Welcome to the fourth edition of The Fact Sheet. Throughout 2019 I'll be posting these one-of-a-kind conversations with social impact innovators.
Bob Raidt is a marketing professional who most recently has served as an EVP, Group Account Director at Leo Burnett Group, where over his 22-year career Bob has held global account leadership roles on McDonald's, Samsung and Coke. He also served as CEO of Arc Worldwide. Bob received his MBA at Northwestern University’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management. He has long been active civically, and is currently a board director of Business and Professional People for the Public Interest (BPI), as well as Chicago Tennis Patrons—making tennis available to kids in disadvantaged communities.
Bob recently wrote an op-ed for Little Black Book on the opportunity brands have to gain greater traction with Millennials and Generation Z by being more assertive on social issues.
And now...just the facts!
BD: Why don’t you think brands have acted in a more socially responsible fashion in the past two to three years even though we’re in a cultural moment that demands action?
BR: I do see some brands taking braver, more assertive positions on social issues. But, in looking across the marketing landscape, I think there is plenty of opportunity for more brands to do more of it. A good and useful starting point for brands is action regarding environmental sustainability. This is low-hanging fruit. While policy-makers may be weaponizing their rhetoric around the subject for political purposes, the National Climate Assessment released in November, among many other studies, leaves little room for doubt that the dangers of climate change are very real and particularly meaningful for younger consumers who are most threatened over their lifetimes by the consequences of today’s inadequate government policies as well as insufficient action by corporations and individuals. I believe Millennials and Gen Z will reward companies and their brands who are bold and proactive in helping to address the problem.
As I said, there are brands that are stepping up. In the quick service restaurant segment, for example, it’s great to see McDonald’s participation in the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership. And Dunkin’ announced they will discontinue use of polystyrene cups in 2020, eliminating 1 billion foam cups per year from the waste stream.
I admire Columbia Sportswear for pledging $10 million in tax savings from the GOP’s corporate tax cuts in order to fight climate change. And, I’d love to see more companies do what Allbirds recently did by applying a carbon tax on themselves based on a study they commissioned that identified the carbon impact for every pair of shoes they produce.
I’m impressed by these commitments, and I’m eager to see brands do more in response to climate change and other charged social issues. I was also encouraged to read recently Levi’s CEO Chip Bergh say, “It’s imperative that companies not be afraid to weigh in on the issues that are really impacting the world, whether that’s gun violence or climate change."
BD: It seems to me that brands that are reactive rather than proactive appear out-of-touch with the present reality of 2019.
BR: I believe that brands that will have enduring success in the coming years will successfully and consistently express both their yin and their yang. By that I mean the yin is what the brand does for consumers by way of product or service, and the yang is how consumers see the brand behaving based on its beliefs, its values. Where I think marketing tends to overcorrect now is by focusing much more on the yin—promoting product attributes and benefits (differentiated if possible) to drive immediate commerce. But the opportunity cost for marketers is that many aren’t sufficiently nourishing their brands to have more meaning in people’s lives, to give consumers more reason to care about them and regard them as being proactively on their side in addressing the generational problems they face. Again, I think this is particularly true for Millennials and Gen Z, who have inherited profound social problems whether they be climate change, gun safety, social justice…you name it….that in many respects require all hands on-deck to solve – government, individuals and, very importantly, corporations and their brands. Unfortunately, there are still too many brands that are malnourished because attention to their yang and communication to consumers about it have been insufficient.
BD: Do you think it’s always been true that younger generations are more attuned to the yang part or do you think that it is especially prevalent now with millennials and Gen Z?
BR: What excites me, and gives me great hope, is the willingness that I see among young people to speak out and act. I think the Parkland Students’ March for our Lives initiatives and the way Greta Thunberg has spoken climate truth to power are super inspiring examples. I want to help them. I want to see brands help them.
I continue to see observations that political divides are becoming increasingly generational. I recently had the privilege of attending an Economic Club of Chicago event where Bono was interviewed by Mellody Hobson. It was inspiring, and I’ve been thinking a lot about what was said in the interview. When asked about capitalism and globalization, Bono said he certainly supports them, particularly the innovation and commerce that they enable, but that we are all threatened by the fact that capitalism has been “off the leash,” that capitalism is more in control of humanity now than humanity is in control of capitalism. Consequently, vast populations have not been sharing in the prosperity.
