Stepping In

In a time of institutional failure, a growing number of brands are taking on civic responsibilities.

Our institutions are in a state of crisis. We simply don’t trust them anymore. Just 26% of the UK population trust the government, according to Edelman’s 2017 Trust Barometer. And only 32% of people trust the media to report the news accurately and fully, according to a 2016 report by Gallup.

There is however one pillar in society that still offers at least some potential for responsibility: business. Today’s consumers are calling out for businesses to step, with both feet, into this growing chasm of trust in society, with three in four people believing that businesses must take actions to improve the conditions of the communities in which they operate as well as improve their profits, according to the same Edelman study.

A growing number of civic-minded brands are responding to this situation by adapting their business models to include a more altruistic, community-driven purpose.

They are doing this in a number of ways:

They are making civic-ness more appealing
Civic-mindedness is in general becoming an important value for consumers, with brands choosing to champion civic-ness and civic-minded individuals as part of their campaigns. Nike’s ‘Equality’, launched earlier this year, encourages people to be inspired by the respect demonstrated in sport and translate this off the field in their communities. US lifestyle brand Shinola, which produces products exclusively in Detroit, created a campaign this year called ‘Let’s Roll Up Our Sleeves’ that celebrates hard working individuals in communities.

They are becoming educators
Businesses are investing in educational institutions to re-skill society, and actively ensure their industry has a future generation of workers. Dyson has founded the Dyson Institute of Technology – a university without fees at its head quarters – to help plug the engineering skills gap in the UK.

They are offering a helping hand
In a bid to resolve the growing disparities in wealth – and spending power – in society, brands are developing more inclusive ways to offer their goods and services. A great example is healthy fast food brand Everytable, which prices its food according to the affluence of its restaurant’s neighbourhood.

They are collaborating with governments
Businesses are becoming closely aligned with the public sector in order to provide new kinds of public services. An example is Uber, which is sharing its vast traffic data with urban planners through its new Movements digital tool.

They are drawing attention to important causes
With governments readjusting their emphasis away from long-term issues and identity politics, brands are using their capabilities and influence to protect these societal interests. Ikea for example worked with the Red Cross to build a replica Syrian home to raise awareness for the horror of living in a conflict zone.

They are helping to revive cities

In a bid to protect the diverse social fabric of cities, some civic-minded organisations are using their economic and lobbying powers to support and maintain specific urban communities. Hyundai Card, for instance, has renovated a 100-year old market in the South Korea city of Gwangju, turning the dying shopfronts into a thriving arcade.