worried about the state of the world, and feel personally responsible to help change it

The increased demand for corporate responsibility has resulted in more advertising centred on social issues. Only 6.4% of Super Bowl ads from 2008-2017 were socially responsible ads, while in 2018, this percentage increased to 25%. It’s no wonder why -- the world is more progressive than ever, and millennials are using social media to discuss and promote social responsibility. Choosing an ethical approach in advertising can grant big rewards, and it could be especially important going forward. With that in mind, let’s get inspired by the following 8 examples of great social responsibility marketing:

  1. The Body Shop

  2. The Body Shop is known for their organic, 100% vegetarian skincare and bath products. They are committed to defeating animal testing, and they promote this mission wherever they can. Not only do they advertise their cruelty-free stance on their social media and website, but they also advertise their global petition -- already boasting over 8 million signatures -- which you can sign at any of their stores. The 700,000 Canadians included in this number make a good case for the passing of Bill S-214, which would end the sale and manufacture of animal tested cosmetics in Canada. As of last week, the bill has reached the House of Commons and is close to becoming law -- in large part due to The Body Shop’s petitioning and protesting on Parliament Hill.

    The company is also passionate about empowering women, sharing how they support the women who collect shea butter, nuts, and other natural ingredients in places like Ghana, Peru, and Nepal for their products. Ingredients for cosmetics are largely obtained by women in struggling communities, who are usually severely mistreated and underpaid. The Body Shop stands against this by ensuring that they trade fairly with all of their suppliers.

    When you visit their website, the first thing that you see is the message, “Celebrate 25 Years of Female Empowerment, discover the benefits of our nourishing community trade shea products.” After that, you’ll see, “Ban animal testing in cosmetics,” proudly declared. As a result of all of their activist efforts, they’ve built an outstanding reputation as an ethically-run cosmetics company among competitors who torture animals, pay unfairly, and use unsustainable ingredients.

  3. A&W

  4. Although a burger chain, A&W turns out to be pretty kind to the environment. One of the largest perpetrators of global warming is the meat industry, and A&W is not afraid to address this concern and combat it with ethical policies. In recent years, they’ve worked on introducing more meat-free alternatives, and acknowledging the inhumane reality of factory farming; they advertise their free-range farming, ban of the use of hormones, and vegetarian-fed chickens. While Canadian dairy farmers are not permitted to use hormones and antibiotics in their products, the use of hormones is still legal for beef cattle. As a result, A&W stands out from other fast food chains like McDonalds and Burger King. The brand’s website advertises their “values,” which include animal welfare, sustainability, and waste reduction. By advertising their more humane practices, they not only make the average consumer feel a little less guilty about eating a fast food burger, but they also don’t exclude those who care about purchasing humane meat, and those who choose to not eat it at all.

    They are also recognized by the National Zero Waste Council for their innovative reduction in plastic waste. They use reusable mugs, ceramic plates, metal baskets, and as of this January, they only use biodegradable paper straws. By a large margin, A&W sets the example for other chains to follow in suit, because environmental issues only become more concerning and talked about as time goes on. A&W’s efforts to improve the meat industry have proven to pay off big, with higher sales being linked to their socially responsible actions. Currently, their social media emphasizes their new Beyond Meat Sausage & Egger, which is the first of its kind in Canadian fast food, being the only vegetarian breakfast sandwich with plant-based protein. Moreover, they post frequently about their waste reduction and their hormone-free beef. A&W’s planet-conscious efforts have become an essential part of their branding and within the Canadian fast food industry, they certainly stand out from most chains.

  5. Ben & Jerry's

  6. Ben & Jerry’s isn’t just known for its ice cream. It’s also known for being a strong advocate for social justice, environmental efforts, and fair trade. Their website boasts, “We make the best possible ice cream and in the best possible way.” It isn’t hard to find the social responsibility intertwined with their online marketing -- they proudly advertise their stance on social issues and frequently pair a new flavour to a new charitable effort or movement. For example, their recent “Pecan Resist” flavour partners with four different organizations that work to improve gender and racial equality, the state of the environment, or refugee/immigrant policies.

    Moreover, they promote their commitment to giving farmers of sugar, cocoa, vanilla, bananas, and other delicious ingredients the fair price they deserve. Their line of vegan ice creams advocate for more dairy-free alternatives, and they also ensure that when they do use dairy, the process is as ethical and humane as possible.

  7. TOMS

  8. Since the founding of the shoe company TOMS, their mission has been to give to those in need. They brand themselves, “The One for One Company,” as every pair of shoes that are purchased from TOMS will provide a pair for a child in need, living without shoes. Since their kickstart in 2006, they’ve donated an incredible 86 million pairs of shoes -- and it doesn’t stop there. In 2011, TOMS began providing “the gift of sight” to people in need, as the shoe company expanded with a new line of eyewear. With every purchase of eyewear, they give glasses, medical treatment, or surgery, to a person living with visual impairment in a developing country. Similarly, with the introduction of their TOMS Roasting Co. Coffee in 2014, they began a clean water initiative which matches one purchase of coffee with one week’s supply of clean water to a person in need.

