Brand Betrayal: How Can We Cultivate Trustworthy Brands?

shutterstock_159483938I cannot stop thinking about this week’s news of the Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal, aka #DieselGate. As a two-time VW owner and someone who tries to hold brands I support to high standards for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), I was still caught off guard by how much this news affected me personally.  It felt like the ultimate let down; a punch in the gut. Why was I so surprised, given the preponderance of political, social, and ethical crises around the world?

I brought up the scandal with my barista this morning and he asked me if I thought this news would hurt VW’s brand and sales. Surprised by his question, I exclaimed, of course! Those who hold their favorite brands to high standards of transparency and CSR are a rapidly growing voice who are voting with their wallets. Yet, hardly a day goes by where we don’t hear of some sort of corporate scandal where shareholders were deceived, promises were broken, or someone got greedy. And while they will be fined and their brand will suffer in the short-term, corporations continue to take those risks in the name of profit.

All of this still leaves me wondering why the Volkswagen news had such a strong effect on me. And what I think it comes down to is that every human being has issues that are important to them because of how they affect their health community, or even livelihood. For me, the definitive betrayal by VW is not just to me as a customer who bought into a brand promise and gave them my hard earned money, but to global citizens who will suffer the effects of excess diesel pollution in the form of asthma, cancer, and more. Climate change and pollution hit the most vulnerable people and they don’t usually have the luxury of voting with their wallets.

So what are customers such as myself to do in these situations, when we thought we had made an informed purchasing decision? We need to take more action and grow a revolution of responsibility!  In the U.S., we must educate people about the benefits of becoming a Certified B Corp and insist that we hold corporations and its leaders to high standards of social and environmental responsibility. In Silicon Valley and cities across the US, we must cultivate startups grounded in the triple bottom line approach to business, where there is equal emphasis placed on people, planet and profit, and show how businesses CAN thrive with this approach.

3BL Media / JustMeans recently shared that according to The Public Affairs Pulse survey conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, “seventy-six percent of Americans feel it is very important for major companies to minimize their environmental footprint. More than half believe it is very important that companies make financial contributions to charities and take a leadership role in helping society.” The millennial generation is a huge driver of corporate CSR and change, and as they increasingly begin to hold positions of power, I believe the scale will begin to tip in favor of doing the right thing over profit and greed. But we cannot sit back and wait for this to happen. We need to be part of the conversation and even more than that, speak up for our beliefs and expectations by being discriminating consumers!

Want to make more informed purchasing decisions? Check out this Mashable guide to Nine Sites that Measure Companies’ Social Responsibility.


3 Responses to Brand Betrayal: How Can We Cultivate Trustworthy Brands?

  1. Great Post! Here is what I find though. Their brand is not going to get hurt. The scandal will make the company cough in the short run but “diesel” is not big enough in US to hurt them in the long run.
    Most people, because they don’t understand what VW’s cheating even means, won’t think twice about it. It’s over their head, out of the news, out of their mind, and they like the way the new gas engine Passat looks. TDI (which were only effected) means only something to nerds like us. I feel this will pass and Everybody’s Car will be on top of the cute market.
    The tough part about it is that Im guilty. When the new TDI’s come out I will be excited. Now THAT is effed up.
    I agree on the CSR thoughts. Go..B Corp

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Alvaro! This country definitely has a love affair with our cars and overall, VW has made good strides toward environmental stewardship, but the myth of clean diesel is causing environmental harm. I guess my bigger point here is that we each have issues that are most important to us, whether they are the environment, child labor, etc. and we should at the bare minimum, be aware of how brands we support influence these issues and vote with our wallets! I can’t force people to care, but if B Corps becomes the norm not the exception, change will happen!

  2. Thanks for writing about this Amy. As a long-time VW fan, I am also outraged, disappointed… and just plain sad about this brand betrayal. The unethical behavior of layers of lies and environmental assault are hard to fathom. I do think this will impact their brand going forward. I just crossed them off my list of perspective cars. An unfortunate lesson that will hopefully start a productive conversation.

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