In a report submitted to the French government on 9 March 2018 about ‘companies and general interest”, Nicole Notat, former general secretary of the French democratic confederation of Labour (CFDT), and Jean-Dominique Senard, CEO of Michelin, propose unprecedented shifts concerning the social purpose of companies, as part of a reflection on their place within society.
The report suggests to adapt companies to their stakeholders’ expectations. This adaptation requires an extension of its role beyond economic performance, by adding the notion of “raison d’être” in the definition of their social purpose as it appears today, and since Napoleon in the Civil code.
These propositions could be transposed into the “Pacte” bill Pacte (Action Plan for the companies’ growth and transformation) which should be presented to the Council of ministers in the upcoming weeks.
The “raison d’être” is the sense given by the company to its activity and the way in which it defines its utility: for itself, its owners, its stakeholders… and so for society.
Expressing it represents for the company a fundamental identity marker: affirming, beyond profit-making, the finality of its activity. This ‘raison d’être’ will consequently orient its strategic choices, its actions and initiatives, while being sustainable through self-expression of its vision for the future.
In the long run, this transcription also represents good governance and investment criteria, as BlackRock’s CEO Larry Fink writes it in his annual letter to shareholders, spurring the managers and the board meetings to precise the “raison d’être” of their companies and to follow it as a guiding line. Then, it could become a major axis of the corporate communication of companies and could renew and reinforce this one.
A good example is provided by Toyota. The Japanese group became the official partner FOR mobility of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, from the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games to the 2024 Paris Olympic Games, with obviously the Tokyo Olympics between these two dates. For Toyota, this commitment is consistent with its strategic vision of a better mobility for everyone, which is not limited to the vehicles they produce. Concluding this partnership agreement with the Paralympic International Comitee (PIC) in 2015, Toyota wanted to “work for a pacific society without discrimination by sport” and to “contribute to a sustainable society by mobility”. Until 2018, there was one car manufacturer for the Olympic Games and another one for the Paralympic Games. For Toyota, it was essential to be associated to both events, with an equal treatment in order to support its societal strategic vision.
Demonstrating its commitment in favor of the Paralympic movement, Toyota has decided to communicate all over the world thanks to a campaign based on disabled athletes, “Start your impossible”, available in 27 countries in the same way, with the same movies and same images.
“Better mobility for all” is a credo broadcasted by Toyota for a more inclusive society going beyond people with disabilities. Mobility solutions for the elderly were presented as well at the Geneva Auto Show. Toyota is therefore placing its communication in a societal strategic vision that reflects its “raison d’être”.
In a different register, the feminine hygiene products brand Always, through its “#LikeAGirl” campaign, makes a mockery of the stereotypes associated to the expressions “running like a girl” or “fighting like a girl”. So many actions that, associated to the feminine gender, are supposed to be negative or ridiculous. The brand has gone further by offering products that adapt to women (Always my fit), by raising awareness for over 30 years towards millions of teenagers on puberty and periods to give them confidence.
At the same time, Always is also committed to empowering girls and has partnered with more than 30 organizations, which act worldwide, like Save The Children and UN Women. An effective communication: the video has gone viral with more than 90 million views; Always’ Twitter account has tripled the number of these subscribers in the first three months and there are more than 177,000 tweets with #LikeAGirl including many celebrities!
In the new context created by the debate on the company purpose, it is likely that we will assist to a resurgence of communication campaigns based on social responsibility (CSR).
They must not only reflect the company’s positioning but the reality of its long-term strategy as well as its daily activity. To be credible and not trigger a buzz that can quickly become negative and even counterproductive, communication must embody a concrete societal commitment, translation of the strategy and the “raison d’être” of the company. Otherwise, after the “Greenwashing”,(1), the “womenwashing”, (2) or the “pinkwashing”,(3) may come the time of “socialwashing”