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Oxfam’s brand trust crisis

“The purpose of Oxfam is to help create lasting solutions to the injustice of poverty. We are part of a global movement for change, one that empowers people to create a future that is secure, just, and free from poverty.” Their values are Empowerment, Accountability and Inclusiveness.

Recent research by Populus found that almost half of workers (42%) say their company does not act in line with its purpose and values. More than half (53%) say their company’s marketing does not reflect reality. And here lies Oxfam’s brand challenge.

Brand trust in charities has taken a battering over recent years. With the Olive Cooke scandal (a 92-year-old poppy seller who took her own life because she felt ‘overwhelmed’ by the huge number of requests for donations she received) and the collapse of the Kids Company, trust in charities hit a record low in 2016. It was gradually on the mend, until now with the stories of sexual abuse and harassment across the international aid sector.

At the same time, the annual Edelman Trust Barometer reports that business has closed the trust gap. Of the four major institutions (government, charities, business and the media), it is business that has seen the largest increase in trust. And the sector most likely to make a positive impact. Some would say stealing charities’ thunder.

There is no doubt that this has been fuelled by more and more businesses defining their social purpose and placing it at the heart of their brand and business strategy, which attracts customers and employees alike. This is supported by data in which businesses certified as B Corps are growing 28 times faster than UK GDP in the past 12 months.

Even financial services have seen one of the biggest gains, as a result of purpose-driven campaigns (such as NatWest ‘We are what we do’, Lloyds Bank ‘By your side’, and TSB ‘Local banking with Britain’), together with a focus on internal culture change and embedding values. These including The Team’s own work with RBS to reset the values and focus on behaviours that keep the bank focused on what matters: Customers. They learned through bitter experience that unless every member of the workforce is making decisions that have the customers’ best interests at heart, then things go wrong and consequences are forthcoming.

Keith Weed, Unilever’s Chief Marketing Officer, and the World Federation of Advertiser’s Global Marketer of the Year, urges marketers to focus on building trust back: “Once trust starts getting eroded you’ve got all sorts of problems. Without trust, you don’t get brands.”

At times like these I would encourage charities to go back to brand basics: Clearly define your brand purpose and values and bring them to life – inside and out. In the age of transparency and authenticity, not embedding them correctly is a grave mistake.

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