Corporate Social Responsibility as Marketing?
Everyone knows that Burger King is one of the most popular burger fast food chains in the world. Sure, it’s no American icon like McDonalds, nor is it the pride of the East Coast like Shake Shack. But throughout all these times, Burger King has proved themselves enough to earn a spot in people’s brains as one of the most successful fast food chains. Even though the Burger King chain is very popular with outlets in over 100 countries and branches numbering up to 17,000 and more, it is rare to find a specific outlet that stands out. All the outlets are more or less uniform. After all, how many times have you heard someone say: “Hey, you should go to the Burger King on Brighton Ave!” or “I really like the Burger King located on Tremont Street!”
When I went home to Bali, Indonesia, for summer break, I was surprised to hear my friends and family talk in fascination towards this one specific Burger King outlet. Apparently, news has spread in the Balinese community that a newly opened Burger King outlet has been gaining major traction through its inclusion towards the local deaf community. Indeed, the Burger King located in Sunset Road Nakula has employed mainly deaf people, which in total makes up 80% of the outlet’s total employees. Banners of basic sign language were everywhere in the store and they even modified the company’s logo to spell out “BK” in sign language. For the first time ever, I saw my friend posted an Instagram picture at a Burger King outlet as if it was one of Bali’s tourist attractions.
While most people are excited about this, a Twitter user by the name of @chillisauceabc poses an interesting, yet cynical question about the situation:
This tweet was surely met with backlash from netizens who defended and supported Burger King’s actions. Burger King Indonesia was also quick to respond, stating their true motivations behind their decision:
The twitter banter went viral worldwide, and Burger King Indonesia (@BurgerKing_ID) eventually did get massive exposure and a shout out to an audience even larger than the Balinese community.
What Burger King is doing here is a form of corporate social responsibility (CSR). The long-discussed question is: can companies genuinely perform CSR rooted in altruistic motives or is CSR just a “marketing gimmick”? And if it is just a “marketing gimmick,” should we applaud them for it?
I don’t think it is a secret that many companies utilize their CSR activities for marketing and branding purposes. I personally know a company that manages its CSR-like activities under their marketing and communications department. CSR also has benefits for the company such as customer retention and acquisition, increased productivity within workers, and an overall better bottom line. C. B. Bhattacharya wrote in his article posted on Forbes.com titled Corporate Social Responsibility: It's All About Marketing that CSR should always involve marketing because “marketing always has the knowhow to conduct meaningful campaigns and measure return on investment.” Through this perspective, CSR is seen not as “charity work,” but as an investment.
There is also another side of the argument. Karen Quintos, senior CMO of Dell states that “Ultimately, CSR is not a marketing strategy -- it's a tool for building a better business,” CSR could be argued as part of a company’s culture that reflects on the purpose of the company itself. Certainly, this is a much more “feel-good” description of what CSR is, and not at all sly as implied by @chillisauceabc on Twitter.
With all that being said, as companies are making a conscious effort to improve the lives of others, it does not matter what their motives are. Is Burger King Indonesia doing a marketing gimmick? Perhaps. But, did they help in improving the lives of the deaf community? Certainly. After all, if the deaf community is happy, Burger King is happy, what is there to be mad about?