The dawn of the ethical brand

Chris Davis and Corrinne Moy

Ethical consumption is perhaps the biggest movement in branding today. While still relatively small, ethical brands are growing at twice the rate of their non-ethical counterparts and show no signs of letting up. More than ever, marketers are realising that corporate social responsibility (CSR) pays dividends in increased brand trust and, ultimately, sales.

The surge in popularity of ethical brands is well documented. But what has changed and why is this happening now? As brands have gained global prominence, they have become more vulnerable to public scrutiny. A spate of corporate scandals has increased consumers' awareness and sensitivity to companies' behaviour. The success of CSR pioneers like the Body Shop, the Co-op and Ben & Jerry's has provided a further impetus. The ageing boomer generation has also been cited as a driving force. Unlike their parents who endured the economic hardship of the Great Depression and the Second World War, the boomers grew up during a time of affluence and great idealism. Economically conservative and socially liberal, boomers are the 'new establishment', or what David Brooks calls 'bourgeois bohemians'. As the Observer reports, 'they have forged a new social ethos from a logic-defying fusion of 1960s counter-culture and 1980s entrepreneurial materialism' – 'a seeming synthesis of comfort and conscience' (1).