I think younger people see that capitalism has not been sufficiently balanced by democracy, by civic participation to influence better policy. They see that a strong Dow Jones Index isn’t by itself a sufficient measure of prosperity. Quality of life, quality of society matter just as much and more. The consumer opportunity for brands today is certainly to enhance consumers’ lives through their products or services, but to demonstrate that they care just as much about helping to nurture the quality of society that consumer life occurs in, and that they are acting on that care. Corporate social responsibility isn’t just a nice to do; I think it’s now a must for successful, enduring brands.
BD: Let’s turn to the Colin Kaepernick Nike ad. There was a boycott and a ton of criticism of it from some circles. Your piece noted that Nike stock rose by $6 billion, though. Does that suggest more brands should take that authentic approach and ignore the noise and the naysayers?
BR: There is a very long list of morally virtuous stands that brands can take to help improve quality of society. I think it’s useful that the stands brands choose to take be anchored in relevant brand associations. I applaud Gillette, for example, for taking on toxic masculinity. To me, it was sufficiently close to home for their brand. They have grooming products that enhance the civility and expression with which people present themselves. But, civility, of course, isn’t just about the way one physically shows up, it’s also very much about the way one conducts oneself and communicates. Consequently, with civility and personal expression being close to home, I do think it makes sense for Gillette to share its POV on this larger social problem that consumers care about. As for Nike, the brand has always been very much about competition. For competition to be real and beneficial, there must be fairness, equality, a level playing field. Colin Kaepernick has taken a position to put the spotlight on inequality in our society and, its tragic and fatal consequences, and he’s done it at considerable personal sacrifice. I think it’s highly relevant for Nike to express its support for an athlete, an individual who is fighting for fairness and equality.
BD: In your op-ed, you mention that a friend was incredulous when you said you set out in your career to make the world a better place through marketing. Can you tell me what’s been behind that goal?
BR: Every person deserves to decide what mindset is going to propel their performance in life and career. Driving revenue and profit—yes, that’s obviously crucial in the marketing profession and it's a crucially important priority for me in a marketing leadership role—but that’s solely not enough for me and, I’m sure, for most everyone. We live in a vibrant culture, and marketing has resources behind it that can have a positive impact on that culture. I think there’s an opportunity with marketing and advertising to not only use creativity to help brands perform commercially, but to use creativity to help brands perform in a society that is made better by what brands do and by what brands say. It’s in a brand’s radical self-interest to help create a higher quality, more livable society. I always want to challenge myself to contribute thinking that can help make the world a better place by what we do and say on behalf of a brand. I believe brands ultimately benefit from that aspiration.
BD: I know of your charitable involvement and wondered about your participation in Dancing with Chicago Celebrities and what drew you to that. How does one decide to do that? It is not only giving time to a cause, but it’s learning all these dance steps.
BR: There is a book I read a number of years ago called 30 Lessons of Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans, which I highly recommend. A social psychologist visited all these nursing homes, and he interviewed 80- and 90-somethings about their lives. And one of the lessons that he drew from them was just the importance of saying yes to new opportunities. Sometimes fear can prevent people from stepping out of their comfort zones and doing things that they can really benefit from. My friend who is one of the organizers of Dancing with Chicago Celebrities has asked me to participate in the event for a number of years and I kept saying no, because the idea of performing ballroom dance in front of an audience is kind of terrifying, especially if you have two left feet like I do! Plus, I’m certainly no celebrity! It was something I’d never done, so it was definitely outside of my comfort zone. But, this year, in the spirit of that book, I said yes. And, I’m glad I did. What I discovered is that while I’m not particularly good at it, I really do enjoy ballroom dancing. It was fun! Also, I was very inspired by Arthur Murray Studios and my professional dance partner and instructor, and what I saw that they do for people every day. If you really think about ballroom dancing, it enables so much positivity in participants’ lives: emotional well-being, communication, fitness, connection, creative expression and just a lot of fun. I’m very grateful to those who helped me raise nearly $20,000 for breast cancer research and care access with my dancing effort. I found it all to be a great life experience in doing something to raise money for a great cause and discover a side of myself I didn’t know was there.
Yes is a great word. Earlier in my career at Leo Burnett I was asked to work as an ex-pat in Singapore and Tokyo. I said yes, and my family and I had six amazing years in Asia. Initially, the prospect of doing it and being away from many friends and family and the American life I’d always known was kind of scary. I look back now, and I realize how exhilarating it was and how much of a confidence builder it was to adapt to working within so many cultures across Asia. For example, to work in Korea on a Monday, the Philippines on a Wednesday, and to finish the week on a Friday in Thailand was a rewarding, unforgettable life and work experience. It’s good to say yes.