    While their premise is simple, it’s incredibly effective. The company has built its name on giving back, and social responsibility is not just a part of their marketing platform -- it is the very essence of their brand, and the foundation from which the company was built. Their social media posts are seldom direct promotion for their shoes, but rather, advocacy for social and global issues. Their posts are extra shareable and click-worthy because of their ethical nature, earning them nearly 2 million Twitter followers. If you believe in the causes that they support, you’ll likely be more open to buying their shoes if given the choice between TOMS and a competitor that does not advocate as passionately.

  9. Warby Parker

  10. Similarly to TOMS, Warby Parker consistently gives back through their Buy a Pair, Give a Pair program. They match every purchase of glasses with a donated pair to someone in need, and as of today, they’ve donated 5 million pairs so far. According to their website, 2.5 billion people worldwide are living with impaired vision because they lack access to glasses. To combat this, they not only give out pairs of glasses but also train men and women in administering basic eye exams, so that they may sell glasses at a reasonable price in their community.

    On their website homepage, they advertise the message, “For every pair purchased, a pair is distributed to someone in need,” with a link to their Buy a Pair, Give a Pair page. There, they explain that their mission is to help alleviate the global problem of visual impairment, because living without glasses has a significant impact on quality of life. Glasses can improve a person’s productivity by 35%, and monthly income by 20%. For those who can afford glasses, purchasing from Warby Parker makes this necessary buy a charitable act, and a socially responsible purchase that goes a long way. On social media, the company advertises their program to remind consumers that with their one purchase, they don’t just improve their own sight; they also improve the sight of someone in need.

    They also use social media to promote their continuous support of young, diverse female writers. Warby Parker’s posts often advertise their in-store events, which feature readings and lectures from upcoming poets, alongside posts that feature interviews with young writers and other related content. The brand has established itself as a charitable advocate for good causes, whether that be the gift of sight or a commitment to representation in the arts.

  11. Levi’s

  12. Levi’s jeans are primarily known for their trendiness, celebrity endorsements, and sustainability. The company has built a name for itself in the fight to stop climate change by advertising their water conservation, recycling, and animal welfare efforts on their website and social media. In 2009, Levi’s introduced their “Care Tag For Our Planet,” which instructs customers how they can care for their jeans eco-consciously. This tag accompanies every pair of jeans and reminds the owner that it’s easy to make green choices when caring for their clothing items. Washing less, washing in cold water, line drying, and donating when no longer needed are all conscious actions that go a long way to encourage change. Moreover, Levi’s stores in the US and Canada accept donations of denim (from any brand, not just their own!) for recycling and reuse.

    These sustainable practices include the customer in an eco-conscious mission, which effectively inspires the purchase of their products as well as small acts of kindness to the environment. Other policies they’re proud to share online: Levi’s prohibits fur for decorative purposes, only uses animal materials when humanely collected, and commits themselves to fair labour conditions and wages. When they’re not tweeting about their most recent celebrity endorsements, they centre their social media posts on sustainability, and most primarily, water-conservation efforts.

  13. Pura Vida Bracelets

  14. Pura Vida is a jewellery company that prides itself on its social responsibility. Founded in 2010, they primarily sell bracelets which are handcrafted by artisans in struggling communities worldwide. Over 650 talented people from countries like Costa Rica and India have a steady income job creating bracelets for Pura Vida. But not only does Pura Vida support people in need and pay fairly -- they also have a line of charity bracelets. Mental health awareness, animal conservation, autism, and breast cancer are just a few of the causes represented, and for each corresponding bracelet, 10% of the profits go to a charity for the cause.

    From visiting their website, it’s clear almost immediately that the company gives back. They advertise the story of their founding, which is all about their mission of supporting artisans, and their charity line is emphasized as you browse through the site. On social media, they frequently post about their charity efforts, their current non-profit partners, and their commitment to supporting impoverished artisans.

  15. H&M

  16. In recent years, H&M has introduced more socially responsible marketing to their platform. On their website homepage you can see “sustainably sourced” clothes advertised and a link to their product sustainability page. In recent years, H&M has promoted their line of “Conscious Clothing” -- sustainable fashion that uses only organic and recycled materials to give you affordable yet guilt-free garments. The company also created a program to encourage the recycling of clothes, which is also advertised on their homepage; every H&M store in the US and Canada accepts donated old clothes for the purpose of fashion recycling. Bonus: they even give you a coupon for each bag of clothes you donate! In the US, you’ll get a 15% discount, and in Canada, you’ll get $5 off your next purchase over $30.

    Although H&M has been slammed in the past for unethical labour conditions, the company is working on their image, at least as far as the environment is concerned. Today, 57% of their materials are sustainably sourced, and they hope to reach 100% by 2030. On social media, they advertise their eco-friendly line and market themselves as a leader in sustainable fashion.

The future of socially responsible marketing looks promising. More and more companies are hopping on the wagon of socially responsible advertising, and this preference of charitable, ethical practices only grows as social media users start conversations about social, global issues. Demanding corporate responsibility creates real change in the world, and we all become a little kinder to the environment, animals, manufacturers, and those in need.