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Adjust Your Set's CEO Chris Gorell Barnes questions whether Silicon Valley's data hoarding will put brands in the firing line
Silicon Valley’s halo appears to be slipping. Once deferentially seen as the left-leaning and highly democratic saviours of our digital futures, tech titans with slogans like ‘don’t be evil’ are now feeling the heat from people who think they’ve had a helping hand in polarising society and creating a new era of extreme politics.
Throw in programmes like the BBC’s Secrets of Silicon Valley and the on-going news controversy that is tech giants’ tax avoidance, and it’s fair to say that people are now questioning tech behemoths’ roles in society. Could it be that Silicon Valley is on the brink of a backlash?
As people – especially young adults – start to reexamine their relationships with our new tech overlords, public awareness is growing around the fact that, despite initial appearances, they aren’t offering a free lunch. All those life-defining services they provide come at a price: data. And lots of it. So much that Facebook probably understands you better than your mother.
In this climate, customers are starting to question whether they should give away their data for free. This newfound public wisdom is something that could, in these times of data-dependent marketing, have a significant impact on brands.
To address the quietly growing public resistance against sharing data, some timely initiatives like StylePoints are popping up. StylePoints creates a transparent, more engaged relationship between consumers and brands by providing users with a value exchange, in the form of rewards, in return for sharing data. So brands reach a super-relevant audience that’s prepared to listen; and consumers get something in return. Tackling the data issue head-on, rather than surreptitiously gathering data on an on-going ‘just in case’ basis, is a strategy that should be echoed by all brands and sectors.
As customers wise-up, brands have no choice but to get their houses in order by re-thinking their data strategies and treating the data they’ve already collected with a lot more respect. But how?
First up, let’s make sure we use data more wisely to create content that’s genuinely relevant and valuable. This should be obvious, and yet we still hear stories about middle-aged men being targeted by young female beauty brands. Until we can get this fundamental sorted out, customers will be right to have concerns about sharing their data – what’s in it for them if we can’t reward their data exchange with something more valuable and less creepy than a bit of retargeting?
Secondly, with Adjust Your Set’s Youth State Youth State research finding that over half of 16- to 24-year-olds feel irritated and cornered by brands’ seemingly unending requests for data, we need to be a whole lot more transparent about what data we’re collecting and why we’re collecting it. This doesn’t mean bamboozling customers with unintelligible terms and conditions, it simply means adding a clear, concise and respectful sentence to registration processes.
Thirdly, we need to think more wisely about how we can save and crunch the customer data that we’re already lucky enough to hold. It astounds me that many brands still happily outsource their data to third parties; the guys who have little incentive to use a brand’s data in a responsible way that reflects well on the brand. With something as sensitive as data, outsourcing is at best risky, at worst reckless. So there needs to be more of a shift towards keeping data in the building and taking more of a proprietorial attitude.
Finally: GDPR. Four little letters that elicit yawns in many but should, in fact, be embraced as an opportunity (albeit an enforced opportunity) to rectify years of data abuse. Yes, GDPR is red tape. But it’s also a positive move that will help erode advertising’s ever-growing trust and transparency problem.
With data becoming the new global currency, brands hold power. And, just like the tech titans, if we can’t figure out how to wield this power more responsibly, the customers who gift it to us just might revolt.
Without doubt, 2017 has been one of the most turbulent years in our industry. What are we expecting from 2018? Some of the AYS team have put their thoughts together...
We’ve seen tectonic changes in agency models, how brands communicate with their customers, and will absolutely see these continued changes throughout 2018.
We’re predicting the continued investment into content marketing with a core focus on video, a continuation of brands building new marketing operational engines, and connecting the data, buying and making altogether under one roof.
At AYS, we’re also hopeful there’s a continued drive from innovative and thoughtful marketers to use their power to do good and help us protect society and the environment.
Chris Gorell Barnes, Founder / CEO
Influencer marketing will continue to grow in 2018. After the past few years of testing the power of the influencer with smaller budgets and smaller campaigns, it’s clear that with strategically driven campaigns and content, influencers and collaborations have vast amounts of pulling power. However, authentic partnerships have the greatest impact, but there will be a lot of “ironing” out to do before the full force of influencers is harnessed. Just as audiences become more refined in detecting “bullshit”, these collaborations and partnerships need to be built in an authentic way with an audience first mindset.
