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December 15, 2006

Comments

Emilee

Yes, sustainability and charity are the only two good things.....Sustainability is replenishing a need and charity are the funds to do that--One more--LUCK! Are you lucky? or do you just feel that way?

GrahamHill

Jennifer

Apple is being investigated by the SEC for the highly-dubious and potentially fraudulent act of back-dating management stock options.

Can a company that flagrantly abuses generally accepted corporate governance standards ever be a worthwhile corporate brand, irrespective of how 'cool' its products are?

You decide.

Graham Hill

GrahamHill

Jennifer

This is a complicated area. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) by itself is complicated enough. Trying to layer the notion of 'worthwhile brands' on top is, well, a philosophical challenge!

CSR seems to be roughly split into two camps: The camp that says that companies must do good things because they have a responsibility to society. Many NGOs fit into this camp. And the camp that says that companies do good things to society as a whole by being effective businesses. Many companies and management consultancies fit into this camp.

Perhaps the best thinking in this area comes from the British economist John Kay in his writing about 'The Role of Business in Society' - http://www.johnkay.com/society/133 - and from McKinsey in its writing about 'What is the Business of Business' - http://www.mckinseyquarterly.com/article_abstract.aspx?ar=1638 - and 'When Social Issues Become Strategic' - http://www.mckinseyquarterly.com/article_abstract.aspx?ar=1763&L2=39. Sometimes this requires taking a long, hard, critical look at organisations like 'Fairtrade' who appear to be doing good but may be doing more harm in the longer-term. The Economist article 'Voting with your Trolley' did this recently - http://www.economist.com/business/displaystory.cfm?story_id=E1_RPRDVJN.

Clearly, CSR is not as easy and clear-cut as it is tempting to think it is. And whatever your starting position, CSR is clearly much more complicated than just companies doing good things or doing bad things as many would portray. Worthwhile branding is very much driven by your perception of the role of CSR in business and the role of business in society.

As for Apple. Well, it is tempting to want to believe that Apple must be a good company because it makes such well designed, easy to use, highly desirable products. But that would be a cognitively dissonant mistake. Does Apple make the world a better place? Probably no more than Microsoft, IBM or Dell. Does Apple do more for the world? Again probably no more than Microsoft, IBM or Dell, and certainly much less than the Bill & Miranda Gates Foundation. Is Apple a worthwhile brand? You've guessed it. Probably no more than Microsoft, IBM or Dell.

But no doubt you have your own opinion about that.

Graham Hill

Scott Miller

Perhaps a worthwhile brand has a net positive effect on society. Cigarette brands clearly do not -- they kill 10's of 1000's per month, if not more. Fast food brands are a little more grey, because they provide a convenient service, but their food is almost void of nutrients, and in fact is full of harmful ingredients (trans fat and high-fructose corn syrup, to name two of many). I'd rate Apple as a net positive because it brings enjoyment to people's lives, and without much harm to society (that I know of).

Whole Foods is clearly a net positive, because they vigorously support organic growers, and take a strong stand by not selling any foods that contain trans fats.

Wal-Mart is another tough call because they drive so many small businesses out of business when they enter smaller towns, especially. But, they are cheaper. (My opinion is that the world would be better off without Wal-Mart.)

Microsoft can be as evil as a corporation can get, yet the computer industry needs a standardized operating system, which benefits everyone (except Microsoft's competitors). Are they worthwhile? Very tough call, but likely yes.

Coca Cola, Inc.?

Matthew Healey

Apple started out, in Steve Jobs's words, to create a "bicycle for the mind." "Computing for the rest of us." When Jobs recruited Sculley from Pepsi in the 80s, his pitch came down to: "Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to change the world?"

I would argue that, because of its history of being dedicated to empowerment, Apple is a worthwhile brand, in spite of its lack of do-goodyness. Which is not to say it can't or won't do better. The trend toward doing well by doing good is unmistakeable, and I believe that Apple will get on this train (witness the Product (RED) iPod).

Jennifer, you are once again onto something big. I would encourage you to think about turning it into a book. Really.

Mike Peter Reed

Well when I hear "Worthwhile" it makes me extrapolate that in my head to "is this brand worth my time."

Is Apple worth my time?

My personal time then brings in the metric of value at a very subjective level.

Is Apple worth my time and money?

If the answer is yes, they get my money in exchange for the value proposition against my precious resource of time. The science of economics does the rest.

jennifer

One more thought: How much objectivity vs. subjectivity should go into this definition? Brands are mostly subjective; they're ideas in the minds of its constituents. So can we combine an objective definition for Worthwhile with the term "brand," which is inherently subjective?

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