INTA and corporate social responsibility

Humanity and the planet are plagued by social and environmental issues that require urgent attention. Increasingly, brands are beginning to recognise that they have a responsibility and a role to play in addressing these issues and that it is a worthwhile investment of their resources. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has become a strategic priority for most major brands and is viewed almost universally as a key pillar of success in the business world. Why? Because consumers now expect it.

As a global community of brand owners spanning 187 countries, INTA is uniquely positioned to support brands in their CSR efforts to build a better society. As an IP organisation, one key to INTA’s success in this endeavour has been to examine and elucidate the nexus between CSR and intellectual property so that INTA can fulfil its role as a leading, trusted and influential advocate for the economic and social value of brands; and help our members – brands and brand professionals – to understand how intellectual property can and should play a role in CSR. In 2019, INTA made notable progress on these fronts. It was also a focus point for me personally during my year as INTA’s president.

Reinforcing consumer trust

At the heart of the matter is trust. As brand professionals, we know that trust is critical in the marketplace. Trademarks enable consumers to make quick, confident, safe purchasing decisions. In other words, trademarks foster trust. This has been the role and purpose of trademarks since their creation. However, this relationship between brand and consumer has changed in the age of the conscious consumer, who seeks to make positive purchasing decisions that bring some balance to their own impact on the planet.

In the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer, In Brands We Trust?, the global communications firm labels these consumers ‘belief-driven buyers’. The report compiles survey data of more than 25,000 consumers across eight countries. Of the respondents, 67% agreed with the statement: ‘A good reputation may get me to try a product, but unless I come to trust the company behind the product, I will soon stop buying it’. In addition, 81% said that they need to trust the brand to do what is right.

This sentiment was echoed by respondents in INTA’s Gen Z Insights: Brands and Counterfeit Products study, published in May 2019. Across 10 countries the study explored Generation Z – young adults between 18 and 23-years-old – and their relationship with brands and attitudes and perceptions towards counterfeit products – 85% of respondents said that “brands should aim to do good in the world”.

Brand professionals recognise that consumer trust is crucial to a brand’s success and that strong intellectual property is essential for maintaining an enduring consumer-brand relationship. Today, we must also take in account that the presence of a visible and measurable CSR programme is necessary to help support and enhance consumer trust.

Reinforcing consumer trust is one of three objectives contained in INTA’s 2018-2021 Strategic Plan. This focus acknowledges the continual growth and evolution of the relationship between consumers and brands. Part of this objective involves communicating broadly how brands contribute to economies and society, as well as promoting the positive side of intellectual property, namely its contribution to gross domestic product, employment and social welfare around the world.

Supporting brands for a better society

Brands play an integral role in the global economy. They are also woven into the fabric of communities. In an increasingly connected world moving at record speed, brands must be responsive to their expanding and diverse global consumer base and the needs of the communities in which they operate. Consumers of all ages are empowered to share their views and engage with brands, including strongly advising that brands’ products and services must reflect their own worldview.

In response, INTA created a 2019 Presidential Task Force: Brands for a Better Society. The task force was charged with researching the impact that brands have on society and how business is improving in its efforts to bring about positive change for people, the planet and performance. On INTA’s behalf, the task force has begun the work of equipping INTA members with the tools and resources that they need to help promote the positive efforts of the global brand community to contribute to the betterment of society. It is important that INTA and its members can illustrate the positive role that brands play in our world and specifically how trademarks help to communicate quality and support CSR efforts. Here at INTA we want to demonstrate how CSR can increase brand value and customer loyalty.

The task force conducted a survey to establish members’ opinion and position on CSR, as well as any policies and CSR activities adopted by member organisations. The high rate of survey participation suggests that many members are aware and supportive of brand involvement in CSR initiatives. It was also clear from the survey results that INTA should take a leading role in highlighting the connection between intellectual property, CSR and brand value by presenting the meaningful impact that business can have on both the bottom line and on society.

As a key outcome of the task force findings, INTA has created a dedicated Brands for a Better Society Committee, which will continue the work of the task force in the 2020-2021 committee term and beyond.

Engaging consumers on intellectual property and CSR

Another focus point for Brands for a Better Society is to examine how counterfeiting and other IP violations frustrate a brand’s efforts to improve its own environmental and social impact. The battle against counterfeiting is a policy priority for INTA. According to The Economic Impacts of Counterfeiting and Piracy report, published in 2017 by INTA and the International Chamber of Commerce Business Action to Stop Counterfeiting and Piracy, by 2022 the value of counterfeit and pirated goods is projected to reach between $1.9 trillion to $2.8 trillion and result in more than 5.4 million lost jobs. It’s a trillion-dollar global industry – and it’s growing!

To address consumer demand for counterfeit goods, we must change perceptions and attitudes towards intellectual property and counterfeits. In doing so, we will unlock opportunities to draw connections, expand the narrative and speak to consumers about something that they care about: the positive role of brands in society. This will also enable us to deepen consumer trust and protection, counter anti-IP sentiment, increase brand equity and make counterfeits socially unacceptable.

