The COVID-19 pandemic was a reckoning of sorts. It changed the way people work, socialize, and shop. As a result, consumers have become socially-conscious shoppers. They care about where the products they purchase come from—including the brand’s values and what they stand for, especially during trying times.
During 2020, people expected their favorite brands to speak up. In fact, a consumer sentiment study reveals that 40% of people wanted to see what brands are doing in response to the pandemic.
Another study of 12,000 consumers from 12 countries confirmed that customers are paying attention to what brands are saying. A study from Harvard stated that 54% of consumers considered buying new products from a brand only if the product was made to help with “pandemic-related life challenges.”
This time around, a simple social media post or support announcement didn’t cut it. People expected brands to step up and participate in a genuine way, not just to tick a box.
This shows why having an evergreen giving strategy helps brands simply elevate their existing giving during times of crisis or for cause awareness months. Without a social impact strategy that functions year-round, however, these efforts can seem like an afterthought (or worse: opportunism) to merely step up social impact efforts during a crisis. Authenticity comes with giving that extends beyond a one-time activation.
Here are three brands that show how companies can create social impact when a crisis happens, and how to keep showing up for customers no matter how long we’re in the thick of it.
Kenneth Cole, the American fashion house known for its socially-conscious advertising, donated 20% of its net sales to the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund. This fund, launched by the World Health Organization (WHO), is used to provide essentials for frontline workers, accelerate the development of vaccines, and tests and treatments.
They also launched The Mental Health Coalition in May 2020 to destigmatize mental health conditions and support emotional well-being. The brand donated 1% of net sales from their “Protective Wear” category to this initiative. Kenneth Cole also joined forces with the National Alliance on Mental Health to fuel this cause.
To keep the momentum going strong, the company’s Instagram page gave regular shout-outs to frontline workers with the hashtag #CourageousClass.
The brand responded in real-time by partnering with Just Salad—a chain of fast-casual restaurants—to design, create, and distribute face masks to all Just Salad teammates and delivery personnel to keep them protected during the pandemic. They called this initiative The New Courageous Class.
“We felt the work Kenneth Cole has done to highlight frontline workers via The New Courageous Class initiatives perfectly aligns with our ongoing mission during this unprecedented time. The safety of our staff and guests has always been and remains top priority, and we thank Kenneth and his team for enabling us to provide these masks.” — Nick Kenner, Founder, and CEO at Just Salad
Kenneth Cole implements an excellent impact strategy year-round. They recently partnered with Zynga—a social game developer—for showcasing their Pride collection in a game called High Heels!
The brand also regularly gives to the earthquake-hit Haiti community via their Kenneth Cole Haiti Health Center. To reduce waste and encourage donation, the company partners with Give Back Box, which enables consumers to ship household goods they no longer need to the needy at no cost when they purchase any product from Kenneth Cole.
Huron, a men’s skincare company, donated 40% of their sales to Feeding America. This non-profit partnership helped Huron provide 25,000+ meals to low-income families, senior citizens, and those most in need. They had a goal to deliver more than 50,000 meals and continue this effort to feed the poor.
The brand’s efforts to be socially conscious extend beyond the pandemic walls.
Huron donates to six different causes by partnering with ShoppingGives and continues to raise awareness for mental health on their blog. Their products are cruelty-free and use 100% recyclable packaging, which resonates well with the socially careful consumer.
Grounds & Hounds
Grounds & Hounds is an online organic coffee brand that gives 20% of its profits to animal rescue organizations all year round. So far, the company has provided over 2.1 million shelter meals, 2250 vaccines, and has saved 2,750 pups from euthanization.
When the pandemic hit, Grounds & Hounds continued shipping and donating. They encouraged those looking for a way to give back to foster a puppy. In 2021, when things started opening up, the company talked about solving the rising rescue commitment problems.
The best part about Grounds & Hounds is that the brand’s entire foundation is purpose-driven. It creates a strong generation impact through its year-round donations. The company also selects a coffee club member each month and makes a special $150 donation in a rescue of the member’s choice.
The importance of brands’ speaking up in a crisis
2020 has been rewarding for brands that genuinely try to make a change. As the world slowly reopens, the conscious consumer will continue to notice how brands respond to social issues. That change is here to stay.
As we witnessed, it has also never been easier for companies to raise awareness and participate in social change via educational content, social media, donations, and non-governmental organization partnerships.
The time has come for brands to take a stand for what is right and give back to their community.