Companies use Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policies, where they publicly make an effort to behave ethically or give back to some cause, not only to improve the ethics of their operations but also as a marketing ploy. A related phenomenon, Cause-Related Marketing (CRM), capitalizes on consumers’ desires to feel like they are supporting an ethical business with ethical practices.
Marketing and strategy experts have written papers about how CSR and CRM campaigns work best when the campaign aligns with the corporation’s history and existing strategy, and cannot work if there is conflict (Porter and Kramer, 2006). For example, McDonald’s has been criticized for publicizing its support for children’s charities while also promoting unhealthy eating habits among children, and a tobacco company would not be able to believably promote a group that aims to prevent smoking amongst minors. Other campaigns fail simply because they are too broad in scope or jostling with other companies to be the one company that consumers understand are working in that problem space. But some companies are able to pull it off by selecting a specific area related to their brand: ConAgra Foods decided to promote its food brands by starting a campaign called Feeding Children Better, and Avon promoted breast cancer awareness as a woman-focused cosmetics company (Cone, Feldman, and DaSilva, 2003). Environmental sustainability practices have been called out as a particularly good way for companies to incorporate CSR because they are usually able to see financial savings as well as build consumer goodwill (Porter and Kramer, 2006).
The chocolate industry has been leading the field in terms of corporate social responsibility and cause marketing for generations. Chocolate companies such as Cadbury and Hershey have fostered reputations for caring work environments from the start, and Mars has been an early leader in operational effectiveness. With their multi-million dollar marketing budgets, each firm is definitely investing in doing CSR and CRM right, and their current CSR and CRM emphases can be traced back to their namesake founders’ values and priorities. Each firm has had its own unique journey from founding to current marketing strategy, and each strategy highlights the unique properties of that company.
Cadbury, now owned by Kraft, is extremely explicit that the latest Cadbury marketing campaign is designed explicitly to remind consumers about Cadbury’s history as a Quaker company with Quaker morals (Roderick, 2018). However, the path back to its Quaker roots after its acquisition by Kraft has been circuitous.
“Our founder John Cadbury was a philanthropist, and there are so many examples of acts of kindness that he did. The best example is the creation of Bournville, where he provided homes for factory workers, there was a doctor’s surgery and cricket and football pitches. That was a real example of his generosity, and we want our new global brand platform to shine a light on our roots, but also shine a light on acts of kindness existing today.”Benazir Barlet-Batada, Cadbury brand equity lead
When Cadbury was initially founded during the height of the Industrial Revolution, factories were considered awful places; Cadbury built Bournville to be a “garden city” where workers could live happy lives as well as work productively in the chocolate factory. This was a moral imperative for Cadbury as a Quaker, and although critics pointed out that Cadbury’s paternalistic policies were not exactly perfect and rent in Bournville was too expensive for many Cadbury employees, the British government lauded Cadbury’s “model village” as an exemplar for other companies to follow (Satre, 2005). This glowing reputation survived the Sao Tome slavery scandal, and the public stance that the company took about caring about its sourcing may have inspired it to make Dairy Milk the first Fairtrade certified mass-produced chocolate bar generations later (Freedman, 2009).
Cadbury used its ethical reputation as an argument when fighting a hostile takeover bid from Kraft (Freedman, 2009). The hostile takeover succeeded in 2010, much to the chagrin of many Brits who were proud of Cadbury and the ideals it stood for and were worried that the acquisition would cause it to prioritize profits over social good. Kraft’s acquisition of Cadbury became an example of greedy American-style capitalism crushing the wholesome British chocolate company, with one reporter subtitling her article “How one of Britain’s best-loved brands went from a force for social good to the worst example of brutal corporate capitalism” (Fearn, 2016).
Their fears have been warranted: Kraft almost immediately broke (admittedly unrealistic from a business standpoint) promises to keep production in the UK, outsourcing production to Poland, as well as announcing that they would move away from Fairtrade and towards their own, in-house label called Cocoa Life (Martin, 2017). While Fairtrade UK published a defense of Cadbury, stating that “Fairtrade is going to be working even more closely with Cadbury from now on” to help them develop Cocoa Life standards, some critics are concerned that the lack of transparency if all companies begin constructing in-house policies will damage efforts for international fair trade standards (Crowther, 2016; Ionova, 2017).
