‘Brands - take social responsibility seriously or risk government getting involved’ says Lord Moynihan

Lord Colin Moynihan, a Conservative peer and former sports minister, has warned brands that the social responsibility of private businesses is creeping up on the agenda of politicians, and if they fail to take steps to recognise and act on its importance then legislation will see that they have to.

Speaking at an Oystercatchers Club event yesterday (15 July), Lord Moynihan said the government is becoming “increasingly intrusive” in this area: “From whatever party there will be a continued growth of interest in this subject.”

He added that it was vital for brand marketers in the room to engage with politicians as well as to ensure the balance is right between politicians micromanaging legislation and the voluntary incumbency on companies.

“It’s going to be a delicate one to balance but it’s going to become an increasing issue and will only be resolved between industry and politicians. Otherwise politicians will take the opportunity to be more intrusively involved in legislation,” he said.

There remains an ongoing challenge, however, for companies to avoid looking like they have “put lipstick on the pig”, as British Council chairman Sir Vernon Ellis put it. Rather than it becoming ingrained across the whole business some see it, at best, as something confined to the CSR department and at worst a PR tactic to divert attention away from compromising parts of the business.

Chairman of ad agency DLKW Lowe Tom Knox has made it his mission as newly instated IPA president to set out advertising as a "force for social good". While the likes of Unilever and M&S are held up as shining examples of companies successfully balancing social responsibility and commerciality, Knox said the biggest hurdle for most brands is “putting their heads above the parapet”.

“Using brand language about halving the impact on the environment or being more sustainable risks being caught out and consumers are quick to criticise when you get it wrong,” he said. “The CSR people and PR people have been far too cautious.”

The second biggest issue is changing perceptions among consumers that activity in this area is not self-interested.

“The problem is, people don’t believe it of advertisers. They think we’re self-interested bastards,” he said.

Finally, the panel agreed that company reporting models remain an issue and chief executives' focus on quarterly targets versus the long term outlook.

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