Luxury Corporate Brands: Is Their Corporate Social Responsibility Credible?

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August 9, 2011; Source: The Atlantic | There’s a theory that consumers seek out and prefer to buy from companies with strong corporate philanthropic and social responsibility track records. Most corporate executives believe, according to a McKinsey survey, that corporate social responsibility adds to “long-term shareholder value.” But do all CSR messages work the same? If a CSR strategy is coming from a seller of luxury goods, will consumers buy it?

According to researcher Carlos Torelli, a marketing professor from the University of Minnesota, many people “seem to be a bit skeptical of CSR actions from for-profit entities,” and that “something doesn’t feel right” about some corporate CSR ads and messages. Torelli specifically suggests that CSR efforts do not resonate well for “brands that suggest luxury, power, or status.” He believes that this is a spontaneous reaction by consumers in response to the conflict between a corporation’s “self-aggrandizing ethos and its selfless CSR message.” Golden Gate University marketing professor Michal Ann Strahilevitz concurs: “Consumers are not stupid. If you want people to take your CSR efforts seriously, you need to display authentic commitment.”

So how would NPQ Newswire readers feel about corporate social responsibility campaigns of the world’s top luxury brands? According to Forbes, the ten most powerful luxury brands in 2009 were, in reverse order, Prada, Fendi,Moët & Chandon, Cartier, Hennessy, Rolex, Chanel, Gucci, Hermes, and in the top spot, Louis Vuitton. Does anyone have any experience with CSR strategies associated with these brands? (For example, a portion of the sales of Louis Vuitton stuff at a Takashi Murakami exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum will benefit, according to the Vuitton website, the “Homeland Security Foundation.”) Do you think these CSR efforts have substance, or do they strike you as sort of insincere, self-promotional, or lacking in credibility? Do these firms’ philanthropic gestures make you feel more like consuming their products, or admiring those who do? Let us know.—Rick Cohen

  • Valerie Jones

    Interesting! For me, I think CSR has more credibility when the giver (corporation, business, etc) is closer in class to my daily lived experience. I don’t own a thing created by any of these luxury brands, can’t see myself choosing to spend my money that way, and therefore it’s harder for me to even access or be knowledgeable about what kind of CSR program they have. Perhaps a person who shops for these brands would feel better knowing the CSR strategies used by the brands, but it seems to me that this is a very small, and somewhat exclusive population so that the bulk of their CSR efforts are unknown to the majority of people in the US. I believe they probably are sincere, however, I am skeptical that the reach of their CSR policies and practices actually provides any kind of meaningful substance to solving social problems. So no, I don’t feel like consuming their products more (or at all), but I do think they can probably afford to give more anyway.

  • Alyssa

    Nicole Miller is an example of a high-end designer partnering with women’s co-operatives in Africa to produce her designs for her collection via the organization Indego Africa.


    As a matter of fact, LVMH leads the way in bringing green principals to their supply chain, while other’s still wait in the wings for any measurable effects on this commitment. This is like trying to get an old fashioned Italian workshop to change the chemicals they use to process their designer leather shoes. Its near impossible. But, due to the waning markets in mainstream luxury, the move to CHINA will force these companies to review their practices as they’ll be soon making Prada bags in China. Its the new face of luxury. As to Nicole Miller being a luxury brand….(*see above comment) …..sorry, unless its made in a workshop or Atelier, in its first stages, not initially as a mass market brand, it doesn’t qualify. The eco initiative, however, certainly admirable. Luxury brands are usually bespoke or handmade, top quality materials and eventhough they might later become more readily available, they ideally don’t lose this provenance that makes them “luxury”.

  • Joel Graham-Blake

    No, is my honest answer.

    As someone who works in CSR and Corporate Governance, i have found that whilst many luxury brands say they are committed to CSR, but do not practically implement solutions that truly reflect the ethos of CSR.

    What saddens me is that they have a high level of power that can create larger and more beneficial impacts, if they just decided to see CSR as critical for business not just something that, morally, is the right thing to do.

  • Cher

    It’s true. When I see big, huge brands with CSR missions, I’m always doubtful. It’s hard to trust anyone who makes a lot of money and says that they’re giving back. If they really are, how do we know what it’s going to and why it’s going there. There is one luxury brand that I love with a strong CSR mission that I trust and that is Brunello Cucinelli.
    He is very authentic in his mission, and I’ve heard great things from his employees.