How to be good in a harsh world

Consumers ex­pect brands to have a pur­pose. But what is the best way to achieve this?

Campaign Middle East - - FRONT PAGE -

Consumers ex­pect brands to have a pur­pose. But what is the best way to achieve this and how can ad­ver­tis­ing and con­scious cap­i­tal­ism ex­ist side by side?

It’s fair to say that Google has done a lot to shape the world, but one of the ways it has cap­tured the zeit­geist is its cor­po­rate motto: “Don’t be evil.”

Plenty of busi­nesses have se­ri­ous as­pi­ra­tions to do good and be seen to do good, but lead­ers push­ing this kind of phi­los­o­phy of­ten face set­backs – Google it­self be­ing an ex­am­ple.

Ad­ver­tis­ing and con­scious cap­i­tal­ism can ex­ist, as Mike Barry, di­rec­tor of sus­tain­able busi­ness at Marks & Spencer, says. For him, there are three driv­ers of sus­tain­abil­ity: grow­ing com­pe­ti­tion for re­sources, so­cial de­mands from consumers and the emer­gence of dis­rup­tive busi­ness mod­els.

But im­ple­ment­ing a sus­tain­able ap­proach is not straight­for­ward. As Freya Wil­liams, chief ex­ec­u­tive of sus­tain­abil­ity con­sul­tancy Futerra, ar­gues, com­pa­nies are in a po­si­tion to lead change but can only do so if there is a plau­si­ble busi­ness case, which too of­ten can be hard to make out.

Bring­ing every­one along

One ex­am­ple is the ‘green split’ – when consumers say they want to live a sus­tain­able life and are will­ing to pay more for it, but fail to fol­low through with their be­hav­iour. This is be­cause the mar­ket­ing of sus­tain­able prod­ucts,Wil­liams ex­plains, only usu­ally suc­ceeds in speak­ing to the ‘super greens’ – the 16 per cent of consumers to­tally com­mit­ted to sus­tain­abil­ity – and misses the main­stream ‘mid­dle greens’.

“Al­most all the mar­ket­ing around sus­tain­abil­ity has done a hor­ri­ble job of bring­ing every­one else along,” she says. “Ev­ery time we use a green leaf or a po­lar bear or talk about sav­ing the planet, we re­in­force the view of the mid­dle greens that this is for the super greens. They don’t want to be them – they see them as crunchy-gra­nola hip­pies and rich, elit­ist snobs.”

Wil­liams ar­gues that sus­tain­able brands that suc­ceed are those that speak to consumers in terms they ex­pect for that cat­e­gory and agen­cies must “bring the con­sumer voice to the client”.

For Barry, it means adapt­ing suc­cess­ful mar­ket­ing from the past to cater to that main­stream group. “An aw­ful lot of ad­ver­tis­ing and mar­ket­ing will re­main about de­sir­abil­ity, but it’s no longer just about ask­ing peo­ple to buy a product based on func­tion­al­ity or aes­thetic ap­peal – there’s pur­pose in there as well,” he says. But Chris Arnold, founder of Cre­ative Orches­tra and au­thor of Eth­i­cal Mar­ket­ing & the New Con­sumer, be­lieves the prob­lem is more fun­da­men­tal. “Mak­ing sus­tain­abil­ity claims in ad­ver­tis­ing is al­most al­ways un­suc­cess­ful,” he says. “Re­search by TNS has found ads that make sus­tain­abil­ity claims are less trusted than av­er­age be­cause they aren’t seen as plau­si­ble. It’s not what brands say but what they do. Consumers seek out a brand’s ethos, which is what they judge them on.”

Arnold thinks there needs to be a ma­jor shift in so­cial at­ti­tudes, driven by word of mouth, be­fore the public ac­cepts the eth­i­cal claims made by busi­nesses, es­pe­cially big cor­po­ra­tions. “New en­trants will have an eas­ier job, but any busi­ness with a his­tory is bound to have skele­tons in its closet,” he says.

Barry agrees that win­ning con­sumer trust is about com­mit­ment to the right prac­tices through­out the busi­ness, “not about mak­ing your ex­ist­ing busi­ness model less bad”. And mar­keters need to be fear­less, he adds.

“Busi­ness is very ner­vous about hav­ing a point of view in this febrile world of pol­i­tics, bruis­ing jour­nal­ists and so­cial me­dia, where you can never win,” Barry con­tin­ues, cit­ing a cam­paign M&S ran with Breast Can­cer Now that at­tracted crit­i­cism from a “sig­nif­i­cant mi­nor­ity” of peo­ple for not do­ing enough. “The old M&S would have been very scared of an­noy­ing one per­son, let alone sev­eral thou­sand,” Barry says. “And yet we took it on the chin and said: ‘That’s a suc­cess­ful cam­paign’.”

Marks & Spencer… Breast Can­cer Now tie-up was crit­i­cised for not do­ing enough

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