Matthew Neale, Content Strategist
2018 is the year of the audience. When the most progressive brands finally start treating people with the respect to give them something interesting to be engaged with… Rather than simply serving them up repurposed TVCs or forcing them to watch unskippable ads to get at the things they like. As part of our ongoing development work with some of the leading brands in the content sphere, I’m looking forward to entertainment formats that break the mould on how we communicate with audiences in culture.
Doug Hurcombe, Creative Director
Consumption habits have changed, so how we use content needs to change. We will see an increased understanding and use of content that is tailored to fit whilst being a vital part of the overall campaign - both bitesized and strong enough to stand on its own feet will be key. This is exciting, because if this is a consideration from the outset of a campaign, there is a lot of room for creativity.
Two areas to consider:
Temporal fragmentation- instead of a 30 second video, how can a set of 4 x 7 second videos be part of an overarching narrative? Cutting up or reshuffling a storyline creates opportunity for intrigue and hence engagement.
Spatial fragmentation - when the eye can take in a lot of detail when an ad plays on the cinema screen, the impact can get lost when viewed on a mobile screen. How can we break up the visuals in a compelling way and focussing in on one of those details at a time.
Susanne Aichele, Associate Creative Director
In 2018 I really don’t see any specific trend taking hierarchy. Without sounding cliché, I hate to deliver the line of “what is design?”, but today what really is design? We are surrounded today with so many different pieces of software (be that traditional and modern) that the production of anything, really, is possible. The need for a specific set of skills is slowly becoming ephemeral, and instead, a generation of multidisciplinary creatives is produced. A project or idea can be visualised in a 1000 different ways, but at the end of it, it will always come down to the imagination of the individual.
Let’s hope social trends don’t ruin it.
Ethan Roberts, Designer
2018 will see publishers explore real-time audience engagement, with interactive social and VR content moulded by the individual. Storyteller’s will become story-facilitators with content czar's like Buzzfeed partnering with Facebook Watch recently to launch interactive dating show RelationShipped. Inviting viewers to shape the show, and as such combining the interactivity of social media with the storytelling of traditional TV. Likewise big broadcasters like HBO and Hulu will start to experiment with audience agency, letting them become a character in their own right. Steven Soderbergh’s murder-mystery Mosaic, produced for HBO and distributed via an interactive video app will give viewers the power to choose, just like in real life, which narrative path to take. Whilst traditional, linear narratives and audience-as-character content will be further tested by Hulu’s new VR show, Door No.1 (which, if you’re interested, will see Snoop Dogg make a cameo).
Charlotte Morrin, Content Creative
We will see a rise in the creative use of Social Media marketing, specifically within Instagram stories. Content creators will use the marketing tool to sculpt a narrative within single 10 second blocks, creating a story within Instagram stories. Companies will begin to engage with their audience through Instagram Stories. Whilst the introduction of Polls has introduced this, creators will develop this into engaging the audience through various messaging; “Tap to see the edit” / “Tap twice to see your choice”. Instagram Stories will become a power-house for brands/publishers. There will be a significant decrease in the “day-to-day” story, with more focus to professionalism. Platforms such as Facebook will see organic reach die, whist Instagram Stories will organically thrive. Finally, WhatsApp and Facebook will remove their “stories” feature.
Mitch Peryer, Videographer
There’s been a consistent shift away from content churn over the past few years. The brands who are successful with their content marketing aren’t just pushing content towards their audience, they’ve taken a publishing approach. The result? A team of writers isn’t enough anymore. 2018 will be the year of inside teams.
The team is just as important as the content itself!
Miriam Faber, Managing Partner
This Christmas, we're supporting a brilliant cause #BacktheBlueBelt. Join us and get involved...
This year, instead of sending Christmas cards or presents, we want to back a great cause and we hope you’ll agree. We’re supporting the brilliant campaign #BacktheBlueBelt
We can help protect 4 million km2 of ocean if our MPs Back the Blue Belt now.
This campaign will help Overseas Territory Governments to get the support they need to create a Blue Belt – a series of large protected areas of ocean around 7 of the 14 British Overseas Territories. Combined with the UK waters, this could become the largest network of marine reserves in the world!
Learn how you can get involved here
Authenticity is the true currency with which to win our audience’s trust and loyalty.
