Brands Move From Great To Good

Last week, Starbucks launched another probe onto the corporate responsibility landscape by announcing an initiative to help 100,000 Millennials land jobs. Their “100,000 Opportunities Initiative” (teamed with 17 other companies including Target, Taco Bell and Walgreens) hopes to aid the 5.5 million between ages 16 and 24 who are not working.

Lots of companies today are branded to be good and socially conscious, including TOMS, Warby Parker, The Container Store, Jessica Alba’s The Honest Company and Ethos water, among others, contribute to cause-related efforts around the world. For companies like these, the claim is an integral part of their selling proposition.

It’s not enough for brands just to be Great these days, the evolving challenge (with apologies to Jim Collins) is also how to be Good.

A reflection of this trend is that Los Angeles creative agency 72andSunny has just added its first brand citizenship officer, Jim Moriarty.

“We are proactively calling it brand citizenship,” says Moriarty. “A lot of social responsibility has been inward facing, which is amazing and great, but it’s not what we’re talking about.”

Even though corporate clusters have become more sustainable and active, it’s not enough. As Moriarty points out, there are over 2 million nonprofits in the U.S. “They are run by good people,” nods Moriarty. “But they don’t scale.” Moriarty spent the last decade bringing corporate partners to nonprofits, but at 72andSunny he can continue that role at higher altitude.

“We thought we’d have to promote the idea, but we didn’t need to. This is an aspirational piece that everyone has flocked to.”

This surge goes beyond mere goodwashing.

As you have probably noticed, products are becoming healthier and more good for you, too.

Earlier this month, Mondelez announced its new Oreo cookie. The update is now slimmer than its double-stuffed predecessor, which not that long ago came out as “double stuffed”. PepsiCo has spent the last several years reformulating its existing product line to contain less sugar and buying up healthier food contenders like Sabra, the largest hummus maker in the United States. General Mills, which for years included convenience cooking brands like Pillsbury, Hamburger Helper and Chex Mix has purchased healthier younger-Mom alternatives like Annie’s brand, Food Should Taste Good® and the organic food products company Cascadian Farm.

With organic food growing annually at 10% (versus 3% for total food sales), the billion dollar consumer packaged goods companies could no longer point to nuts and berries eaters as an anomaly. Today, they are a well-populated market.

To quote real-life MadMan Bill Bernbach, “She’s your wife.”

Product companies aren’t the only ones coming to the party. Retailers are also revealing their good side.

A trendwatching.com report notes recent “sympathetic” pricing, including resorts offering steep rebates if a guest’s vacation is rained out. Mass transportation officials in Paris offered free rides one weekend, responding opportunistically to dangerously high air pollution levels. And a British supermarket called Community Shop sells remainder products to families receiving government welfare. Retailers like Marks & Spencer, Tesco, and Tetley provide Community Shop with surplus products that don’t meet the pricier chains’ standards—and ordinarily end up in landfill.

Good stuff.

Other companies have started offering employee incentives (including higher pay) to work on weekends or under stressful conditions. Ikea just announced it will increase British worker’s wages in 2016—to over one dollar more per hour than the mandatory minimum wage. Ikea employees in London will receive even more.

There’s no question that good intentions are in the air, and that “values” are being measured in terms of not just economics, but philosophy.

Traditionally, the patron saints of such ideological change have been companies like Patagonia, Whole Foods, Aveda, Ben & Jerry’s, Stonyfield Farms and others who, within recent corporate memory, have proven that capitalism can have a conscience as well as a bottom line.

More to the point: it’s as important for a company to be responsible, as it is to be profitable.

After Enron, AIG, BP oil spills, and other misguidance, we look for action that goes beyond bee-lining toward corporate talking points, sustainability officers, and greenwashing. These days, companies who are bringing truth and values back to iconoplastic mission statements are not only cheered, they are rewarded with blacker bottom lines.

This is not new. In fact, true social entrepreneurship supported by active values has existed in American enterprise for hundreds of years. Johnson & Johnson was founded on the notion of serving the communities in which the company operated. Henry Ford, although controversial in other ways, increased his workers’ minimum wage from $2 to five dollars a day about 100 years ago, astonishing rivals and paving the way for the American middle class. Some good has always existed on the causeways of American commerce.

As Patagonia chief Yvon Chouinard reminds us, we all have a responsibility to be citizens, consumers and producers. So every time we bring “Good” back to great, we not only serve our fan communities, we become better citizens and create a holistically better (and often more profitable) company.

That’s Good for everyone.