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Brands are increasingly conscious that their responsibilities extend far beyond their shareholders. INTA President David Lossignol explains how brands can shape the world for the better, and the role the association is playing in that struggle.
Intellectual property plays a critical role in corporate social responsibility (CSR). For brand professionals to effectively contribute to their company’s CSR, they need to understand how this relationship works and ensure that the relationship is successful. Likewise, as a global community of brand owners and professionals, we also need to address issues that undermine this relationship, including anti-IP sentiment and brand restrictions.
Most brands today now prioritise giving back as an essential part of their operations and CSR has become a key component of their core values and corporate strategies. One reason for this is that consumers have come to expect this of brands. Edelman’s 2018 Earned Brand study, which examines consumer-brand relationships based on feedback from 40,000 respondents across eight markets globally, identified 64% of consumers as belief-driven, a staggering 13% jump from the previous year.
In a similar study published by Cone Communications in 2017, 70% of the respondents said they will spend more on brands supporting causes they care about. This represents a paradigm shift in the relationship between brand and consumer: Purchasing behavior is influenced less by how the company promotes its product and more by a brand’s willingness to live by its values and put purpose before profit.
A matter of trust
At the heart of the consumer-brand relationship is trust, which is also where IP comes in. The Edelman Earned Brand study also notes that the “media is now the least-trusted institution in the world, with half of people disengaged from mainstream outlets,” “government is seen as parochial and partisan, unable to make a difference on the issues that matter” and “consumers are [now] turning to brands as their champions.”
"We want to show how brands help society at large by focusing on what they are bringing to communities."
Consumer trust plays a critical role here, and the foundation upon which that trust is placed lies in IP. Trademarks, specifically, enable quick, confident, and safe purchasing decisions, and these decisions are built on trust. According to the 2015 Nielsen Global Corporate Sustainability Report, trust in the brand was the top factor influencing purchasing decisions among consumers globally.
At the same time, however, this increasing trust in brands among consumers is coupled with another conflicting trend at work: anti-IP sentiment. The critical roles of trademarks, as sources of information, and brands, as promises of delivery, are being diminished in the marketplace, largely through misinformation. Increasingly, the public at large view IP as means for companies to unfairly inflate their shareholders’ wealth at the expense of consumers who buy their products and the communities in which they operate. As a consequence, the role of trademarks, IP, and brands in society is often misunderstood. This is negatively impacting brand reputation and is fuelling anti-IP sentiment.
Anti-IP sentiment is growing, and, even though it’s something that is usually aimed more at patents and copyrights than trademarks, it contaminates trademarks and brands. We need to counter this trend. IP should be seen as a source of innovation, jobs, economic growth, and consumer protection.
One way that INTA is working to combat anti-IP sentiment is through the dissemination of impact studies. These studies, produced by INTA, demonstrate the contribution of trademarks to national economies, trade, job creation, and wages. The next study to be released (in May 2019) is Gen Z Insights: Brands and Counterfeit Products. It explores the relationship Gen Zers have with brands and counterfeit products across ten key countries. We are also reaching younger consumers through the Unreal Campaign, an initiative in which INTA members bring a positive message to students in schools around the world, educating the consumers of tomorrow about the dangers of counterfeits and the role of trademarks in society.
The issue of brand restrictions
Another issue that largely stems from anti-IP sentiment is brand restrictions. Historically, tobacco may have been the target of brand restriction legislation in an increasing number of jurisdictions, but this legislation is no longer limited to that sector. Now, brand restrictions in some markets touch pharmaceuticals, infant formula, food and beverages, and almost any product that can be perceived as somehow unhealthy.
INTA is actively working to address this issue. The association has filed submissions on brand restrictions with governments in more than 20 jurisdictions across Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas and recently at the appellate body of the World Trade Organization. We’re calling on governments to take a well-informed and balanced approach, to consider health and safety issues alongside public policy, the protection of IP rights, and the contribution of IP to national and local economies.
We also need to educate the public about the positive aspects of brands and the negative impact of brand restrictions. For example, restricting or eliminating trademarks and logos on packaging can actually increase the dangers to consumers because of a greater threat of counterfeit goods and services or because of the increased likelihood of confusion which, in some fields, can lead to severe consequences and even fatality.
Again, this is diminishing consumer trust. As brand restrictions result in products looking visually more similar to one another, it creates an undue presumption of equivalence between the products. This disincentivises innovation and the desire to improve product quality.
This is why one of the three core pillars within INTA’s 2018–2021 Strategic Plan is to “Reinforce Consumer Trust.” This involves communicating broadly how brands contribute not only to economies but to society at large. To support this effort, this year we have launched a presidential task force called “Brands for a Better Society.” At a high level, we want to show how brands help society at large by focusing on what they are bringing to communities and by moving beyond the traditional message that trademarks merely protect corporate interests.
Conversely, we also want to showcase all the ways that CSR is impacting brands and brand value, and how, when companies embrace new ways of doing business by stepping up and making changes for better social and environmental practices, they also increase brand value and customer loyalty.
We will not only look at all the ways that brands are shaping our world for the better, be it in terms of environmental and social issues, diversity, indigenous rights, equality, labour standards, or any other topics that constitute CSR. We will also examine how counterfeiting and other IP violations frustrate a brand’s efforts to improve its own environmental and social impact.
We want to remind people how trademarks help to communicate quality and support CSR efforts, and, ultimately, we want to promote the positive efforts of the brand community in the world. INTA will also work to equip brand professionals with the tools and resources they need to ensure that trademarks and related IP are able to fulfil their role in their brands’ CSR efforts.
At no point in history has humanity and the planet faced such myriad issues that urgently need addressing, and brands have a central role to play. For the generations that follow us, we, as brand professionals, can contribute to a positive legacy for our brands and to the betterment of society.
David Lossignol is the 2019 INTA president and head of trademarks, domain names and copyrights at Novartis Pharma in Basel, Switzerland.
INTA, brands, CSR, consumers, trademarks, misinformation, anti-IP sentiment, patents, copyrights, innovation, counterfeits, pharmaceuticals, WTO