With the launch of the Unstereotype Alliance at this year’s Cannes Lions and ASA’s recent publication of guidelines to eliminate out-dated stereotypical portrayals from brand led content, the concept of ‘unstereotyping’ is no longer a buzzword but the commitment to a sustained and industry-wide effort.
A growing awareness of the psychological impact of restrictive stereotypes portrayal is coinciding with the move to on-demand and ‘culture-first’ media consumption and the dusk of interruptive advertising, which has us rethinking our entire approach to marketing. And sometimes it takes these seismic shifts to shake up old habits.
In the words of Unilever’s global executive vice-president of marketing, Aline Santos, who’s been championing this agenda and implementing trendsetting campaigns like Dove’s "Real Beauty", Axe/Lynx’s "Find your Magic" (pictured above) and Persil’s "Dirt is Good": "Unstereotyping is as much a business imperative as it is a societal responsibility, underlined by the fact that progressive adverts have been found to be 25% more effective and deliver better branded impact."
So it’s all hands on deck. And while I’m sure this rethink is welcomed across the board, it’s not easy to overcome our habit of using clichés when developing the stories we tell and the characters that inhabit them.
Firstly, for years, marketers themselves have been fed images of women as selfless domestic goddesses or style-obsessed vixens; men as either greedy for power or utterly incapable when faced with emotions or washing machines; and one-dimensional portrayals of ethnicity, sexual orientation, and just about every age group. With these narratives deeply ingrained in the industry’s unconscious, it’s no wonder many of us think as we do, and it will take all our efforts to break this bias spiral.
Secondly, the market research we base our creative on tends to provide consumer data that itself has been boiled down into types. When appealing to the elusive "lifestyle junkie", the "30+ style-conscious woman" or (gulp) "millennial", it’s easy to conclude we must re-appropriate existing type portrayals to speak to all of them at once and avoid alienating even one of their members. But it’s worth remembering that these consumer groups are made up of highly complex individuals who didn’t choose to be given a label.
Last but not least, the narrative restrictions of 30-second ads make it tempting to dig into the stereotype toolbox so that viewers will instantly recognise and hopefully identify with them. But we have to give our audience more credit. There’s a reason well-scripted serials are on the rise: people have a sophisticated sense of subtle story reading, and character depth encourages engagement.
Authenticity is the true currency with which to win our audience’s trust and loyalty. Luckily, with a wider range of branded content formats (short-to-medium, fictional or factual, serialised and multi-platform), we now have the luxury of added time to build relatable and intriguing personalities.
So, borrowing ideas from the film industry, which itself is increasingly advocating diverse characters, here are three thought-starters to get us going:
1) Think 3D
A two-dimensional character might read something like, "he's young and ambitious", or "she's calm and caring". See what happens when you add a third dimension: "he's young, ambitious and has a weakness for rescuing stray animals", or "she's calm, caring and technically gifted". Not only does adding a non-typical characteristic start building a more complex personality (a person, rather than a "type"), it also increases potential for more original storylines.
Personality contradictions (yes, we all have them) are good starting points for conflict or humorous situations, if that’s where your creative is heading. None of this means you can’t write a stay-at-home mum or a male engineer, but don’t make that their only defining characteristics.
2) Create a friend
When thinking about our friends, it’s often the quirks that form the foundations of our bonds, the things we’ve come to love over time. So write a character as complex and quirky as one of closest friend; someone whose shortcomings you forgive in a heartbeat. If you care about them, there's a good chance others will too.
3) Have a chat
Types are people we don't (yet) know well enough. When stuck for realistic actions and reactions, ask characters questions: "What’s the best that could happen in this situation? What’s the worst? What do you think the other character(s) want?"
This helps explore characters’ desires, fears and secrets; steering clear of stereotypical actions or making them passive (posing pouting lady alert) because they lack individual motivations.
If they don’t answer back, spend more time fleshing them out. Look a their backgrounds, ambitions, conflicts, strengths, wants and needs.
A lot needs to happen to get to a truly unstereotyped narrative tradition. On an industry level, it will take a greater variety of individuals in creative and executive roles to really diversify the stories we tell.
It’s a change that will rely on more role models, inspiring the next generation. It all starts with an attitude shift in both the real and the fictional worlds we create. Sounds like fun to me!
Meet Pete Wells - Post-Production producer and in-house comedy guru
Who is he?
Our Post-production Producer and in-house comedy guru.
