Missing an Opportunity to Positively Advance the Corporate Brand

How one major retailer is botching a socially responsible message!

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Social responsibility is becoming an increasingly important aspect of marketing a business in America. Consumers are commanding that small and large business adopt practices that mirror their individual concerns on the impact of company’s operational activities on the environment and other social issues. To be responsible and to attract eco-friendly consumers, retailers across the country are adopting policies that deliver on consumers’ social and environmental expectations.

As many states implement laws that regulate reusable plastic bags and containers, some retailers are getting out in front of legislative efforts and imposing new policies that align with consumer expectations. Recognizing the potential benefit to implementing eco-friendly packaging, some major retailers are voluntarily replacing reusable plastic bags and containers with biodegradable, recyclable or reusable, carry-away containers for customer purchases. Clearly market leaders believe that what is good for customers’ concern for the environment is good for business.

In May, Disney announced that it would be eliminating plastic bags and switching to reusable bags at 215 of its retail stores nationwide and, for one week, guests at its stores would receive a branded, reusable bag for free while supplies lasted. The move came as a surprise to consumers as well as other industry leaders who instituted free, environmentally responsible alternative packaging to customers. Apparently at Disney, the new policy on eco-packaging would be to require customers to pay an additional fee of 99 cents for their corporate social concerns. For loyal Disney patrons, many of whom failed to get the limited release of the memo, the display of social responsibility by the corporate giant felt more like consumer extortion, rather than an example of a corporate culture of social and environmental responsibility.

In a recent visit to a Disney Store in the Atlanta area, two loyal Disney customers approached the counter with armfuls of items to purchase. After tallying the sale, the Disney associate asked the customers if they would like to purchase a branded, reusable container bag for their numerous items. After declining the offer, the customers were told that they were welcome to carry out the items without a bag but that Disney would no longer be providing free carry-out containers, plastic or otherwise. The cashier went on to explain that management was “concerned about employees spending too much time unpacking all those boxes of plastic bags and that many of their customers were very upset over the new policy.” No kidding!

It is hard to imagine a more egregious example of engaging a new corporate policy that was meant to demonstrate a company’s positive environmental responsibility. Is the cost of Disney’s environmental responsibility being imposed, in total, on their customers? Is the real policy meant to display a corporate concern for the well-being of the environment or concern for the cost associated with employees’ efforts to unpack “all those boxes of bags?” Surely, incorporating the cost of free, branded bags could be absorbed into the cost of doing business (as the former plastic bags were) or charged-off to the marketing collateral budget. Just imagine all those “Disney” blazed bags with their long shelf life walking forever through grocery stores, big box competitors and shopping malls all around the country.

Perhaps the new policy introduction has suffered from Mr. Murphy’s law or from poor messaging, or a misunderstanding by some isolated corporate associates. Whatever the reasons for this marketing debacle the new policy cannot be seen as leading to any positive result for the corporate giant or its loyal customers.

With online purchases at an all-time high, brick and mortar retailers are being encouraged to focus marketing efforts on providing a positive and engaging shopping experience to customers. It is inarguably being predicted that their very survival depends on it. Either Disney management failed to recognize the importance of consumers’ shopping experience or they have failed to grasp the fundamentals of rolling out an important new policy that surely was designed to positively advance the Company’s brand.