Live from DM Days: Wunderman's David Sable Asks: Are You Saving the World, or Saving the Quarter?
June 11, 2008 — Wunderman Vice Chairman and Chief Operating Officer David M. Sable today discussed what works and what doesn’t in the realm of ethical marketing. His keynote address, entitled “Fashion Statement or Fad du Jour? The Possibilities and Pitfalls of Ethical Marketing,” took place during DM Days New York Conference & Expo at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City, which runs through Thursday, June 12.
Sable began by discussing why corporate social responsibility is important to marketers. “There is nothing more intimate, there is nothing more personal, nothing that conceivably touches our business, more than a cause,” explained Sable. “Think about it. It’s made for the kind of work that we do.”
To illustrate how icons can change over time, Sable used the example of Cuban revolutionary Che Guevera. “Che was a powerful symbol of revolution. . . . You wore that T-shirt, you’d get thrown out of class,” he said. “Now, he’s a revolutionary icon, but he’s a revolutionary popular icon, and he sells — they make bikinis, T-shirts, and all kinds of stuff.”
Sable went on to point out that, since 9/11, there has been a greater interest in causes. According to a study by Cone Inc., before 9/11, 54 percent of respondents said they would be more likely to switch brands to support a cause when price and quality are equal, but post-9/11, that number jumped to 81 percent.
The Key Elements of Social Responsibility
Sable described four pillars of social responsibility that are key to understanding the DNA of a brand.
· The first pillar is energized differentiation, which deals with how the target audience perceives the difference that a company portrays against the competition.
· The second is relevance: “Is the product relevant to the things that are important to me?”
· The third pillar is esteem: “How much do I respect you? How much do I like you?”
· The fourth pillar is knowledge: “How much do I know you?” This, Sable pointed out, is quite distinct from simple brand awareness.
Sable went on to say that, with socially responsible DNA, the esteem of a company, service, or cause is of higher importance than knowledge. “I don’t have to know as much about you because I respect you so much,” he explained.
According to Sable, there are certain important brand attributes of a socially responsible marketer. These include helpfulness, social responsibility, caring for customers, kindness, vision, progressiveness, trustworthiness, and intelligence.
On the other hand, those qualities that are not important include trendiness, stylishness, sensuousness, glamour, fun, charm, and arrogance.
Although corporate social responsibility can benefit companies in the areas of corporate risk, legal compliance, moral responsibility, investor relations, and reputation management, Sable said there is one factor missing. “What you don’t see here is sales,” he noted. In this case, he explained, making sales is actually not the objective.
Cause Related Marketing Equals Customer Relationship Management
Cause related marketing (CRM), Sable explained, is a hybrid of product advertising and corporate relations. Its aim is to link corporate identities with nonprofit organizations and good causes. Simply put, he said, “What we’re talking about is driving loyalty. Hopefully you drive more dollars and more importantly, you drive loyalty, [creating] some kind of emotional connection which you didn’t have before.”
“To be clear,” Sable continued, “cause related marketing is customer relationship management. It’s just another way of looking at it.”
But Sable warned that nobody wants to be managed, particularly when it comes to emotions. “CRM means customers really manage. They know more about your product than any time ever before. . . . We’re in a place where we need to understand that the customers are in charge.”
After sharing examples of best and worst attempts at social corporate responsibility by various companies, Sable derived several lessons learned.
Among the most important of these, he explained, is that credibility is paramount. “Your support for the cause has to be credible,” he said.
The size and scale of the effort is also critical. “You can’t give $650,000 to a cause if you are a national company who sells hundreds of millions of dollars worth of a product.
Also, he said the campaign must be hugely relevant to your brand, who you are, and to your target audience.
In the end, Sable said, companies have to ask themselves whether they are saving the world or promoting the quarter. “To be successful, you have to make that choice,” he said.
When asked whether consumers believe ethical statements, Sable answered, “consumers believe ethical statements if you as a company have it in your DNA.” “That’s why I make the distinction between corporate social responsibility and simply cause-related marketing, which is promotion.”
“The truth is, we can save the world,” Sable concluded. “We can also save our companies. We can really make a difference. But the only way to do it is to understand why and how we do it.”
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