And what does he do?
By day he co-ordinates our entire post-production facility, managing budgets, schedules, hardware and software and making sure every film and animation that leaves the agency is in tip-top. But at the weekend…
He fights crime?
No. Well, not that we know of. But we did start hearing strange reports from building security about an unhinged Australian stalking the halls with a camera. Turns out Pete has a secret life as an online comedian.
Wow, where did he learn that?
Well, Pete has a graduate diploma in visual effects and also had his own production facility and rental house in Australia, and he ran the technical end of several large TV series, before moving to the UK.
I meant the comedy.
Oh. Well, lots of those TV shows were comedies, and that’s where Pete developed his secret passion. Aside from wanting to produce great content, part of Pete’s reason for moving to London was to tap into its rich comedy scene. On any night of the week you’ll find him at one of the many underground comedy clubs, soaking in the freshest new acts or, as of last year, on the stage himself.
A moonlight comedian, hey? What about his day job?
Pete’s cleverly managed to merge his two passions by producing a series of sketches, which he’s been trickling out through his ‘& Wells’ Facebook page. It’s called ‘& Wells’ because each sketch is a collaboration with a different comedian or actor, with Wells being the one constant. A regular collaborator is Julia Harari, an actor and fellow Aussie who has co-written a number of sketches with Pete.
So, the big question – what’s his stuff like?
Well, it usually has an absurdist bent, and he has a keen eye for politics - one of his ongoing series is a radio-play set in the ‘Department for Exiting the EU’. He says he draws inspiration from local heroes like Fry & Laurie, Mitchell & Webb and Rowan Atkinson, plus Aussie talents Shaun Micellef and Lano & Woodley. His favourite sketch of all time? “That’s a silly question,” he says, “There’s a different sketch for every occasion!”
In that case, let’s finish with his most recent video, which suggests a new approach to workplace equality. Filmed in the Adjust Your Set offices and featuring a number of staff as ‘background talent’, it was also directed by our in-house Senior Creative Robin Geradts-Gill and graded by our colourist Gabi Mascarenhas. Ah, the perks of working for a cutting-edge creative agency!
Check it out here: https://www.facebook.com/andpetewells/videos/946939198742173/
Two brand behemoths recently suffered epic YouTube fails. If they can't get their content strategies right, what hope is there for the rest? Hannah Smith, Head of Publishing at Adjust Your Set, examines the failure of big brands' YouTube campaigns.
Coca Cola’s announcement in March that it was ditching its weekly UK YouTube shows was horribly reminiscent of September’s news of McDonald’s closing its ‘Channel Us’ YouTube initiative.
For those with a less charitable bent, the fact that two brand behemoths suffered epic YouTube fails will probably elicit a spot of schadenfreude that places them one dangerous, out-of-touch step away from the Kendall Jenner Pepsi fiasco. For others, it leaves them thinking: if two of the world’s most recognisable brands can’t get their YouTube content strategies right, what hope is there for the rest of us?
It would be easy to see these failures as a sign that YouTube simply isn’t an effective content marketing channel. But the weakness here is less about YouTube and more about wider misconceptions in the world of content marketing.
By committing to a new video being produced every week, Coca Cola didn’t give itself enough breathing space to speak only when it had something interesting to say. Yes, it makes sense to establish content output guidelines and schedules. But adhering to these too rigidly risks losing cultural relevance. Saying nothing is often better than saying something irrelevant.
But perhaps Coca Cola’s biggest mistake with CokeTV was being too singular in its outlook. By dedicating itself to YouTube, the brand focused too much on one platform. For brands to truly become publishers, they need a smarter publishing plan than using a lone platform as a one-stop-shop.
Interestingly, after the axe fell on CokeTV, the brand soon announced a Facebook video series for Diet Coke in which new brand ambassador, Holly Willoughby, interviews vloggers about fashion, friendship and travel. It’s no doubt a valiant new attempt at transforming the brand’s marketing into a ‘millennial magnet’, but with another narrow focus – albeit this time on Facebook – let’s hope history doesn’t have an excuse to repeat itself.
Using vloggers as the face of branded content can be an incredibly savvy and effective strategy. But the borrowed authenticity that comes from influencers is washed away if content is too heavy-handed with the branding.
