How corporate social responsibility projects are adding a human dimension to Reckitt's brands

Reckitt is working on local and world problems - and consumer perception of its hygiene brands at the same time

Reckitt and Rural Aid deliver water to farmers in drought
Reckitt and Rural Aid deliver water to farmers in drought

Reckitt has been busy creating wide-ranging and ongoing corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects in the last few years with results for the community and for consumer perception that please Reckitt’s hygiene A/NZ’s director of marketing, Saurabh Jain. 

The hygiene, health and nutrition manufacturer has caught the wave of community sentiment about organisations with a positive purpose and further goals to help change consumer habits for the greater good. Jain believes constant community comment and trial by social media has made it more important for leading brands to play a meaningful and positive role in society. 

“We are now living in a social media world and we’re being observed all the time. So brands have to be authentic and genuine in whatever we do,” Jain tells CMO. “And consumers always have to be at the heart of CSR projects.” 

Jain has developed CSR initiatives solving issues for the environment and helping communities’ vulnerable people for Reckitt brands including Finish dishwasher detergent, Dettol and Air Wick Botanica air freshener. 

The 'Finish water waste' initiative features at Bondi IcebergsCredit: Reckitt
The 'Finish water waste' initiative features at Bondi Icebergs

Jain recommends starting CSR activities by looking to a brand’s products and society’s wide-ranging issues to identify a problem relevant to a brand that the brand can help solve. Solving world water problems is one of the global goals Reckitt aspires to, and the CPG has become an official partner of upcoming environment conference COP26 (26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties) to help.

The ‘Finish water waste’ project saw Reckitt combine with not-for-profit organisation, Rural Aid, to help farmers most affected by drought. Since 2019, the project has trucked 14 million litres of water to farmers identified by Rural Aid. Last year, Reckitt made the project more sustainable by donating 200 water tanks to needy farmers. The Finish Water Waste message was promoted heavily in TV advertising on three commercial channels plus online including YouTube. 

Jain believes CSR initiatives and marketing become simpler when the message and goals are well aligned. 

“For us, the product message and the CSR message is the same thing: ‘Do not rinse or handwash. Leave it to Finish and the dishwasher – and you can save water, too’,” Jain says.

Having a network of like-minded partners is important, Jain continues, because a brand won’t have all the necessary expertise and world problems are not quickly solved. Initiatives can be ongoing and therefore benefit from different partners at different stages. 

“We have a not-for-profit partner, retailers on-board and we’re in conversations with big network providers and media partners who could be influential storytellers to solidify the message,” he says.

Saurabh Jain Reckitt's hygiene A/NZ marketing directorCredit: Reckitt
Saurabh Jain Reckitt's hygiene A/NZ marketing director

Both Coles and Woolworths, for example, joined the ‘Finish water waste’ project initiative. Coles came in with a consumer incentive on the packaging: For every pack sold, Reckitt and Coles donated 40 litres of water. Woolworths joined with giveaway silicon dishes and a water-saving messages. In Q4, Bosch also joins Reckitt's network of partners with its water-saving messaging. 

Jain notes the effects of these initiatives happen in stages and projects have longevity when one of the goals is to change consumer habits. 

“Reducing handwashing is already happening but to change people’s habits of pre-rinsing could take another few years,” he says. “Meaningful CSR activities, when dealing with consumer behaviour, take a long time. It takes awareness then persuasion and ongoing connection to the cause before you can see the change in society at large.  

“First, there is rub-off on the brand. The moment you talk about a project it raises awareness in some consumers instantly, then we see wider success in raised awareness. This is followed by a change in the ways people think about your brand. Commercial success from engagement also comes in from about six months. But there is a lag before there’s a change in consumer behaviour.” 

The impact is clear in Reckitt’s consumer surveys. In the last two years, Finish scores on ‘the brand I love’ and ‘the brand I trust’ has gone up from 65 per cent to 72 per cent.

Safety and COVID

Back when Covid landed, a partnership with Meals on Wheels and Reckitt’s disinfectant brands, Glen 20, Dettol and Pine-O-Clean, seemed logical. 

“The products were flying off the shelves and we thought we had a role to do more to help vulnerable people during the pandemic,” Jain explains. “We touched base with Meals on Wheels and earmarked $1 million of those products to give away as meals were being delivered.” 

There was an initial burst of advertising mid-2020 encouraging volunteers or donations to Meals on Wheels, followed by TV and online promotion earlier this year focused on the hygiene giveaway via meals-delivering volunteers. In partnership with Woolworths, hygiene packs were made up and given away in store and an incentive to buy was created. A percentage of sales of the three disinfectants went towards Woolworths’ hygiene gift packs. 

Increasingly rare plant species are the focus of ‘Rare Bloom’ project, a three-year agreement with partners, World Wildlife Fund-Australia and the Australian Seed Bank, to save 120 indigenous wildflower species threatened during the 2019-20 fires and which now face extinction. The WWF-Australia and seed bank collaborate on seed collection, germination, trials and propagation and planting in the wild. 

“We did initial awareness promotions to say, ‘Thank you, nature’  to raise awareness about threats to native species and encourage people not to take nature for granted,” Jain says.  

Reckitt later promoted the Rare Bloom project on a new TVC in which creative shared Air Wick Botanica’s goal to protect native wildflowers and help connect people with nature. Jain does not see these CSR activities and promotions as advertising campaigns. 

“These are new ways we are reimagining brands and their roles,” he says. “At no other time in history have brands been so important in playing a role in society.” 

A useful starting point for brands interested in designing a CSR initiative is the United Nation’s list of 17 ‘sustainable development’ goals (STGs). Jain advises looking through your brand category to see if brands are relevant to problems which need solving. If the role of brand and cause are seamlessly connected and can deliver against those STGs, the initiative should work, he says.

Ideally, the cause can be seen in an everyday way to help solve a problem. Another must is validating the project at all stages with consumer sentiment to avoid going off-track and losing the consumer. 

“We go back to consumers in surveys to ask what do they expect us to do and, beyond that, what do they want us to do – because it’s about creating real engagement,” Jain says. 

To ensure Reckitt staff are engaged with the new dimensions of CSR projects – and to give them the best chance of becoming brand ambassadors - the firm encourages its people to join its Purpose Council. Twelve per cent of Reckitt staff have joined this year and are volunteering with CSR partners. It was this participation that resulted in the Rare Bloom project and Meals on Wheels giveaway. 

“We had discussed delivering with Meals on Wheels but doing it was a completely different experience – meeting people living alone and seeing the impact Covid had on people. I came away enriched by the experience,” Jain adds.

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