How Corporate Social Responsibility Did A 180°

If you’re confused about Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and how to tackle it, you’re not alone. The landscape has shifted drastically in the past 10 years leaving many marketers hitting the wrong notes. Contentworks Agency works with leading brands to align their communication, branding and messaging. So let’s take a closer look at this topic and how you can nail your CSR strategy.

CSR – A Changing Landscape

What might have worked in 2019 will probably not work today. The reality is, CSR has done a complete 180 requiring a more carefully interwoven, long-term and meaningful strategy that meets the needs of your audience is needed for it to make sense. Remember when brands would run sponsored ads featuring their CEO handing out money to charities, or even bait audiences to get more likes in return for donations. Cringey now isn’t it?

Below is an example of how times have changed with regards to CSR.

In 2019, Sprout Social revealed that 70% of consumers felt it necessary for brands to take a public stance on social and political issues. The followed bold moves by well-known brands such as Nike who, in 2018, made the decision to sponsor NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick – an athlete renowned for protesting racial inequality by kneeling during the national anthem. While those offended publicly burnt their shoes and Nike lost $4 billion in company value, stocks rebounded to a record high within a month.

The same bold move did not pay off for Bud Light in 2023, however. When the brand collaborated with transgender influencer, Dylan Mulvaney, to commemorate Women’s Month, company sales plummeted by 10.5% between April and June, declining to 26% by July. So what went wrong? You can look at the campaign itself. Politicising beer perhaps left a bad taste. And it was fair to point out that the brand’s values didn’t historically align with the topic. But could there be another explanation? According to a recent CNBC study, consumers are simply growing disinterested in brands championing causes. The study revealed that 58% of citizens believed it to be inappropriate for companies to take stances on issues. And while this number drops to 48% for those aged 18-34, it’s still higher than the 43% who find it appropriate. This is also a huge drop from the 70% in 2019 who wanted brands to tackle political and social issues.

While this might be a lot to take in, it’s also worth noting that the world is a different place now than before global lockdowns. People have been weighed down by social causes and political statements, so some kind of fatigue is definitely understandable. Additionally, social media users are increasingly more cynical of a brand’s motives for championing a cause. Are they just doing it for likes? popularity? Does it really mean anything anymore?

Do Consumers Value CSR in 2023/24?

A brand partnering with a good cause is great. But when everyone is doing it, can you really feel elated all day everyday? The answer is no. It’s now the norm. But it doesn’t mean you don’t care. In fact, people do still care strongly about CSR, they’re just not impressed by the elaborate, indulgent marketing.

Here are some stats to keep in mind:

  • Recent surveys, including those conducted by IBM and NRF and the Baker Retailing Center at the University of Pennsylvania, found that between half to two-thirds of consumers said they will pay more for sustainable products.
  • Nearly 60% of Gen Z and Millennial shoppers say they have stopped buying brands that don’t have—or don’t effectively communicate—environmental credentials.
  • Purpose-driven consumers, who choose products and brands based on how well they align to their values, represent the largest segment (44%) of consumers.
  • 61% of consumers want companies to focus on a single long-term issue.

What Do Consumers Want From CSR?

So it’s clear that CSR still matters even if people feel tired by everything going on around them. We still value acts of kindness and we still want corporations to use their wealth for good. But we don’t want humblebragging or insincere PR stunts.  Instead we want genuine efforts that reflect a company’s values, respect its audience and echo its authentic ethos. It’s all about a authentic fit with messaging that resonates as meaningful and sincere.


Transparency and authenticity are huge in today’s marketing world. Promises without actions are meaningless. But companies like PayPal are owning their CSR activity. Their commitment is to reach new-zero GHG emissions by 2040 as well as maintaining 100% renewable energy use in data centres. Their marketing includes very clear details on how this will be achieved.

PayPal is not bragging about their CSR on social media. Nor are they collaborating with a celeb or promoting a one-off partnership with a charity. Instead, they’ve an entire webpage dedicated to environmental sustainability on their website. There’s nothing controversial here. It’s just something PayPal feels strongly about and this shines through into their marketing efforts.


Consistency is a great way to attract consumers and show your commitment to CSR. Lidl has shown their commitment to support disadvantaged children by announcing the return of its Toybank for the festive season. Promoted by a seasonal advert, the brand encourages consumers to donate new and opened toys at various drop-off points around the county. This drive saw an impressive 80,000 toys donated last year. While every brand wants to hog the spotlight during Christmas, Lidl’s CSR marketing is simple, to-the-point and clear, emphasising that small gestures matter. It ties in beautifully with their charitable initiative which is guaranteed to garner attention again for 2024. Their promotional efforts aren’t self-indulgent either. The advert ends with a direct message to ‘donate a toy to Lidl’s Toybank and share the magic.’


Microsoft is rocking corporate responsibility in the technology world. Not by making grand announcements that are bound to irritate those with campaign fatigue. But by making actionable promises to their audience. CSR is now about problem solving, building trust and moving industries forward responsibility. With the advancement of AI, Microsoft have committed to:

  • Advancing cybersecurity and digital safety
  • Develop and use tech responsibility
  • Protect privacy
  • Protect fundamental rights
  • Advance sustainability
  • Expand opportunity

All of these commitments are clearly documented and have been woven into the very heart of the Microsoft business model.

Ingraining CSR into your business model, however, shows that you’re in it for the long-run. And, you won’t look like a mug online, boasting about how great you are at every given opportunity AKA 2019.

Creating a CSR Policy

CSR policies aim to guarantee that companies work ethically, considering human rights as well as the social, economic, and environmental impacts of what they do as a business. They also take in mind all the latest stats and set out guidelines for marketing. Areas to consider include:

  • Weaknesses in your industry. How can you commit to making people relax and gain trust with your brand?
  • Actions that will show you’re committed to change. Can you go paperless? Grand gestures mean nothing if you can’t action them, so keep things small and see them through.
  • Document how you will communicate updates regarding your CSR policies. Hint, sponsored ads probably isn’t it unless you are trying to gain donations or community involvement.
  • Supporting local charities. There’s nothing wrong with charitable connections. But it’s best to set-up a long-term commitment where possible with a charity that matches your values. This will come across as authentic and genuine.
  • Don’t greenwash, humblebrag or do things that make other people question your integrity. Be open, honest and transparent in everything you do and work with very clear morals in mind.
  • Content marketing. How can you communicate your CSR strategy without being self-indulgent or irritating? This comes back to weaving your intentions into your business model and developing your values step-by-step. Microsoft didn’t start off with these big CSR ideas. The brand identified where the industry needed a little more support and decided to make appropriate commitments for stability

Contentworks is Europe’s leading content and communication agency. For strategic consultancy, policies and content direction, book a Zoom with our team.