Social Responsibility: Is it about black & white ads and a few cents in charity?


What exactly is social responsibility for a business?

Does an arms manufacturer’s donation to the Peace Corps make bombs safer?

Does a tobacco company’s lung cancer funding make cigarettes healthier?

Does a brewery’s TV spot against drunk-driving reduce alcoholism?

Does an offshore oil company’s documentary on marine life, save it?

As creative writers, designers and communicators, are we in advertising just to earn money, no matter what we end up selling?

Even a prostitute does that.

A numbered few amongst us have drawn a line for what we will sell and what our conscience won’t allow us to.

This post is for each of those numbered few.

You are not alone!

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  1. Raj

     /  June 30, 2006

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  3. Hi Farrukh,

    This is a thought-provoking article (possible even an action-provoking one!).

    I wonder where this line can be drawn: I recently saw several TV commercials from a big French skin care brand, promising incredible results from their products. On closer viewing, one can see “fine print” that states that these claims are based on the perceptions of 15-30 women after in-use tests. On the other hand, an executive from a big FMCG firm once claimed that if they didn’t market their safe but possible non-performing products, consumers would turn to unsafe alternatives.

    There are some categories where one can clearly see that what is being marketed is a “bad” in economic parlance. However, even brands in more mundane categories can and do things that border on the unethical.


  4. So true, Geo. So true.

    Businesses create jobs. Jobs feed our families. I admire entrepreneurs whose ideas generate value for their society.

    In my 9 years of copywriting for businesses, I have written for some of the hottest companies in the world – and none of them were tobacco companies, alcohol manufacturers, gambling joints or ‘massage parlours’. Most were making a genuine positive difference in people’s lives, like you have written.

    But it humours me to see companies selling products injurious to health waxing eloquent about ‘social responsibility’. That’s what inspired me to write the post… the bitter-sweet ironies of life!


  5. geo

     /  February 15, 2006

    I wonder if only a few have drawn this line of ethics and morality, or if most people know the respectable limit. It is possible that those who cross the line are the minority and not the other way around. I am of the belief (perhaps naively) that most people.businesses are basically good doing good things for the world and humanity – but I don’t have the statistics to prove it. You mention tobacco companies, breweries and people who sell their body for money, but how many more businesses and industries are out there that are based on solving problems – not creating them. All i’m suggesting is that we view the issue with correct perspective. Try to improve things – but not get too hung up about it… besides, tobacco smoking, alcoholism and prostitution are human behaviours that I see as symptoms of bigger personal challenge for those who partake in such activities: to put it simply “low self esteem” or “poor self-image”. Now – if we find real solutions to this challenge, this will make it much more possible to reduce or erradicte our addictions to these ancient vices.

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