Countries / Territories

Consumer Conscience: Ethical Marketing and Branding


    Consumer Conscience: How Environment and Ethics are Influencing Exports

    8 - 11 October 2008, Montreux, Switzerland

    SESSION SUMMARY: Thursday, 9 October 08                             print icon Printer-friendly version  


    Consumer Conscience: Ethical Marketing and Branding

    Kevin O`Brien, Group Company Secretary, The SPAR Group Ltd, South Africa
    James Porter , Chairman, TBWA/Group/Durban, South Africa
    Ania Jakubowski, Associate Director in Marketing, Procter & Gamble, Switzerland
    Roland Higgins, Policy Advisor, Rainforest Alliance, Belgium 

     Doing good, and being seen to be doing so by consumers, is good for business -- this was the key message that emerged from the session. But participants also concurred that there is a basic difference between consumers in North, who are more open to make purchasing decisions based on ethical or environmental considerations, and those in the South who are more driven by price.

    "Consumers' decisions are driven by their perception of a company's behaviour," said Kevin O'Brien, Group Company Secretary, The Spar Group Ltd, South Africa. "The South African consumer is more driven by quality and price of products as opposed to the need to buy products that have the ethical tag," he added. A rise in ethical consumerism in the country had largely come from large corporates who were expected to be good corporate citizens.

    James Porter, Chairman, TBWA/Group/Durban, South Africa, saw fertile ground for marketers in tapping into the new markets for goods produced without harming the environment, people or animals. Businesses could not dismiss the growth in ethical purchasing as a passing fad. "The risks of attracting negative consumer behaviour are too great, while positive ethical purchase decisions offer real business opportunities and exciting growth."

    But there is a need for education of consumers and producers. "We can achieve anything if we practice honesty and integrity, and if we are ethical in our dealing with Third World producers and First World consumers," he declared.

    At her company, said Ania Jakubowski, Associate Director in Marketing, Procter and Gamble, Switzerland, the driving value is: "The consumer is boss." But ethics could not just be a sub-set of a marketing strategy. "It has to be part of who you are …If morality and ethics are not built into the DNA of a company, then it won't be successful."

    Jakubowski pointed to cooperation with non-business partners among international humanitarian agencies and non-governmental organizations as a way to demonstrate a company's social commitment. Procter and Gamble has worked with UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund, to promote immunization campaigns in developing countries by allotting funds from its sale of baby diapers.

    Questions from the floor suggested that there was a strong feeling that big multinationals like Proctor and Gamble are not closely enough involved in sourcing purchases from small producers in developing countries. "We need to work with countries to find the right suppliers," said Jakubowski. "If you do the right thing, it will be good for your business." But companies had to have good products at the right price. "If you try to design a product to tap into an ethical niche alone, it is not going to work."

    O'Brien, supported by Porter, warned that companies have to take care when they promote their products as ethical. If consumers see they are being misled, the reaction is likely to be serious for the business of the firm if it is seen as cheating.

    Summing up the discussion, moderator Roland Higgins, Policy Advisor, Rainforest Alliance, Belgium, suggested the following messages:


    • Doing good is good for business
    • But the desire to do good must be in a company's DNA
    • Education of consumers is vital, but care has to be taken to avoid trying to inculcate purely Northern concepts of ethics and sustainability
    • Partnership between companies and other organizations is important in tapping into the consumer conscience.