When the ‘Good’ stuff turns sour

Im writing this in response to Jamie Clift’s story about Coles’ community strategy in Mumbrella on 12 March.  He raises an interesting question in relation to Coles’ new advertising campaign – do customers really value a supermarket’s community work over cheap groceries?

As someone who has brokered 50 partnerships worth $40m for companies such as Mondelez, Disney, Seek, Vodafone and many more, as well as commissioning 5 research reports on the topic of CSR, Social Good and Cause Related Marketing, I’d like to offer my perspective which is based on direct experience as well as current research statistics.

The simple answer to whether customers care about or value an organisation’s community work is YES.  Its not the primary reason for consumers to choose a product, service or indeed supermarket, but it is an important part of the overall consideration to shop.  Research[1] conducted in December 2017 asked Australians if they have switched brands in the past year because it supported a charity and 25% of millennials said they had.  This is compelling evidence.

I agree with Jamie on one point – both Woolies and Coles advertising has been consistently lack-luster dare I even suggest lame.  Lacking in creativity, focused on price cuts not value, battling each other rather than battling to fend off the Aldi’s of this world with their quirky advertising.  If my choice of supermarket was purely based on the ads, Aldi would win hands down. But to think that consumers choose a supermarket based on its ads is naïve.

So, let’s take a closer look at the new Coles campaign ‘good things are happening’.  My research report Talking the Walk® 2016 reveals that consumers do indeed want to hear what companies are doing in the community.  They want to know because it can and does influence their decision to purchase, shop or drive that little bit further to a supermarket that is doing something that they care about.  They want their purchase to count.  This is the key – getting them to care.  There is so much information out there how do we get customers to care?

Coles have failed in two ways:

  1. They’ve chosen the wrong thing to kick off their ‘good things’ campaign
  2. They’ve communicated the Redkite achievement incorrectly so that it alienates not resonates

They’ve chosen the wrong thing to kick off their ‘good things’ campaign

I suspect the Red Kite advertisement is the first of many ‘good things’ they intend to share, but alas they started with the wrong thing. They should have started with the things much closer to home.

Today’s consumer, and especially millennials and gen Z, will go out of their way to find out how companies are impacting society and the environment.  If Coles and Woolies seriously want to differentiate themselves and give customers what they want they will need to address the way their everyday operations and stores are impacting the world – things such as the over-use of plastics (fruit wrapped in plastic for god’s sake who needs it!), continued use of plastic bags despite promising to ban them, sustainable fishing, ethical dairy & meat sourcing, free range chicken and eggs, energy consumption in-stores, treatment of staff, equal pay, disabled access, CEO salary and bonuses and so on.  They need to address all of these issues and communicate what they are doing, as well as distribute some of their substantial profits to great charities like Redkite who are helping kids with cancer.

They’ve communicated the Redkite achievement incorrectly so that it alienates not resonates

The ad starts with an elderly employee talking about one of the nicest things Coles has done.  Whose idea was it to have her be the spokesperson?  Do we care about her?  No.  Then we get a 2-second nod to what Redkite does, straight off the ‘positioning statement’.  Then they pat themselves on the back to declare that they have given Redkite $27m dollars.  Now that’s impressive but we all know that numbers don’t turn people on.  This is typical ad agency using traditional advertising techniques to promote something (Social Good) that requires a different set of communication artistry.  Social good is about showing a company’s human face, but they’ve kept all the human stuff out of it.  Where are the stories of the kids they’ve helped?  It’s all about them, as usual.  It’s quite sad because $27m is an outstanding achievement by anyone’s standards, and Redkite is an amazing charity, and together they’ve done some great good over the years.  This ad completely fails to resonate with Australians so that we feel proud, whether we shop there or not.  A missed opportunity for both Coles and Redkite.

When communicating CSR and social good there is a new set of rules.  Companies must talk about the human difference they are making, not the money.  They must be humble not boastful.   They must tell stories not use stats.

Companies are wasting millions on dollars on blah communication that simply fails to land. As George Bernard Shaw once said “the biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place”

In 2016 I published a report called Talking the Walk®, summarizing 26 research reports from Australia and the globe on CSR & Social Good and how it should be communicated.  It also featured a new model for communicating CSR & Social Good as well as 10 guidelines. In summary:

  1. Most companies are failing to communicate CSR & Social Good so that it resonates with consumers. They are wasting a lot of time and money as well as the opportunity to differentiate, engage, inspire and motivate
  2. When communication fails it means that CSR & Social good is not taken seriously by executives and is therefore under threat. Its not the strategy that is not working it’s the communication
  3. Corporates are generally not trusted by consumers and CSR & Social Good is the only way to win back that trust
  4. Our brains are wired for altruism as well as storytelling. However, stats switch off the emotive part of the brain so talking about money or stats when communicating CSR fails to trigger emotion and we are not motivated to act
  5. Consumers need to learn about the struggles not just the highs – consistent with the Hero’s Journey storytelling format. Oversanitised & celebratory CSR reports are therefore ignored
  6. Companies must embrace their human-ness – the flaws as well as the fanfare, the struggles as well as the successes and tell their story with honesty and humility

Talking the Walk 2 is due out in April 2018, keep an eye out for it.

Thanks for reading!


[1] Di Marzio Research, Brand Switching, December 2017, 1,300 consumers representative of the Australian population

About Hailey

As Fearless Leader of Cavill + Co, Hailey has advised blue-chip companies and brands on CSR & Social Good for over 20 years. She’s built over 50 cause partnerships for clients including Disney Australia, Vodafone Foundation, Mondelez Australia and SEEK. She also teaches non-profits how to partner with corporates through online training program, BePartnerReady.com®

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