May 17, 2024
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Op/ed: Corporate America seems to be developing a social conscience


By Lisa Spiwak

Lately I have noticed that companies seem to be concerned with more than just the bottom line.

This phenomenon has been dubbed “corporate social responsibility,” or CSR. CSR can encompass a variety of tactics, including giving a portion of a company’s proceeds to needy organizations or providing a product or service to a worthy recipient for each sale made. Regardless of what the good deed is, this is definitely not the way corporate America used to operate.

In the past, it was not uncommon to see our local businesses get involved in a charitable endeavor around the holidays, such as a toy drive for underprivileged children. These days, corporate good deeds are big business. Perhaps the biggest driver for this phenomenon is technology and social media, which have brought global connectivity that has increased discussion surrounding social problems that were once obscured from most of us.

This is a big change. Not too long ago, we saw tobacco companies spend millions of dollars trying to figure out how to get young people to start smoking early. We watched fast food chains spent equal sums making sure Americans ate tons of fast food regardless of the health risks.

Now when I shop at Macy’s, I am offered a discount on my purchases if I agree to donate money to their cancer charity. Similarly, when I go into M. Fredric’s clothing store, they ask me to donate a dollar to breast cancer research as they are ringing up my purchases.

Every weekend, Target seems to work with youth organizations to raise money for their various activities in our area. All of the supermarkets have a “penny jar” at the checkout stand where they encourage you to drop your change to help fight muscular dystrophy. These types of donation requests can be found everywhere.

Interestingly enough, these socially conscious companies also use their CSR strategy to recruit today’s top talent in the workforce. Today’s employees are seeking employers focused not only on revenue, but also on the planet and society.

The CSR phenomenon was evident during the Super Bowl this year. The event attracts as huge an audience for commercials as it does for the actual football game. The corporations that buy air time during the big game are paying incredible amounts of money to do so and are very serious about competing for your business. This year, however, the advertisements astounded me.

In one ad, Nationwide Insurance presented a little boy talking about all the things he will miss in life because he died in a childhood accident that could have been prevented. Nationwide stated that the No. 1 cause of childhood deaths is preventable accidents and they “believe in protecting what matters most — your kids.” They were selling the idea that they really care about the safety of your children. This is very different than selling insurance.

Dodge usually tries to sell their cars by strategically placing a “hot babe” or a “muscle dude” next to them. They wanted you to believe that if you drove a Dodge, you would be beautiful and cool, just like the person in their advertisement. Not this year.

This year, the company used actors that were all at least 100 years old, and its pitch was that it is always important to respect elders and listen to the wisdom they have gained throughout life.

Toyota chose to sell Camrys by celebrating “being a dad.” The auto maker showed various highly emotional scenes between a loving father and his daughter and all of the things that being a dad represents. The message is that if you really love your child and want to be a great “dad,” you will drive a Toyota Camry.

Who is kidding who? At the end of the day, corporate America is still in the business of making money. However, if companies instill good values and help society in that process, it will add a lot of value.

• Lisa Spiwak is a partner in the firm Spiwak & Iezza in Thousand Oaks. Reach her at