Core Values Matter: The Role of the People in Shaping Corporate Responsibility

Case studies examining the role that people have in influencing brands.

Lilian Crum
Assistant Professor
Lawrence Technological University

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and fervent momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020, brands have been pressured to address the dramatic social, economic, and behavioral shifts that have been transforming our world. While some brands took action to support the social movement and some brands repositioned their messaging to encourage safe behavior during the pandemic, others communicated seemingly empty messages of solidarity and were criticized for their lack of authenticity. Outward-facing brand messaging has been scrutinized by the public, particularly when there has been discord with the actual internal policies and practices of the respective company. This has resulted in the public boycotting brands, as well companies taking genuine action to drive positive change.

A significant portion of consumers believe that companies hold just as much responsibility as governments do when influencing social change. Furthermore, with social media helping to facilitate public scrutiny of brand policies, practices, and organizational structures, bottom-up forces that put pressure on corporate responsibility have been stronger than ever before. People have the power to drive change through their expectations of company values and practices now more than ever.

Rooted in transition design framework, social innovation design, and marketing, this research uses case studies to examine the role that people have in influencing brands’ moves towards social equity and innovation. It considers the relationship between brand messaging with the company’s core values, the direct action that brands may take in social progress, as well as the ways in which people drive change through external pressure on a company.

Considering that Meredith Davis has dedicated a section of AIGA’s Design Futures to related issues (“Trend 4: Core Values Matters”), this topic is particularly significant to examine as it influences both teaching and practice in the future of the discipline.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 7.1: Oakland University, MI on October 17, 2020.