Commercial brands don’t exist in a vacuum. Their products and processes affect people and places all over the world. And under the slightest scrutiny, most producers fall short of being model citizens. In order to hide behind a mask of good intentions, many companies divert your attention by changing the conversation. In today’s world, consumers are no longer fooled by vague promises or fancy websites. Brands themselves must embody social responsibility and that embodiment must involve action more so than words or slogans.
In determining just how to make a brand the embodiment of a good citizen, it is helpful to look at a brand that has not just succeeded at being a model citizen but built their entire business around it. Apolis Activism is that brand. Instead of hiding behind layers of marketing, they embrace transparency. Founded by three brothers in Los Angeles, California, Apolis (Greek for “global citizen”) creates clothing and gear with an unwavering commitment to social responsibility. Their philosophy of ’empowering people through opportunity rather than charity’ is woven through the entire supply chain, spelling out exactly who they work with, place of origin, types of materials, and economic effect.
Instead of just having a website that discusses their concern for the world’s poor and some flashy marketing illustrating their commitment to “responsibility,” Apolis actually involves the very people in developing countries whom they are trying to help in the creation of their goods. In Nepal alone, the company employs fifty people through their partnership with the Citta International Co-Op, an NGO. This is brand citizenship at its finest that is only achievable through a sincere commitment to a cause based on a desire to help rather than simply a method for driving sales.
While this type of business model may not be appropriate for all brands, the key lesson that any brand should take from Apolis is that consumers seek out genuine social commitment in brands. With marketing firms across the world looking to leverage social responsibility for profit, consumers are both more skeptical and more sophisticated than ever when it comes to determining which brands actually care. Keeping that in mind, in order to be taken seriously as a good citizen by consumers, organizations need to pick something they truly care about and get involved. Whether it is helping people in Nepal gain employment or simply helping the homeless in your local area, as long as a brand can be authentic in its efforts, consumers will notice. In turn, they will develop a loyalty to your product that no amount of empty social responsibility rhetoric could ever hope to match.
Craig Johnson is the chief strategist and co-founder of Matchstic, a premier brand identity house. His Atlanta branding agency helps organizations create passionate brands that are memorable, relevant, and lasting. Specializing in brand development through brand strategy, positioning, business & product naming and brand identity services, Matchstic’s brand architects forge positive change and accomplish business objectives through creative thinking and smart design.