DO THE RIGHT THING
f the great marketing of the past has been woven out of the beautiful art of storytelling, its future may involve facing up to a series of uncomfortable truths. For in an age where the divisions between public and private have been irrevocably broken by social media, consumers are placing brands under unprecedented scrutiny. Generation Z, the cohort that trend forecasters have identified as one of the most activist in history, is increasingly demanding that brands act as global citizens in their own right and move beyond the empty rhetoric of ‘marketing for good’.
Lucie Greene, worldwide director of the innovation group at J Walter Thompson, says the industry has reached a tipping point in how it approaches sustainability and social good. She says: “The base-rate expectations of how brands should behave have risen across the board and brands are expected to live their values and be ethically minded.” It is no longer enough for brands to simply “be less bad”, they need to actively “do more good”. However, Greene says the ad industry remains behind this curve, despite the fact Generation Z is coming to the fore and is prepared to invest more time and effort on ensuring brands deliver on their promises.
There is no question that brands and agencies are focusing more on defining and communicating their “purpose”. However, Giles Gibbons, founder and chief executive of Good Business, says a lot of hot air is gener- ated when talking about ‘purpose’ but, in practice, it is very difficult to achieve meaningful change. The reality is that a brand’s sustainability drive is not always interesting to the consumer. “You can’t just look at it as marketing for good; you need to look at what the consumer wants and not every sustainability initiative is going to be something that sells a product to a consumer,” he says. Pointing to Unilever compressing the size of its deodorants to reduce their environmental impact, Gibbons believes some sustainability initiatives simply are not interesting to consumers. This does not mean they are not worthwhile and important, but brands must beware of hectoring consumers on how they should behave. To date, many “marketing for good” campaigns fail to answer two fundamental questions: “How does this involve the consumer?” and the perennial marketing favourite: “What’s in it for me?” Sid McGrath, chief strategy officer at Karmarama, warns that there can be an implicit “arrogance” in purpose and marketers should “rewrite it to make it genuinely shared”. He explains that while purpose has remained a key focus for many brands, the lens through which it is viewed and activated is beginning to shift. “What we started out doing was talking about purpose in isolation, but now we are focused on a shared purpose,” he says.