What Brands Can Learn From Musicians About CSR

The memories are indelible. From Farm Aid to Live Aid and “We are the World,” my generation’s earliest exposure to activism was through music. When Live Aid aired in July 1985, 95% of the world’s television sets were tuned in, and an estimated 1.4 billion people watched, making it the biggest benefit concert in history. Today, musical artists like Lady Gaga, who launched her Born This Way Foundation to support the wellness of young people, and Jack Johnson, who used proceeds from his 2008 tour to fund the Johnson Ohana Charitable Foundation, are continuing the rich history of musician-activism. 

According to recent research by Havas Worldwide, today’s consumers expect business and industry to drive positive social change. In response to this mandate, companies can learn much from recording artists about how to execute an effective social responsibility campaign.  



Here are three key lessons corporations can learn from the music industry:

1. Align with a cause that is authentic to your brand: Because he has been a practicing vegetarian for decades, audiences understand that Paul McCartney’s support of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is heartfelt and genuine. Musician Jack Johnson also walks the walk, advocating for environmental causes while ensuring that his tours are sustainable and carbon-neutral. These artists’ sincere commitment to the issues that matter to them in turn inspires their fans’ allegiance and interest in their causes.

Similarly, the most effective corporate social responsibility initiatives address an issue area that is relevant to the business. Consumers are savvy; they know empty self-promotion when they see it. Thus, brands should focus on causes that are organic to their company profiles and ensure that their commitment is manifested across company practices.

2. Involve your audience in your cause: When fans attend a Jack Johnson concert, they participate in an experience that is environmentally sustainable, refilling their reusable water bottles for free and participating in recycling and composting on-site. 

While issue advocacy might not seem as organic to business as it is to the music industry, like concert-goers, consumers want to be engaged and inspired. According to the Havas study, 71% of consumers believe companies have a responsibility to do more than just generate profit—and they want to do business with companies that share this value. By taking the lead, and actively involving the public in their CSR efforts, brands connect with consumers in a truly meaningful and lasting way, creating a long-term brand legacy as they contribute to the public good. 

3. Don't be shy about promoting your efforts: Musicians use their celebrity to raise awareness about the issues they care about; Paul McCartney’s website, for instance, features a charity blog and a page listing causes he supports.

Like musicians, brands have powerful marketing and messaging platforms. They also have a watchful audience—consumers who, increasingly, expect businesses to establish meaningful alliances with nonprofits and social causes. Therefore, it only makes sense to take advantage of every opportunity to promote the tangible impacts of CSR campaigns. The key is to focus the message on the cause area, the nonprofit partners with which the company is working, and the beneficiaries of the CSR initiatives—not the brand.

The Bottom Line

For decades, musicians have drawn the public’s attention to critical issues worldwide, proving their ability to galvanize public support in a powerful way, and making a lasting impression on their audiences in the process. Today, the mandate from consumers is that brands do the same. For the next generation, perhaps the indelible memory that first inspires them to activism will be created not by a musician, but by a brand’s impactful CSR campaign.

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