Social Good: Business's Biggest Imperative

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By Kate Howe, gyro, London Managing Director

When it comes to social good, businesses do not have a choice anymore; customers expect this behaviour. Even Karl Lagerfeld was forced to consider the future of the planet at his Chanel SS16 show, where he revealed cork shoes and dresses constructed from wood shavings!

Earlier this year, The Guardian announced at least nine companies that globally generate a billion dollars or more in annual revenue from products or services that have sustainability or social good at their core. These companies include Tesla, Chipotle, Ikea, Unilever, Nike, Toyota, Brazilian beauty company Natura, GE’s Ecomagination, and Whole Foods.

These businesses have been busy creating ideas and programmes that can make a lasting difference for both their shareholders and the consumers.

Take for example, Unilever CEO Paul Polman. Polman has become a true leader for sustainability and creative innovation. It is not just the launch of compressed deodorants with the promise to reduce carbon emission or teaching a billion people in India how to wash their hands effectively through Lifebuoy soap. It is also Polman’s vision to expand the conglomerate’s opportunities to innovate, by seeking collaboration with other inventors and pioneers that has set a market standard for the rest to follow. Its Unilever Foundry initiative, which encourages innovators to pitch new ideas on how it can use technology, is a creative way to foster innovation.

Or consider Uber. For all of its faults, by using social media and mobile technology, it brought efficiencies to the traditional taxi system. Along with the likes of Airbnb, both companies ushered in the era of a sharing-economy society, and therefore a more sustainable form of consumption.

Another interesting example is Pepper, the world’s first robot with the ability to estimate human emotions and produce its own. It wasn’t developed as a vanity product by a tech start-up, but by the Japanese telecoms and internet company SoftBank. The goal was to assist the elderly and keep them company. This is especially relevant in Japan where fertility rates are declining and more than 20% of the population is over the age of 65. Last year when the company announced the sale of 1,000 units of Pepper, they sold out in one minute.

Some of my personal favourites when it comes to social good advertising using innovative technology to enhance people’s lives include:

  • Life Saving Dot: Created by Grey Singapore, this innovative bindi (the traditional red dot Indian women wear on their foreheads) is embedded with iodine to dispense the daily-required amount to the wearer. It was distributed across rural areas in India, where nutritional aid is most needed.
  • TXTBKS: In developed countries, tablets and e-readers have replaced large, heavy textbooks. In the Philippines, however, even the cheapest electronic models cost more than a family's monthly income. Smart telecoms company TXTBKS and DDB created accessible ‘textbooks’ using the only gadget most Filipino families own: an analog mobile phone. These phones were turned into low-tech e-readers for students in four partner schools with around 800 students.
  • The Fiat Safe Key: Developed by Fiat Brazil and Isobar, the Safe Key is a smart accessory that allows you to drive only if you prove that you have not ingested alcohol.
  • Bennison Baby Care Wear: Bennison, a high-end sleepwear brand, and gyro New York created a ‘Baby Care Wear’ package to help keep children warm, clean and safe. The unique packaging is made out of soap paper that dissolves in water. This allows the recipient to clean the pajamas during the first few months of a baby’s life.

Now is the time to believe in our abilities to do good through our innovative creative endeavours.

At gyro, the idea that we have the power to give back to the people that we sell our products to is tremendously appealing. Coupled with the fact that we now have new technologies at our disposal to help us create a virtuous relationship between doing social good and the business bottom-line – it gets even more exciting.

It was this modern cause marketing thinking that was critical in our decision at gyro to appoint our first Head of Sustainability. Businesses that are investing in purpose to drive innovation are busy developing technologies to help both their brands and customers become more sustainable, and we recognise advertising needs to play a bigger part in bringing this idea of sustainability as a core business issue to life. It’s not just a good thing to do anymore, it’s good business.