Don’t Just Do It

Some people question whether companies can really bring anything unique to solving society’s most difficult problems. An interesting example of how they can make a difference recently came to our attention. This involved Nike, a company that used to be regarded as a pariah by critics of multinationals because of its labour practices in developing countries.

As we note in the book, in our chapter on “The Good Company”, Nike now has 75 full-time employees inspecting factories and working with its suppliers to ensure they meet agreed labour standards. The firm conducts unannounced factory audits in partnership with the Fair Labour Association, a non-profit, and a typical garment factory in Nike’s supply chain can expect around 25 visits a year from inspectors.

Whether Nike’s brand is completely free of its old taint, despite all these efforts, is debatable – which goes to show how companies ignore social issues at their peril, especially when they have a consumer brand. A reputation once lost can be fiendishly hard to restore. But today many consumers certainly regard Nike as a cool brand, including in many developing countries.

Which brings us to the example of how companies can make a difference. A few years ago, government campaigns to fight the spread of HIV/Aids by promoting safer sex were failing badly in South Africa because young men regarded it as uncool and unmanly to use a condom. So the government approached Nike and asked if it could try to leverage its brand to spread the message – Nike apparently being taken far more seriously by the target audience than the government.

The result was a marketing campaign that was a win-win-win for the government, the firm and society. No, the slogan was not, “Don’t Just Do It – Put On a Condom First!”, but “Our Greatest Opponent is One We Cannot See” – and as you can see here, the ads are extremely powerful. They have certainly helped to change behaviour: a good example of effective philanthrocapitalism that would not have been possible in a world without corporate brands.