In an era where consumer expectations extend beyond product quality or service efficiency, brands are increasingly aligning themselves with social and environmental causes. This is not just a trend but a strategic repositioning of brands in the market. In this article, we will explore the benefits, risks, and best practices of socially and environmentally conscious marketing.

The Rise of Purpose-Driven Branding

The traditional view of branding and rebranding has been revolutionized. Rodríguez-Vilá and Bharadwaj note, “Consumers increasingly expect brands to have not just functional benefits but a social purpose.” This expectation is echoed in the 2017 #BrandsGetReal study, which reveals that 70% of consumers believe it’s important for brands to take a public stand on social and political issues.

Consumer and Investor Consciousness drives Sustainability

Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan, launched in 2010, aimed to improve well-being, cut environmental impact, and advance livelihoods. By 2018, Unilever reported that its Sustainable Living brands grew 69% faster than the rest of the business, demonstrating the economic viability of integrating sustainability into business models.

A significant shift in consumer behaviour is the increasing awareness of the impact of their choices on the environment. The #BrandsGetReal study showed that 66% of consumers who want brands to take a stand on social issues believe brands can create real change. As A.T. Kearney’s 2019 Consumers@250 report demonstrated, almost 50% of consumers of all ages (70% of respondents aged 18–44 and 62% of those 45 or older) see themselves shifting purchases towards “green” products in the coming year.

Adopting Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) practices not only appeals to consumers but also attracts the right investors. A 2016 Oxford University study found that ‘stock price performance is positively influenced by sustainability practices’.

India alone presents a potential for $1 trillion worth of business opportunities and 72 million job opportunities by 2030 related to sustainable development.

The Double-Edged Sword of Social Purpose

However, adopting a social purpose is not without its challenges. Starbucks’s ‘Race Together’ campaign and SunChips’s biodegradable bag initiative, though well-intentioned, were criticized for their lack of authenticity or practicality. The #BrandsGetReal study also highlights a perception problem, with 53% of consumers believing brands only take a stand for public relations or marketing purposes. It also underscores the complexity of navigating politics in branding. While 55% of consumers say they would boycott brands that support issues contrary to their views, 36% say they’ll purchase more from brands they align with. This highlights the importance of brands understanding their audience and aligning their stances with consumer interests.

Lessons from Leading Brands

Best practices highlight how brands can not only embrace social responsibility but also integrate it into the core of their brand identities.

1. Authentic Commitment to Causes

Brands can demonstrate an authentic commitment to their chosen causes. Patagonia‘s environmental activism, The Body Shop‘s fight against animal testing, and Warby Parker‘s vision care initiatives are not temporary marketing campaigns. They are long-term strategies underlined by values deeply ingrained in each company’s narrative.

2. Aligning with Consumer Values

These brands align closely with their consumers’ values. Today’s consumers seek more than just products or services; they desire an emotional connection and a sense of purpose. Brands that reflect their customers’ beliefs and contribute to a better world create a unique bond, transforming customers into passionate advocates.

3. Transparency and Integrity

Transparency and integrity are key. Consumers are savvy and can easily discern between genuine commitment and superficial “wash” campaigns. Brands must profoundly and genuinely stand behind their values to build trust and credibility.

4. Creating a Community of Like-Minded Individuals

By championing social responsibility, these brands attract a community of like-minded individuals. This community is not just a customer base; it’s a group of people who share the brand’s vision and mission, leading to organic growth and unwavering loyalty.

5. Unique Messaging and Campaigns

Each brand’s unique messaging sets them apart. Whether it’s Patagonia’s “Don’t Buy This Jacket” campaign, TOMS’s “Stand for Tomorrow,” Ben & Jerry’s “Pecan Resist,” The Body Shop’s “Forever Against Animal Testing,” or Warby Parker’s “Buy a Pair, Give a Pair,” these campaigns resonate with consumers on a deeper level, going beyond traditional advertising.

6. Impact Beyond Business

These brands show that their impact goes beyond business. Their initiatives in social and environmental causes have real-world impacts, creating positive change and inspiring their customers to participate in these efforts.


Rebranding for a purpose is more than a marketing strategy; it’s a commitment to a greater cause. As Rodríguez-Vilá and Bharadwaj conclude, “competing on social purpose requires managers to create value for all stakeholders—customers, the company, shareholders, and society at large.” In this evolving marketplace, brands that successfully champion social and environmental causes will not only thrive but also lead the way in building a more sustainable and equitable world.