The new do-good lexicon

Is it time to ditch "cause marketing" from your vocabulary?

Is the term “corporate social responsibility” on the outs?

Folks in the CSR space are divided on whether or not the term is obsolete, however, a couple of new nomenclatures have emerged for your consideration.

Julia Howell, partner, cause and stakeholder engagement, Corktown Seed Company, a Toronto-based cause marketing agency, says the term corporate social responsibility was first used for risk management, largely by companies in the resource extraction space (mining, forestry) to pave the way for smooth dealings with the locals of their prospective land disruption sites.

It was a tangential practice in companies, Howell says, and was more associated with stemming bad PR or mitigating potential obstacles from community organizations that may be upset with a company opening a mine or clear-cutting a forest.

Over the years, the act itself evolved into sponsorship and sustainability practices, used by marketers to help build the brands.

As a result, Howell says, the idea of “CSR” isn’t quite what it used to be, and the word needs to change.

Critics have also taken CSR – especially in the marketing sense – to task for being used as a tactic to distract customers from issues derived from businesses’ core offerings.

Others have suggested the term “cause marketing” may be on the outs because it suggests businesses are only in it for themselves, marketing a cause to generate revenue and lacking authenticity, rather than look for ways to match the values of the community.

Howell suggests the term “purpose” marketing instead, because it is a more consumer-friendly, plain-language word people understand. Brands are aligning their purpose with a greater societal one, and finding new touchpoints with which to engage consumers.

“Shared values” is another buzzword floating around do-gooders’ lexicon. Mark Kramer, founder of U.S.-based non-profit consulting firm FSG, has previously suggested that whereas CSR is a “cost centre, not a profit centre,” “shared values” is a means of creating “new business opportunities that create new markets, improve profitability and strengthen competitive position.” “Shared values” proponents say businesses must recognize that the health of a community and the health of a business are mutually dependant. Businesses wishing “to do good” will find and capitalize on the idea that there is a connection between societal and economic progress. “CSR,” Kramer said, “is about responsibility; CSV is about creating value.”