Oxfam International had the world's largest food and drink companies in its sights when it launched its Behind the Brands campaign.
The global campaign ranks the social and environmental policies of the world's 10 biggest brands by analysing their agricultural policies, public commitments and supply chains. The companies, including Coca-Cola, Danone and Mars, are then ranked on scorecards hosted on a specially created campaign microsite.
Behind the Brands, which is part of Oxfam's Grow campaign for a fairer food system, went live on 26 February in 12 countries and will run for at least three years. The campaign is designed to raise awareness of the issues, while asking consumers to "change the way the food companies that make your favourite brands do business".
Erinch Sahan, private sector policy adviser at Oxfam GB, says: "The tone of the campaign is that of a critical friend. We don't want to demonise companies, but we do want to put pressure on them. These are brands that people know and love, and consumers have a right to expect more from them.
"We want to encourage people to put pressure on the companies without it being a threatening or boycotting exercise."
The companies are all cooperating with the campaign, having been approached by Oxfam a year ago to help provide information about their policies. The online scorecards are updated monthly, giving the companies a chance to change their practices and improve their rankings.
"We want to foster competition between them to get to the top," says Sahan.
The website features a petition that members of the public can sign, urging the companies to take action. The campaign also includes a video, directed in the style of a typical chocolate brand advert, designed to raise awareness of the way women who help to produce cocoa are treated.
In the first four weeks of the campaign, the website received more than 220,000 hits and 830,000 page views. There were 14,500 tweets about Behind the Brands and 3.6 million people are estimated to have been reached through Facebook. More than 69,000 signed the petition and 15,000 people watched the campaign video on YouTube.
"The campaign has been going really well and we're pleased with the results so far," says Sahan.
EXPERT VIEW: Lara Samuels, director, The Communications Hub
Boycotting is so 1990s. Instead, Oxfam recognises the power of consumer activism and the fact that we want to like and trust the brands we buy. Using other people to amplify the message not only allows Oxfam to punch above its media spend, but also adds a crucial extra layer, making it that bit more likely that brands have to listen to what's being said.
That the brands have been cooperative in providing information says a great deal about how much things have moved on compared with the types of campaign directed at companies such as Nestle up to 35 years ago. Ultimately, of course, the success of the campaign won't be measured in the number of hits on the websites or signatures on the petition, but in whether the brands we want to love change enough.
The consumer is king; long live the consumer.
Total: 8 out of 10