Many companies support worthy causes such as disaster relief and protecting the environment. Is this genuine altruism or just a marketing ploy?

When Corporate Social Responsibility is More than Just a Gimmick

I am often asked: Is corporate social responsibility a key element of business’ engagement with customers, community, and society today, or just a gimmick—a shrewd marketing ploy?

It is a fair question, one that I have asked myself at times… The key test, I believe, lies in the duration of a company’s CSR projects. I will return to this later but let us first try to define CSR.

What Exactly is CSR?

Here is an abbreviated version of the definition offered by Paul Hohnen, an associate fellow of Chatham House:


CSR is the “responsibility of an organisation for the impacts of its decisions and activities on society and the environment that is consistent with sustainable development and the welfare of society.”


What are the Key Elements of CSR?

If we go by Hohnen’s definition, CSR should necessarily include the following elements:

  • Social investment: Businesses should contribute to physical infrastructure and social structure.
  • Transparency and trust: Businesses should report publicly on their performance in the social and environmental spheres.

  • Business ethics: Businesses should not only provide jobs and contribute to the economy, they should also demonstrate care for the environment, advance business ethics, and promote values such as trust, credibility, quality, and reliability.

CSR: Advantages to the Company

While CSR benefits the community, it also carries the following advantages for the company:

1.) Reputation: Companies that perform well with regard to CSR will build their corporate reputation, while those that perform poorly risk damaging their brand and tarnishing their reputation.

2.) Morale boost for employees: Companies that are serious about their CSR not only attract brighter, more optimistic employees who are probably already involved in volunteering and giving but also tend to record high levels of staff morale.

3.) Better business relations: Companies in the supply chain committed to the same ethical values can more easily form long-term profitable partnerships, with each one adopting similar CSR policies.

Separating Genuine CSR from Cynical Marketing Ploy

A key test to determine the real from the gimmick is to look at the duration of CSR projects.

Companies launching projects for just 2-3 months of the year are likely to be doing this to increase sales. Companies with a genuine social commitment see CSR not only as a responsibility but a duty to society. Their projects are continuous and have no timeframe.


CSR projects are very demanding and require elaborate planning and commitment of resources, including marketing teams, strategists and ad agencies.


Because CSR projects involve costs with no immediate discernible benefits, company shareholders may baulk at investing in anything that does not bring guaranteed financial gains.

But look at the statistics: According to a Reputation Institute survey, 91.4% of respondents would buy from a company with an excellent CSR programme and 84.3% of respondents would give companies with excellent CSR programmes the benefit of the doubt in the event of a crisis.

An Oft-Ignored Element of CSR: Sharing Success

When practiced effectively, corporate social responsibility offers too many benefits to ever be considered as a marketing gimmick. To do so would be wasteful. Moreover, there are so many ways a business can get on board with CSR practices.


From a personal perspective, I like to focus especially on social investment, simply because success in business brings great rewards, but it’s sharing those rewards that brings the greatest buzz.


It is for this reason that my Logistics Bureau supply chain consultancy and some of my other businesses, participate in a programme called B1G1 (Buy1Give1). Under this scheme, my businesses give a proportion of their revenue to a worthy cause each time they transact with a client.


I am proud to say that thanks to the support of our clients and industry colleagues, we have notched up more than six million giving impacts.


That’s just my view on one aspect of the vast spectrum of ways in which enterprises can practice CSR. Any way you look at it though, genuine CSR makes good business sense while adding immeasurable ethical value to corporate culture—and that’s something the smartest marketing gimmick will never achieve.