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Do Awareness Months Influence Businesses’ Social Impact?

Kogod School of Business marketing expert Professor Ron Hill weighs in on the topic.



For many companies worldwide, awareness months (or weeks or days) have become an increasingly important marketing tactic. These cause-driven campaigns offer businesses the chance to publicly support a social issue of their choice and brand themselves as socially conscious.

But does participating in awareness campaigns really mean a business is socially aware? If not, what should consumers consider when reviewing a company’s social responsibility efforts?

And what can they do to hold companies—and themselves—more socially accountable year-round?

Below, Kogod marketing professor Ron Hill explores answers to these questions and offers examples to consider. An expert in consumer behavior, corporate social responsibility, and marketing for social change, Hill examines what serving the social sector really means in business and how companies (and consumers) can better align themselves to affect change.

Companies need to co-align with the cause.

“From a marketing perspective, awareness month campaigns can be compelling and engaging—but only if a company is aligned with the cause,” says Hill.

Consumers want an authentic connection between the company’s purpose and the issue it supports. “This can enhance corporate reputation and boost sales,” Hill says. “It can create a ‘halo effect’ that draws people to the organization—and increases support for the cause.”

Conversely, if a company participates in an awareness month or day for a cause it is not aligned with, its support may have the opposite effect. For instance, a clothing or cleaning product brand that emphatically supports breast cancer treatment month may repel customers.

Hill cautions that regardless of alignment, businesses should anticipate some degree of pushback from the public. Not everyone agrees with the importance of an issue or how a company chooses to support it, he says.

“The biggest drawback is some part of your target market audience will always say, ‘Well, why this?’”

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When the World Health Organization and the United Nations launched World AIDS Day in 1988, AIDS was still a highly divisive topic. The general public still viewed it as a “gay disease,” a stigma that incited controversy for many companies that openly discussed it.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) needs a reframe.

When considering an organization’s social impact, Hill encourages consumers to look beyond awareness days to investigate its mission and values.

Companies that integrate social responsibility into their identity rather than pursue one-off initiatives tend to be more impactful and authentic.

More siloed CSR practices, such as cash donations or volunteer work, can still make a difference. But Hill advises consumers to put these actions into context. For example, if a company donates $1 million to fight gun violence, but its annual income is $3 billion, its overall investment to support this cause is not very high.

“Corporate social responsibility can be very anecdotal,” says Hill. “You have to look at the broader picture.”

He also notes that a business’s social goals can be separate from its financial ambitions, but ideally, the two coexist to help advance a greater good.

“The idea that social goals have to make economic goals shine doesn't make much sense,” says Hill.

Organizations exist in the community. They’re made up of people who have responsibilities beyond just themselves.”

Ron Hill purple

Ron Hill

Professor of Marketing, Kogod School of Business


This UK-based company embodies CSR with both its product and policies. For every bamboo toothbrush a customer uses, the company donates a brush to a child in need. And for each brush purchased, its partner Eden Reforestation Project plants a tree.

Consumers need to hold companies accountable.

“We need to hold companies accountable for what they do in the world—and what they fail to do,” says Hill.

Hill advises consumers not to take a company’s social contributions at face value. For instance, an organization might brand itself as socially conscious by planting trees in its community but still maintain manufacturing practices that pollute the environment.

“It’s a cheaper alternative than actually reducing pollution,” says Hill.

Companies that take accountability for negative impacts should do so within the context of their industries. Like awareness month causes, organizations should address any damage directly related to their work.

Examples might include McDonald’s adjusting their operations to reduce litter or food waste or a manufacturing company working to limit carbon emissions.

“Organizations need to think about what they can do proactively in their industries to make the world a better place,” says Hill.


PepsiCo recently made a bold pledge for sustainability: By 2023, it will spread regenerative farming practices across 7 million acres. The food and beverage giant will also sustainably source 100 percent of its key ingredients—a move that will help boost the nutritional value of its products.

Social consciousness fosters fulfillment.

Hill notes that social enterprises—for-profit businesses that are mission-driven—typically lead this work most effectively.

“They generate enough revenue to support their programs and operations while maintaining a primary mission to do good in the world,” says Hill.

An organization’s HR and management practices can also be a solid measure of social responsibility. Socially conscious businesses tend to prioritize employee well-being and relationships rather than just earning revenue.

Financial gain can’t be the only thing an organization uses to define success.”

Ron Hill purple

Ron Hill

Professor of Marketing, Kogod School of Business

“So many firms do this, and they eventually fail,” says Hill.

Countless studies show that earning high incomes doesn’t equate to happiness and fulfillment. Rewarding work and relationships, however, do.

This more balanced approach to business can be a valuable way to fuel an organization’s mission.

“If you want to see people committed to the social side of the world, have them be part of the solution,” says Hill.

To learn about the Kogod School of Business's commitment to promoting change through business, click here.