This is especially true for the younger generations, set to become the consumers of the future. In 2020 Generation Z became the largest consumer group globally. Between November 2017 and November 2018, 79% of Generation Z surveyed in INTA’s Gen Z Insights study purchased fake products. Even though almost half of Generation Z are morally opposed to purchasing counterfeit products, they often apply a lens of situational morality to their purchase decisions, and practical considerations such as income can overtake moral ideals. In fact, income trumps morals globally by 10%. That said, 91% of the study respondents expressed an openness to changing their views based on new things that they learn. This provides us with an opportunity to change perceptions, influence behaviours, curb demand for counterfeit goods and promote brands’ efforts to contribute to a better society.

INTA has its own education and outreach strategy in collaboration with its members. Through its committee-led Unreal Campaign, INTA is engaging in education and outreach with young consumers about the value of trademarks and brands and the dangers of counterfeit goods. In 2019 alone, INTA volunteers engaged directly with more than 10,000 young consumers through 130 events in 18 countries, reaching hundreds of thousands more online through social media.

As a direct outcome of the Gen Z study, in 2019 INTA expanded the target age group for the Unreal Campaign, from 14 to 18-year-olds to include those up to 23. This has created even more opportunities for INTA volunteers to engage with young adults, as they can also present to students in colleges and universities.

Infusing CSR into educational programming

INTA is infusing CSR into its educational programming to:

  • help INTA members understand how they can support their companies’ sustainability efforts in their roles as brand professionals;
  • arm INTA members with insights and information on the relationship between brands, intellectual property and CSR to take back to their colleagues; and
  • enable INTA members to become true advocates for change in their companies, to effectively drive and promote CSR efforts and give back to society.

On a large scale, INTA will be hosting its 2020 New York conference – Brands in Society: Their Influence and Responsibility – on 16 and 17 March 2020. Looking at the nexus of intellectual property and CSR from many angles, the programme explores how to build, enhance and maintain a successful brand in a socially conscious world where consumers are scrutinising companies’ programmes and policies as they determine which brands to support. Sessions will include:

  • how to develop effective brand messaging during social revolutions and in relation to sensitive political issues;
  • shareholder value versus the needs of consumers and communities;
  • the economic benefits of CSR; and
  • public-private sector collaborations in sustainability.

For many years INTA has also hosted charity events at its annual meetings, where meeting registrants volunteer their time to give back to the local community. This has now been expanded from the annual meeting to all INTA meetings and conferences.

Collaborating with the public sector

INTA is seeking out opportunities to collaborate with the public sector to address challenging global issues. It has supported the WIPO’s work for many years, including active participation in high-level meetings and promoting its various treaties. While continuing to maintain and recognise the crucial role that trademarks play in protecting consumers and promoting fair and effective commerce, this work has evolved as the global economy has transformed. INTA recently signed a memorandum of understanding with WIPO to facilitate cooperation on the WIPO Green programme, which aims to accelerate green technology innovation and the transition to a greener economy. To raise awareness of WIPO Green, INTA will be developing joint workshops and training for brand owners, among other initiatives.

INTA also been working with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to establish an effective way for INTA to support UNDP Accelerator Labs. The labs have been created to solve immediate local problems or challenges through radically new approaches, involving experts from different fields collaborating in pursuit of tangible, effective solutions. INTA’s involvement will provide members with the opportunity to get involved in these projects and be at the forefront of this initiative.

The Brands for a Better Society Committee will represent INTA in the collaboration with the UNDP and will report and highlight brand involvement in the building of better, more sustainable business strategies and positive change.

Celebrating impact and success

It is also important to recognise and celebrate success pertaining to CSR efforts. In 2019 INTA revised its INTA Service Awards to more closely reflect INTA’s mission, vision and strategic priorities. This included the creation of an INTA Members for a Better Society Award, which is given to INTA members who “demonstrated during the year how brands positively impact society and build consumer trust through initiatives relating to: (a) corporate social responsibility; (b) diversity and inclusion; or (c) pro bono legal services”. The award will help illustrate creative and achievable success in CSR, and hopefully inspire others to take similar action. Two individuals and three organisations received this award in 2019.

Supporting INTA members as brand professionals

The role of trademark practitioners has evolved beyond the practical – albeit crucial – aspects of the job, including trademark registration and enforcement. In a much more holistic role as brand professionals, they should be proactively advising on all aspects of the protection and promotion of brands. This includes, for example, matters relating to advertising, public policy, regulation, social media and CSR.

As brand professionals come to appreciate the strong connection between intellectual property and CSR, they are presented with an opportunity to contribute and help their companies build a better society. Brand professionals need to understand how this relationship works and ensure that it is a successful one. They also need to address issues that undermine this relationship, including counterfeiting, anti-IP sentiment and brand restrictions, and they need to share the responsibility for educating the public and policy makers about the positive role of brands in society. As brands develop their CSR programmes, brand professionals can also help guide businesses to develop socially responsible brands with messaging built around them.

A key objective for INTA is to provide its members (32,000 brand professionals globally) with the resources that they need to succeed in this transformative role.

Becoming a change leader

Intellectual property plays a central role in the global economy and consumers everywhere are interacting with intellectual property every day. As an international organisation focused on intellectual property, INTA is working to protect the trust between consumer and brand. When INTA is successful in this endeavour, brands flourish in the marketplace. As a global community of brand owners, INTA also has knowledge and perspective to help businesses successfully develop and implement CSR programmes. When brands flourish, they can invest in their CSR by redirecting resources back into the communities in which they operate, into their supply chains, products and services, and into society and the planet. This is how INTA is becoming a change leader and working with brands globally to build a better society.

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