Grasping The Social Responsibility Nettle.
So what should Mr. Fast Food have done? Yesterday's subject came across as a classical marketing guy - one who knows how to run campaigns and departments but who doesn't realise that marketing is neither a process nor a department.
To declare that "the time is right and the public mood has changed" is just retrospective rationality for the fact that the game is up. It is far better to be pro-active and lead the market; to show concern and be genuinely socially aware; and to acknowledge that "retaining our customers trust" is far easier to achieve when you deal with the negative aspects of your business head on.
Both Dove's Campaign for Natural Beauty and Persil's Dirt is Good do just. They face up to the collateral damage to which their actions have contributed and which are or should be major concerns for their customers. In doing so, they stand out from their crowd of competitors. The first fast-food company to show a genuine passion for child health (and no, low calorie menus do not cut it) will truly stamp themselves as different and reap a great reward.
Social responsibility is increasingly at the centre of business differentiation for a variety of reasons. But from a marketing perspective, it's not about hugging a tree, it's about being seen as a company that does the right thing - because that's how your customers expect you to treat them. It's not smart business to engage in the moral equivalent of carbon trading once the public clamour becomes too loud to ignore. Far better to focus on any social problems to which you contribute with the same laser-like concentration you devote to the positive aspects of your business.
And focus does not mean distilling it all into a simplistic mantra. Thats just patronising and does nothing to address the £100 million in lost revenues that the company is warning the advertising ban will cost them!