Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Marketing

Companies today have an increased focus on corporate social responsibility (CSR) as part of their business practices.  Profit at any cost is giving way to more socially responsible profit. The result is activity aimed at improving our society through corporate initiatives, self-regulation and giving.  Many companies are focusing marketing efforts to bring awareness to their CSR activities.

CSR is a good way for companies to remain ethical and also a vehicle to give back, improve business practices, reduce governmental interference and focus on sustainability. Before we go any further, let’s explore what CSR is by definition.

According to Wikipedia, CSR is:

Corporate social responsibility (CSR, also called corporate conscience, corporate citizenship or responsible business) is a form of corporate self-regulation integrated into a business model. CSR policy functions as a self-regulatory mechanism whereby a business monitors and ensures its active compliance with the spirit of the law, ethical standards and national or international norms. With some models, a firm’s implementation of CSR goes beyond compliance and statutory requirements, which engages in “actions that appear to further some social good, beyond the interests of the firm and that which is required by law.”

Are companies conducting benevolent activity under the radar?  In some cases, yes.  In many cases, a company is capitalizing on CSR through marketing efforts.  Let’s take a look at a few examples to see how a company can give back and potentially increase sales.

SoCal Honda Dealers

The Southern California Honda Dealers put a spin on advertising during the Super bowl by electing not to run a commercial during the game but play off those that did.  The marketers for SoCal Honda designed a game where each time a commercial used a cliché, they would donate a fixed amount to the Boys and Girls Club of America.  In addition, they encouraged their viewers to visit their website to drive the company to donate more.  Through this marketing effort, the SoCal Honda Dealers resonated with viewers by making a game out of super bowl commercials with the prize of helping a nonprofit which focuses on children.   This approach was fun, it benefited children and it fit with their macro marketing vision of being the helpful Honda dealers with their “random acts of helpfulness” campaign.  The commercial may be viewed here:


Walmart aligned with Feeding America Member Food Banks to conduct a CSR initiative of donating food to hungry families.  The company tied this initiative into their marketing efforts in two ways.  First, though an awareness commercial. Secondly, Walmart will donate based on their shopper’s purchases.  Certain items within Walmart are qualifiers for the organization to donate to the food banks.  Through this program, Walmart is able to give back to families by addressing the hunger issues within the United States.  Additionally, it ideally will bolster sales on items of its choice by earmarking those products that qualify for the donation program. Through marketing efforts, Walmart positions itself as a responsible and caring organization while bringing awareness to the hunger issue in the US.  It also may likely see an uptick in sales on the products that it has chosen as the items that trigger a donation.  The commercial may be seen here:


Sometimes CSR initiatives come solely in the form of bringing awareness to social issues.  As we noted in the Pepsi commercial, a CSR marketing effort can backfire on a company.  Pepsi, with an aim to shine the light on unity, released a commercial on the anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This commercial was immediately met with opposition. Some pointed to the celebrity lacking relevance in this topic. Others had issue with the fact that a Pepsi was used to fix the issues with police and citizens. This angered viewers in light of the issues that the United States has faced with police and citizens in recent times. Still others were upset that Pepsi chose to release the commercial on the death anniversary of Dr. King, who was such a prominent figure in our country’s history. While Pepsi may have truly set out to champion unity, the execution backfired on the company.   The commercial may be viewed here:

On a macro level, organizations having an increased focus on improving social issues is a good thing.  It brings increased social awareness and solutions to areas of need by partners that are generally well funded.  While giving in secret is is the truest sense of philanthropy, I understand that large corporations have to answer to shareholders. Therefore, if a company can help improve society while bolstering brand awareness and sales, it can be positioned as a win-win. However, if companies are going to tie their marketing efforts into CSR, they better take the necessary steps for appropriate execution.


Author: Rob Comeau is the CEO of Business Resource Center, Inc., a management consulting firm that works with industry and the investment community.  For more information on BRC, visit their website at