The Ethical Gap: Getting Caught in between the Corporate and the Brand

November 22, 2007

Key Excerpt: The ever increasing gap between corporate ethics and brand practice is increasingly involving societies in moral, cultural and economic crunch. With no distinct corporate reputation, raising advertising budgets, promoting blind consumerism, fabricating profit-centered values are all only to cover the family feud between the brand and the corporate.

Looking around one observes a large variety of brand identities. Where they are important in providing the commercial differentiation in competition they have another obligation to fulfill; uphold family values! Of this I speak from both the organizational and social perspectives. Any brand in any of the commercial messages where penetrates consumer for differentiation and preference also injects a set of its ethics into the psyche. This translates into liking of a brand to respecting its company. We can relate this with the personal liking for a tobacco brand like Marlboro but not having the moral attributes for a public defense. Or relate to PEPSI commercials that represent our cricket stars like Shoaib as party animals and women pleasers. This negative perception directly travels to the corporate reputation. Relate the standard query, “which company’s brand is this?!” with this scenario. Here starts the feud!

This ethical gap is increasingly becoming the focus of most of the corporate reputation debates. Is it a product brand that determines the corporate reputation or is it the other way round? In the state it is right now, most of the corporations in Pakistan including popular MNCs and big national companies have no unique and even stable corporate identity in actual practice. The blind profit-run has where damaged the company reputation even greater are the marks on our social fabric. The induced “foreign look and feel” has only left our society in a self-identity crisis. Such strength and influence has the corporate ethics practices on social economies. The effect of these amplified in societies in the USA and the Indians. “Search for roots” is the social grievance in the former and “Whom do I belong to” is the manifestation in the later. We are still undecided even what to think of?

A lot of public relations representatives that I meet suffer in this “gap crunch”. With top management only accessible at crisis moments and routinely subjected to brand marketing’s “lavish ignorance to corporate ethics”; these PR custodians are only left with minimizing damages and avoiding media calls. The brand profits blind-folded management has increasingly become easy with the approach of “need based priorities” where the top priority is the ridiculously high profit margins. This holds especially true for the Tobacco, Telecom, Satellite Broadcast, Mobile phones and Carbonated Drinks industries in Pakistan. Most of the brands in these categories have jumped on the band wagon to catch the younger market with perceptions of phenomenal sex, success and spotlight.

Even the line adopted by these industry competitors are without class and creativity. Telecom service providers have a very run of the mill girl-boy friendship story line (Telenor), Tobacco tries to cough life into a manly image (Marlboro), Satellite entertainment channels pose to lead liberty of mindless expression (AAG), mobile handset companies flash phone against the naked skin of the fairer sex (LG KG series phones) and carbonated drinks pop the bubbles on some failed celebrity’s unpopular life (PEPSI with Shoaib)World's Most Ethical Companies 2007

An interesting list of “World’s Most Ethical Companies 2007” is shared here. This research is done by ETHISPHERE Magazine that isWorld's Most Ethical Companies 2007 an influential publication of the CR and brand ethics field. The list indicates companies in respective industrial categories placed in order of their rank top-bottom. The country of origin for each company is also indicated with each.

The list reveals that many of the international MNCs operating in Pakistan especially in Food and Beverage (Nestle, Cadbury, Coke) , Consumer Electronics (LG), Computers (Intel), Oil & Gas (Caltex, British Petroleum) and Software (Microsoft) industries have not even made to the final ranking list. Does this reflect on our soft and designed for tax collection policies, our industry’s weak moral values or us consumers own moral standards. This remains to be seen.

Concluding I would say that it is high time for corporations to decide on their reputation focus inline with their business deliverables. A core system of corporate ethics and brand practice integration has to be incorporated as part of the management group that lays down the interpretations of the ethical standards into brand practices. This integral component right now does not exist either in a matrix or dedicated format. Societies on the other hand have to decide if they are going to derive the brands or be remote controlled into a fantasy land that has no practical meaning whatsoever!