History of advertising: No 111: The first CSR ads

Companies eager to generate goodwill towards themselves from consumers by advertising their ethical credentials might seem like a relatively new phenomenon.

History of advertising: No 111: The first CSR ads

In fact, it’s only increasingly crowded marketplaces forcing companies to look for new ways of differentiating themselves that has fuelled the emphasis on corporate social responsibility.

CSR has existed in Britain as long as commerce itself. In the 1790s, the East India Company was hit by the first large-scale consumer boycott over slave-harvested sugar that forced it to switch to free-labour supply sources.

Moreover, famous UK companies such as Barclays and Cadbury were founded on Quaker principles of socially responsible business.

The term CSR was coined in 1953 by the US economist Howard Bowen in his book Social Responsibilities Of The Businessman.

However, attempts at promoting ethical standards in the 70s were half-hearted initiatives such as CSR sections in annual reports. According to one commentator: "They paid homage to the environment the way a person might throw a coin into a fountain along with a wish."

Change came with the emergence of companies that put ethical behaviour at the heart of their activities.

The pioneer of CSR in the UK was The Body Shop, which sold soaps and lotions based on natural ingredients and created a viral marketing strategy that relied on consumers to spread the word.

In the US, Ben & Jerry’s, whose ads have supported gay rights and anti-capitalism demonstrations, took CSR into new territory in 1989 by commissioning a "social auditor", who was given free rein to interview anybody in the company for two weeks before publishing his findings.

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