Laura Petrolino

Six Reasons Corporate Social Responsibility Campaigns Fail

By: Laura Petrolino | May 1, 2017 | 

Six Reasons Corporate Social Responsibilit CampaignsLast week in my post about cognitive bias, I promised I’d dive into the halo effect this week.

Which I had every intention of doing until…..oh look a squirrel!

A couple of really great examples of corporate social responsibility campaigns landed in front of me and I had to abandon my plans.

It essentially divine intervention.

Plus how often do you have a valid reason to write about a dance-off and a bachelor rhino in one blog post?


This is like the time I got to talk about ice cream in the guise of business ethics.

So sit back and be inspired by these innovative corporate social responsibility campaigns.

Guardians of The Galaxy Dance-Off

How can you not love the recently launched corporate social responsibility campaign from Marvel to generate excitement around Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2?

(Although how can you NOT be excited about that…but I digress.)

The #GrootDanceBomb challenge combines user-generated content, influencer relations, corporate social responsibility initiatives, and the power of shared media.

Marvel enlisted YouTube star D-Trix (old person alert: I had no idea who this was until this campaign), to launch a dance challenge around everyone’s favorite Guardians character (baby Groot).

For everyone that joins the challenge, Marvel will plant one tree (up to 250,000 trees).

They also encourage sharing and social interaction for those less dance inclined with donations for likes and shares.

And always one to think through every opportunity to make a sale—not only does the challenge generate excitement over the new movie, but Disney also uses it as a way to promote their Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 toys and new soundtrack.

This Rhino is Looking For Some Good Lovin’

What does a rhino need to do these days to get some action?

Sudan is a super sexy SWMR (single white male rhino) is in need of a mate.

And not just because he has a wedding to go to and doesn’t want to have to explain to his family why he can’t just settle down and find a nice girl.

Sadly, he and two females are the last of their kind.

In an effort to raise funds for in vitro fertility treatments, the great folks at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy partnered with Tinder.

Last Tuesday, Sudan went live on the app, which is used in 190 countries.

When users swipe right on his profile they are redirected to head Ol Pejeta’s donation page.

Reuters reports the page received so many hits it crashed within hours of Sudan’s profile going live.

Winning with True Corporate Social Responsibility

Both brands and causes win when they team together through effective social responsibility campaigns.

It is a super smart tactic in a world where an organization’s commitment to social responsibility affects purchase decision.

While the overall cost is low for often low for the brand (a few trees for Marvel, some development work for Tinder), the ROI is high in-terms of brand trust that drives sales.

Unfortunately often brands want the value of corporate social responsibility campaigns, but fail in one of several areas:

  • They don’t choose causes or campaigns which naturally align with their operations, services, or message.
  • They have conflicts of interest in what they promote vs. what they do (a good example of this is banks who tout “green initiatives” while still investing in projects that contribute to global environmental decline.
  • Organizations place corporate social responsibility campaigns in silos or treat them as “after thoughts” vs. integrated into the company values and vision.
  • Marketing and promotion of corporate social responsibility campaign is the biggest component of it.
  • Measurement on actual value is absent.
  • There is no effort at employee buy-in.

It takes work to turn corporate social responsibility from a buzz word to an actual effective movement.

We must treat corporate social responsibility campaigns like any other campaign.

They must have sound strategy, measurable goals, brand alignment, and—most of all—integrity. 

About Laura Petrolino

Laura Petrolino is the chief client officer at Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She also is a weekly contributor to the award-winning PR blog, Spin Sucks. Join the Spin Sucks   community.

  • paulakiger

    HOW OH HOW did I miss that rhino? What a great idea! // Although this article is not about CSR particularly, it makes points that relate to getting employees engaged, including, “motivates non-marketing employees to adopt a marketing perspective.” (It also, coincidentally, uses the same graphic I wrote oh so long ago when I did a post about the Modern Blogging Masterclass — great taste on the part of this author I’d say!).

    • Well, that’s sort of a point. CSR can’t be siloed, it must be implemented just like any other communications campaign — as an integrated part of operations. And isn’t the Sudan story great? It makes me conservation heart happy to know that many people are donating!

  • Matt McDonald

    As a PR student, we often learn about the importance of CSR. I really liked how you mentioned how important it is for CSR initiatives to align with the company’s mission and goals. I absolutely believe when CSR is practiced correctly, it has a huge return on investment; however, as a PR professional how do you prove that the CSR is actually creating the ROI versus other initiatives the company is taking?

    • Hey Matt! Well, just like with other communications strategies, you need to set and track measurable goals. These should be both internally focused (ROI for company) and externally focused (benefit to social good). So let’s take a look at the Sudan example. Tinder can track traffic driven to their app landing page from all media outreach, as well as downloads. If they’ve tagged those people they can track usage as well. So Tinder could report after the completion of the campaign that they generated:

      XX new accounts
      X percent of which became users (participated in app functions beyond Sudan initiative)
      Which generated XX additional revenue and has the potential to generate XX more revenue if they follow the typical user lifecycle)

      Additionally the story raised XX dollars for the cause.

      Does that help?

  • I think going forward we will be seeing brands engaging in social responsibility much more. The low levels of trust amongst Millennials and Gen Z with big business means that these companies marketing efforts will be more focused on the social impact they have on the world so as to rebuild trust with these future customers. These six points are a great blueprint for what to avoid!