Editor's comment: Riots pose tough CSR questions

Noelle McElhatton
Noelle McElhatton

What are we wearing today as we flick through Marketing? Head-to-toe Adidas, acquired from JD Sports? No, thought not, somehow.

In the aftermath of last week's riots, some marketers will be pondering the smoking ruins of their brand, at least as it is viewed by the middle classes. Most of the rioters were in their teens and early-20s - the exact demographic courted by the makers of sporting apparel. Brand-owners were quick to condemn those whose clothes bore their logos, now associated with burning cars.

Was this disingenuous? After all, Adidas will this week launch a campaign featuring a 'rapper, gangmember and convicted criminal', as one national newspaper described the brand's long-term ambassador, Snoop Dogg.

You want edgy and dangerous? You got it. How else do you prise open the wallets of the 'yoof'? Meanwhile, bloggers and Twitter users made jokes about bookseller Waterstone's not needing to board up its windows, unless the featured book was a spin-off from The Jeremy Kyle Show.

Some brands may emerge stronger, through their own actions, or those of their loyal consumers. Twitter's #riotcleanup must have had a halo effect on that social network. For other brand-owners, such as London 2012 Olympics sponsor Adidas, the CSR issue is more complex. How does one square a relationship with sporting prowess and mayhem on the streets?

Perhaps by looking to Google, which in June hosted a conference featuring ex-violent extremists debating with academics to 'increase understanding of a tough topic'.

The brand denies the initiative was CSR-related.

Nonetheless, in their efforts to grasp the extremist nettle and tackle unpalatable issues, Google, Facebook, Twitter et al are showing the way for more mainstream, established brands.

Noelle.McElhatton@haymarket.com

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