Time for CEOs to Don Their Superhero Capes
brands, woke washing, greenwashing, leadership, good leadership
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ethical leadership is essential to change culture and help a brand survive

Time for CEOs to Don Their Superhero Capes

The challenges that arose in 2020 and have continued into 2021 have left many businesses on the defensive. Many C-suites personnel have reacted badly, trying to cut corners and behaving in a less than supportive way towards staff, for example. Nothing new there then. Yet it is in all our interests for CEOs to stop being succumbing to woke washing because good business is the way of the future – for brand survival, profits, society’s wellbeing and your own conscience. And if you haven’t clocked that already then the general public (i.e. your clients)  are increasingly likely to take you to task – and VERY publicly, then you need to stop being asleep at the wheel.

Post-pandemic people are reacting fiercely to bad businesses

What was noticeable about 2020/21 is how people have come together to challenge and publicly call out and even boycott brands that are behaving badly, to the point where reputations get damaged and advertising agencies have started saying ”Hmm this whole equality and save the thang is really becoming important, perhaps you, our clients, should get a handle on that rather than trying to just sell stuff?”

Trouble with that of course with that, as highlighted recently by legionary copywriter, Steve Harrison, in an article entitled “Why adland must rediscover its commercial purpose – and play its part in the post-pandemic economic recovery”, is that most brands are still pretending to be committed to playing their part in making the world a better place. And so they end up sounding fake, because they are woke-washing, and as a result their adverts are falling very short of effective and, as I highlight in Social Goodness, end up being very bad for business instead of good

This is a BIG problem because in 2021 patience is in short supply and intolerance is rising, and with the 24/7 transparency we now have as a result on digital, brands are increasingly finding they can’t get away with diddly squat.

But shouldn’t brands try and make the world a better place?

Of course brands should try and make the world a better place. Yes, of course they should invest in a sustainable supply chain and embed Social Goodness in every part of their business, because it matters. CEOs absolutely can and should be superheroes, leading the charge. Yet most CEOs and business leaders are still simply pretending to be heroes without actually digging out that superhero cape and putting it on. And just jumping bandwagon without doing the work is completely dopey because Social Goodness matters to people and they are prioritising it in all aspects of their lives and choices, and as a result they are increasingly reacting very badly to brand bad behaviour and to fakery of all sorts.

What is bad brand behaviour?

Bad behaviour is fundamentally a lack of care and consideration, including being greedy and fake, acting disrespectful and destructively, and enabling others to behave badly, as well, whether that is key players in the organisations or, perhaps, the external players you support, fund or invest in. It comes in many guises, but mistreating staff is something that tends to be consistent alongside any other bad behaviour. Recently there have been a huge slew of examples all over Social Media.

Goldman Sachs, for example, has a reputation for prioritising profits above anything else and trying to pretend this is somehow a good thing instead of being a key part of why they have a toxic culture. It therefore came as no surprise to hear of their mistreatment of interns, who were begging to be able to work JUST an 80 hour week (let’s just repeat that – just an 80 hour week) after one intern had committed suicide. The leadership at Goldman Sachs were initially sanguine about the issue, claiming that “

But no one believed them. Amazing they even tried to put that kind of nonsense out in 2021, but there you go. Many businesses are still effectively asleep at the wheel. Predictably the backlash was huge across social media, especially LinkedIn and Twitter, to the point that the CEO, *** was forced to retreat and cede to the interns demands.

Then there was Ikea France ending up in court after it was revealed that they had been spying on their staff, and now British Gas in the social media firing line because they have said that they will be firing any employees who do not accept a 15% pay reduction.

It’s not just restricted to businesses, either: Australian PM Scott Morrison has recently been forced to appoint extra women to his cabinet and other positions after a backlash against his government’s handling of sexual assault allegations in parliament.

Woke washing is a very risky strategy in 2021

It’s tempting for CEOs and business leaders to try and just bandwagon it, especially when a trillion US dollars was invested into ethical brands in 2020 for the first time. A good ESG profile, for example, is a tick of approval that means a business can attract more investment. Some can’t be arsed to do the work to actually put their houses in order and so they fudge and green wash.

It’s an increasingly risky strategy.

Might have worked 10 years ago before the world became so interconnected and social media meant that everything is on view 24/7 and there is no place to hide, because if they get found out in 2021 the backlash can be severe – as has been seen with the revolt of bond investors over bogus green debt flooding the market.

Black Rock is another example, as they are currently battling the bad reputation damage from a social media campaign by Greenpeace and others against their investment in businesses that are destroying the Amazon, despite claiming that they’d ceased…. While Burger King recently had to remove their controversial #IWD ‘Women belong in the kitchen’ tweet and publicly apologise after an almighty outcry. It wasn’t just about the tweet by the way, but resulted in every aspect of the business being dissected on social media, from the makeup of the board (mostly white male as you’ll have obviously guessed) to their staff pay (mostly very low) to the (questionable) protection of the female employees against sexual harassment.

The old fashioned macho ‘treat people and the environment badly’ toxic culture obviously continues apace in some quarters, despite all evidence to the contrary that it is not approved of by, or working for, most people.You’d think they’d have noticed how much the world has shifted in the last 18 months, how much backlash they are likely to get, how people will boycott and avoid working for them… but I guess if you are in an insulated bubble then you’ll only see what’s immediately in front of you.

Invest in that superhero cape

In short, it seems most CEOs have yet to find, let alone put on, their superhero capes. Many are still trying to woke wash and then finding out, surprise! People notice. People don’t like it. People – clients – attack, boycott, rally others to boycott. Whether that is investing in, purchasing from, or working for your nasty brand.