Owning Your Brand's Social Responsibility

Anna Otieno, Head of Strategy & Insights

How do brands own their social responsibility? What is social responsibility in 2021? Also known as corporate social responsibility (CSR) and corporate citizenship, it is conducting business in ways that positively contribute to society; actions and initiatives that better the brand, business and consumer.

At a time when public health, the environment, social and racial unrest, and financial uncertainty are at the forefront of people’s minds, CSR is morphing into a new and improved definition that prioritizes actions over statements. While the definition is growing, ethical commerce is expanding as well to promote accountability, diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), fair trade, fair labor, sustainability, and more.

How are successful brands owning their CSR?

At New Engen, we use market research and industry insights to help our clients understand their customers and ad creative to communicate their stance on social responsibility. A few steps brands should take to begin owning their CSR include:

  • Identify the interests, needs and concerns of target audiences. This means asking the tough questions of your brand and consumers and outlining your brand’s role in addressing those issues. According to Morning Consult, younger Americans (18-29) are more likely than other adults to prioritize ethical matters when considering which brands to trust. This group of older Gen Zs and younger Millennials are interested in how brands are showing up for the issues and events that are important to them.
  • Initiate creative campaigns, partnerships and engagements that turn words into action, then show the work by communicating the results and intended next steps. Also consider small scale social media partnerships (i.e. micro-influencers) to reach niche audiences, collaborate with experts and cover critical causes. Less than 2 months before the 2020 election, American clothing company and environmental advocate Patagonia, printed its unofficial political tagline right on their product tags - the Regenerative Organic Stand-Up Shorts to be specific. The brand’s CEO Yvon Chouinard has been using the phrase “Vote the Assholes Out” for years to refer to “politicians from any party who deny or disregard the climate crisis and ignore science.” The quiet campaign quickly gained buzz in favor and against; but more importantly it made clear the brand’s position on the climate crisis and encouraged people to learn more and make a plan to vote via Patagonia’s partnership with BallotReady.
Patagonia Vote the Assholes Out
Photo: Patagonia
  • Impact audiences by following through on the previous steps. In June 2020, modern women’s wellness brand, Cora, took a step back to identify the company’s gaps in diversity and initiate change. In October 2020, Cora reached out to its customer base with impactful updates which included adding more BIPOC voices to editorial, partnering with organizations that support underserved communities, and creating a “Race & Intersectionality” vertical within their business.
Cora Ethical Commerce

Authenticity is key.

This approach of Identify, Initiate and Impact outlines how successful brands own their social responsibility; however, success leans on authenticity. If done the wrong way, brands can and will be called out for inauthenticity and capitalizing on the current environment for their own gain. So talk to your customers and construct an experience that is transparent, real and true to the brand.


Questions about how to own your corporate social responsibility? We’re here to help. Reach out to your New Engen account director or contact us to go deeper on your business.