University of Georgia

How brands compete on social purpose

University of Georgia Sundar Bharadwaj

Do you like your cleaning products to be eco-friendly? Your shoes supportive of workers’ rights? Companies are increasingly using their good deeds to identify and differentiate themselves in the marketplace, and new research from UGA explains how and why it works.

In an article published in Harvard Business Review, Sundar Bharadwaj emphasizes the importance of aligning a social purpose with activities that are meaningful and appropriate for a brand.

“It makes more sense for a bank to invest in financial literacy or help the un-banked than it would to support a symphony orchestra,” says Bharadwaj, who holds the Coca-Cola Company Chair of Marketing at UGA’s Terry College of Business. “Financial literacy resonates with a bank’s brand and has a clearer association for customers and stakeholders.”

After studying many failed and successful campaigns, Bharadwaj and co-author Omar Rodriguez-Vila of Georgia Tech concluded that an effective social purpose strategy must create real value or customers may feel manipulated. A good way to ensure that a company’s efforts are paying real dividends is to partner with organizations or individuals who are already doing good work on an issue, according to Bharadwaj.

“If you don’t have credibility or authenticity, a social purpose campaign can absolutely hurt you,” he says.

This brief appeared in the spring 2018 issue of Research Magazine. The original press release is available at