Some marketing analysts imply that marketing campaigns after the takeover also lost touch with the British consumer base, and Cadbury cut short its planned 10-year campaign centered around Joy in the product (which began in 2012) to transition to the current one centered around Kindness (Roderick, 2018). Despite now being owned by a multinational giant, Cadbury hopes to remind people about its roots as an ethical company. Whether this new marketing campaign is effective at removing the shadow cast by Kraft’s ownership still remains to be seen, but you can watch one of their first ads of the campaign below:
To look beyond marketing campaigns at Cadbury’s stated Corporate Social Responsibility goals, we can look at Cadbury’s site, cadbury.co.uk, which has a section titled “Our Community” which lists their CSR projects: the Cadbury Foundation (donations to a diverse portfolio of initiatives), Cocoa Life (their Fairtrade replacement), and 30% less sugar (“helping chocolate-lovers manage their sugar intake better”). I would argue that the last example isn’t a great example of Corporate Social Responsibility, since it is more of a marketing point and not paired with any initiatives to proactively encourage healthier chocolate consumption, such as nutrition education. However, Cadbury does make it clear that its priority is communities like Bournville, emphasizing projects that its employees are passionate about, pointing back to the founders and their “investment in the welfare of their employees”, and writing about Cocoa Life’s impact on “cocoa communities”.
Cadbury interprets John Cadbury’s mission as one of community-building and philanthropy, and due to issues of brand perception after the Kraft takeover it is focusing its entire current marketing strategy on emphasizing that to consumers.
Like John Cadbury, Milton Hershey held strong moral views. As Michael D’Antonio describes in his 2006 book Hershey, he was very personally involved in every aspect of the development of his factory town down to the details of house construction. His policies of treating his workers fairly and with respect earned him great loyalty, and although it was tempered with the times when he overreacted, firing people for trivial offenses, the external world saw him as a kindly, paternalistic industrialist (D’Antonio, 2006). From the start, the Hershey Company focused on ethics as a marketing strategy.
People who purchased Hershey Chocolate weren’t buying a treat, they were contributing to a grand experiment that was going to prove that big business, often feared and resented, could do remarkable good
.Michael d’antonio, author of hershey
Hershey has consistently maintained that image through the generations. However, it is difficult to maintain a Corporate Social Responsibility campaign on a general broad ideal, especially when the focal point of the ideals is one mortal man. Therefore, since Milton S. Hershey cannot live forever, and some of the factory town utopia ideals did not age extremely well, the Hershey Company had to narrow down its Corporate Social Responsibility focus.
The Hershey Company decided to focus on children as its unique differentiator to help its cause marketing initiatives stand up. Although Hershey’s work establishing his factory town was ground-breaking in the US, Cadbury had done the same work in the UK, and others had done similar work with less publicity around the world. But Milton and his wife Catherine’s pet philanthropic project, the Milton Hershey School, is unique to Hershey’s, and Hershey marketers seized on the theme of helping children.
Hershey’s website lists its CSR initiatives under a tab called “Shared Goodness“, which also lauds its history as “one of America’s first companies built with a purpose”. In addition to sponsoring the school, Hershey’s other CSR initiatives include “Shared Futures: The Heartwarming Project” for encouraging teens and their communities to make meaningful connections in the US and “Shared Business: Cocoa for Good” to work with the UN to improve conditions for children in cocoa-producing regions in addition to general policies for ethical operations. In the case of Cocoa for Good in particular, Hershey’s understands that the problem of improving conditions in cocoa-producing regions is a complex problem, so it doesn’t claim to solve any of the issues outright. Instead, it explains how its initiatives align with UN Sustainable Development Goals (The Hershey Company, 2018)
On its website, the Milton Hershey School proudly proclaims that it has been “providing life-changing opportunities for 110 years and counting”. In its Cocoa for Good press release, Hershey’s relates its goal to “nourish one million minds by 2020” back to the Hershey School, pointing out that both share the overall goal of “giving children the chance at a better future” (The Hershey Company, 2018).
Hershey has always been consistent with its value propositions and execution of CSR initiatives. Hershey’s proudly publishes an annual Corporate Social Responsibility report, signaling the importance that it places on those initiatives by elevating CSR to the same level of importance as annual financial reports. It also produces videos, one of which you can watch below:
Because it has been more consistent than Kraft-owned Cadbury in recent years, Hershey’s has room to explore with its marketing strategy, and its most recent ad campaign “heartwarming the world” is not as explicitly connected to Hershey’s progressive ideals (Wohl, 2018). However, it does share the basic theme of generosity and spreading the pleasure of Hershey’s, just as the company wants consumers to remember Hershey would have wanted.
