Why nobody cares about your CSR claims, and how to electrify your plan

Anna Salda, Senior Strategist at Crispin Porter + Bogusky London identifies five ways to get brands’ responsible messages noticed.

Anna Salda

Senior Strategist Crispin Porter Bogusky


CSR, or Purpose as it is known more often these days, is of course no longer a ‘nice to have’. People want to buy from brands that share their values and that actively contribute to positive change, even if it means paying more. And brands have got the memo.

However, a new neuromarketing study by NEUROcsr, a project led by Milan Janic and in collaboration with the University of Sheffield that looked at the effect corporate social responsibility messaging has on the neurological mechanisms that create human perception, language, reasoning, beliefs, decision-making and visual attention, revealed some alarming findings. The Millennial brain simply does not engage with much of today’s purpose-led messaging. Relevant ads from brands such as H&M, Ikea and Coca-Cola underperformed on all tested measures: likeability, importance and cognitive load. According to one of the authors of the study, Dr. Nikolaos Dimitriadis, this is due to a mix of three key failings: lack of emotions and creativity, low authenticity and the complexity of messaging.

With this in mind, here are five ways to electrify your purposeful communications:

1. Think long-term and holistically

Avoid one-off initiatives that are more likely to open space for criticism. Instead, create a holistic CSR comms strategy with a long-term mission, a north star, and ensure it’s aligned with the company’s long-term plan. This mission will guide and shape everything you do and say around social responsibility.

In action: Gucci, the world’s most sustainable fashion corporation according to Corporate Knights’ 2019 Global 100 Index, has a long-term vision to reinforce a culture of purpose. From making high heels with bioplastics, to weaving abandoned fishing nets into men’s jackets, and saying goodbye to seasonal Fashion Weeks, everything Gucci does is guided by their north star.

2. Lose the data and RTBs. Go for emotions

We know this from previous studies: emotions get you noticed. No one cares about neutral advertising. The same applies to CSR comms. Yet too much current CSR content is packed with data, evidence and claims. Instead, engage your customers emotionally. Surprise them or even shock them in order to grab their attention and earn your place in their memories.

In action: The NEUROcsr study found that a shocking film from LUSH featuring a shark outperformed other brands’ CSR films that were less disruptive.

Switch from corporate, rational, complex and claims-loaded comms to more emotional, honest, creative and single-minded content and initiatives, rooted in tangible and long-lived brand actions.

Anna Salda

3. Be single-minded

Messaging around key social and environmental challenges can be complex for people to digest quickly. Knowing that they will consume content with their System 1 switched on, Daniel Kahneman’s fast and automatic thinking, purposeful ads need to be stripped back to essentials. One claim/message at a time could be more powerful than hero-ing ten of them.

In action: A recent Super Bowl ad from Chipotle ‘Can a burrito change the world?’ is an interesting example. Whilst being creative and in line with the brand’s long-term strategy, the TV ad featured a plethora of sustainable practices, making it harder for viewers to decode and remember the key message.

4. Go deeper, but later

There’s space for all your data and proof points behind your CSR but it’s further down the funnel. On your website or on your always-on social in snackable and creative ways. 

In action: This is what we did for our client, Campo Viejo. This Spanish wine brand awarded for its sustainable practices had many amazing, and unexpected, stories to tell but no one knew about them. For example, Campo Viejo uses lizards to remove insects from their crops instead of pesticides. So, we created memorable and personality-filled content that focuses exclusively on this tiny yet powerful story.

5. Be honest and humble

Becoming a more sustainable or ethical brand can be challenging for many reasons. Admit it. Tell your audience what you have achieved, what you haven’t and what you’re still working on. Consumers will trust you more in return for your honesty.

In action: BrewDog is doing this well. As well as taking a bold, straight-forward approach to their purpose-led comms, remember their ‘F*ck You CO2’ billboard?, they admit they are far from being perfect and do make mistakes.

So, in order to get your socially responsible messages noticed, switch from corporate, rational, complex and claims-loaded comms to more emotional, honest, creative and single-minded content and initiatives, rooted in tangible and long-lived brand actions. Only then you can win the hearts and minds of your audience.

Guest Author

Anna Salda

Senior Strategist Crispin Porter Bogusky


Anna is an experienced strategist having worked on global as well as UK-focused campaigns for brands including Apple, Google, Kinder, Nutella, Ballantine's, Beauty Pie, NHS Blood & Transplant and Anna joined CPB almost two years ago and her strategic background spans brand planning, social and digital strategies, experiential, content, and direct marketing.

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