Killing me Softly

Given what I've written elsewhere about the necessity of Product Social Responsibility, it was interesting to see the apparently diametrically opposite view, espoused here: Fags & Fiction. According to David Davies, VP of Philip Morris: "The product can't be the determinant of whether your company is socially responsible. It is whether your behaviour is responsible which is key." The same presumably applies to porn, guns, alcohol and gambling...among other things. And you know what...on one level he's right. If society dictates that these things have a right to exist, the most it can demand is that they are responsibly produced and sold, and that a framework of social damage limitation exists around them on which we are commonly agreed. However, there is a very real nuance that is being missed here. It is that many CSR issues are migrating to product brands. Corporate brands and product brands cannot be isolated. Philip Morris understand this. Davies himself suggests that the company would like to produce a fair trade tobacco. And in my view they should - despite the public guffaws. The trouble, for Philip Morris, is that its extremely assertive and thorough efforts at CSR have more or less invisible to customers. Its activities have very successfully persuaded government that it merits a continued license to operate. But its customers have historically needed no such persuasion. Now they do. Now the situation is changing. Those customers are suddenly are suddenly exercised about ethical marketing. And the landscape is changing further. Its customers themselves, are beginning to demand evidence of ethical sourcing too. In order to meet this value-demand, the more ethical information Philip Morris can embed at the point of consumption the better. By suggesting Fair Trade, as a 'CSR' activity, the company has unwittingly take the first step towards genuine customer accountability. A path that leads quickly, and desirably, to full supply-chain traceability and product transparency... Only by embracing this can they build genuine trust. My contention, explained at length here, is that human beings decode 4 layers of brands, (however subliminally) when deciding whether to trust corporate brands. We decode the brand promise and assess how it fits our needs. We interpret the brand's implication and assess its relevance. We infer the relationship the brand intends to build, and determine how honestly it acts towards us. We look at the brand's motivation, and ask ourselves how authentically it acts towards others. In short, we look for clarity, consistency and coherence in its reputation management. Philip Morris would like us to believe: Desired Promise - "We tell you the truth about the effects of this product." Desired Implication - "It's your responsibility not ours." Desired Intention - "We want an adult-to-adult relationship. We are here to serve." Desired Motivation - "We aim satisfy a demand for responsible consumption based upon open dialogue, which we believe is a basic human right." As a libertarian, one can only agree. However history is not on its side on this one... Inferred Promise: "We consistently lie and obfuscate the effects of our product." Inferred Implication: "We have a lot to hide and an economical approach to truth." Inferred Intention: "We want you to be dependent upon us. A child to wicked uncle relationship." Inferred Motivation: "We want to make more cash from more product, whatever it takes." In these circumstances, Phillip Morris has only one course of action open to it. Embrace product social responsibility -wholesale. Root and branch reform. It cannot change the fact that its product kills its customers, and probably their friends as well... But it can and must change the way it produces and markets the product, to be more socially and environmentally responsible. The area the company is moving into now is a brave new world. Few have yet ventured there. PSR is a high risk/high gain environment where real organisational alignment is required; not just window dressing. Issues like fair trade, or country of origin labelling, or biodiversity impact, have a life of their own. They are potentially directly attibutable to individual batches, crates, cases, and ultimately packets. With only a short and thin track record of trustworthiness, the onus is on the tobacco manufacturers to prove the behaviours they would have us believe. This will be the next battleground for the tobacco industry, and they are wise begin the process of stakeholder re-education now. They should be applauded for the vision. Others will surely follow. PSR is a great leap forward, but it needs careful long-term planning.


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