Ever since the initial glowing reviews of Milton Hershey in the press, Hershey’s has been able to successfully position itself as an ethical chocolate producer that gives back. Regardless of whether the reputation is deserved, it has certainly been earned by 125 years of consistent marketing.
Like Hershey, Forrest Mars was very personally involved in the development of his business. Unlike Hershey and Cadbury, he did not have any pretensions of philanthropy. Instead, Forrest Mars made it very clear that he was in the chocolate business for the challenge of succeeding in the market. He was an early pioneer of Total Quality Management techniques, enforcing in the 1930s policies that it would take other American manufacturers until the 1980s to even begin to recognize the importance of. He could be compared to Steve Jobs in terms of personality, standards, and treatment of his employees, but his area of expertise makes him more of a Tim Cook. He built an emphasis on operations and quality into the backbone of his company (Brenner, 1999).
Forrest ran his businesses strictly by the numbers, but not in an accounting sense.Joel Glenn Brenner, author of Emperors of chocolate
The concept that excellence in operations can be a corporate strategy in and of itself is a relatively new one, but it is a philosophy that Forrest Mars clearly supported. It requires an emphasis on quality and efficiency throughout the organization to ensure that the company can produce a better quality product faster and cheaper than any of their competitors. In order to succeed at this strategy, the reputation of the product should be able to stand for itself, and it should be relatively affordable, especially for such a high-quality product. Such an organization aligns extremely well with sustainability initiatives.
Sustainability initiatives have the dual benefit of being good ethically, and therefore building goodwill among potential consumers, as well as being good for the company’s profits as they are able to produce more efficiently when they produce less waste or use less raw material (Porter and Kramer, 2006). Forrest Mars’s hatred for waste and encouragement of rework very naturally evolves into a CSR initiative for sustainability.
Mars very recently rebranded to bring the focus away from candy, hinting that it would like to explore possibilities of conquering new markets, exactly as Forrest Mars would have wanted (Dworski, 2019). In fact, it is extremely difficult to tell from its website exactly what it is that the company sells. However, it is clear that sustainability is a major priority.
Mars has a very broad definition of “sustainability”, counting pretty much anything that could have a positive impact on the future, from analyzing its supply chain to find room for improvement to assisting veterinarians with student loan debts. While supply chain analysis makes perfect sense given Forrest Mars’s penchant for operations research, some of the more philanthropic examples might seem like a bit too much of a financial drain with no payoff for such a pragmatic company. However, investing in meeting high quality standards can also seem like a financial drain initially. Eventually, though, the investment pays out dividends, and it seems clear that Mars is continuing to follow that strategy.
Cadbury’s work with Fairtrade and its current owner Kraft’s return to the philosophy of kindness, Hershey’s work with children, and Mars’s work on sustainability are easily derived from their founding goals and priorities.
- Porter, Michael E. and Kramer, Mark R. “The Link between Competitive Advantage and Corporate Social Responsibility”. Harvard Business Review, December 2006, pp. 78-93.
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- Roderick, Leonie. “Cadbury ditches joy positioning after six years to go ‘back to brand roots’”. Marketing Week, 12 January 2018. https://www.marketingweek.com/2018/01/12/cadbury-ditches-joy-positioning/
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- Ionova, Ana. “Chocolate giants are moving away from Fairtrade labelling”. Independent, 4 September 2017. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/chocolate-fairtrade-labels-mondelez-cadbury-toblerone-unilever-tea-liptons-pg-tips-a7928421.html
- D’Antonio, Michael D. 2006. Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams.
- The Hershey Company. “Hershey Announces Its New CSR Strategy, ‘Shared Goodness Promise,’ and Releases Its 2017 CSR Report”. Globe News Wire, 5 June 2018. https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2018/06/05/1517230/0/en/Hershey-Announces-Its-New-CSR-Strategy-Shared-Goodness-Promise-and-Releases-Its-2017-CSR-Report.html
- Wohl, Jessica. “It’s Okay to Take Candy from Strangers in New Hershey’s Ads”. Ad Age, 13 September 2018. https://adage.com/article/cmo-strategy/candy-a-stranger-a-hershey-s-video/314918
- Brenner, Joel. 2000. The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars.
- Dworski, Brett. “Mars Launches 360-Degree Rebrand”. CSP Daily News,14 March 2019. https://www.cspdailynews.com/snacks-candy/mars-launches-360-degree-rebrand