CokeTV, alas, fell prey to this all-too-common mistake by placing a logo on screen for the entire duration of the content. The perma-logo is a shorthand way to say: “Hey guys, this series has been made by the marketing department over at Coke HQ!” It’s the kiss of death that instantly turns content into a one-dimensional marketing campaign.
And this is the root of the problem. Brands that are heavily dependent on millennial spending power, just like McDonalds and Coca Cola are, have to work even harder than others to bypass this generation’s highly sophisticated “bullshit detector” (to use the now famously colourful words of Vice’s Matt Elek).
So although McDonalds and Coca-Cola should be praised for recognising that content is the smart way to engage millennials and realise the marketer’s ultimate dream of turning entertainment into a marketing platform, we have to be permanently mindful of the pervasive and finely-tuned bullshit detector.
Let this awareness slip, even for a second, and your carefully-crafted content gets swiftly consigned to the overflowing dustbin of interruptive advertising.
Where exactly do Nando’s infamous PERi-PERi chillies come from?
That’s the question we answered in our latest content drive for the nation’s favourite restaurant. Tasked with creating original ways to celebrate the brand’s heritage, we took to the streets of Southern Africa to capture the unique essence of PERi-PERi.
More than just a hashtag, #THISISPERIPERI is the story of Nando’s electrifying spirit. From our hero film underpinning everything the brand is: a place where everyone is welcome, a place that celebrates its heritage, a place embedded in youth culture. To our four separate publishing stories, including First Heat: a 3-part series which saw us take ‘People Just Do Nothing’ star Allan ‘Seapa’ Mustafa and radio and TV presenter Maya Jama around Southern Africa on the trail of PERi-PERi. The digital campaign marks the beginning of Nando’s journey into the world of creative content with AYS.
If you haven’t yet, check out the content here: https://www.nandos.co.uk/explore/this-is-peri-peri
What was once healthy competition between agencies working for the same brand has, in these pressurised times, become destructive one-upmanship.
What was once healthy competition between agencies working for the same brand has, in these pressurised times, become destructive one-upmanship.
How many of us can tell stories about meetings stuffed with a glut of people from different agencies vying for the client’s attention while surreptitiously undermining rivals? Hardly a ringing endorsement for the nimble, agile, collaborative industry we are supposed to have become, this antiquated approach benefits neither agency nor brand.
It’s ironic we’re stuck in this pattern of behaviour at a time when agencies are desperate to tell anyone who’ll listen that a core part of their expertise is helping brands with digital transformation.
While agencies preach to clients about rebuilding business infrastructure and culture to meet today’s needs, most aren’t applying the concept of transformation to themselves. So perhaps it’s time for a dose of our own medicine.
Let’s take a leaf out the digital transformation handbook by embracing marketing transformation – taking lessons from Formula 1’s obsession with analytics, insight, responsiveness and process to rebuild marketing’s structure and culture. Only then will we become the well-oiled, lightening-fast machine that’s needed to reach pole position in the contemporary marketing race.
Long gone are the halcyon days when marketing and advertising were fluffy arts driven by pontification and gut instinct. For better or worse, the new breed of CMO is now process-based, data-fuelled and stringently operational. From tracking ROI in real-time to monitising content, the modern marketer is under constant pressure to commercialise the discipline.
So it’s no wonder new ISBA research reveals two-thirds (68%) of marketers are frustrated with the time it takes external agencies to make decisions or turn around briefs. With real-time social and content becoming an ever more critical strategy, the traditional six-month lag between brief and delivery is a luxury we can no longer afford.
It’s no wonder new ISBA research reveals two-thirds (68%) of marketers are frustrated with the time it takes external agencies to make decisions or turn around briefs.
To keep apace with consumer expectations, we have to be uber relevant. And that means creating campaigns – whether it’s a 140-character tweet or a branded content video – with a level of speed and efficiency that’s not been witnessed within the industry before now.
In the same way that pro sport, aviation and healthcare have benefited from the concept of marginal gains, we desperately need to find opportunities for speeding-up the making, doing, distributing and measuring.
Identifying small but significant wastages and weaknesses in bureaucracy, budget and resource is a sure-fire way to perfect an already-efficient machine But for those willing to take a bolder step, transformation may lie in adopting a new operational model.
By embedding agency teams within marketing departments, greater authenticity, collaboration, transparency and accountability are nurtured through geographical and metaphorical proximity.
This more seismic approach to transformation doesn’t merely deliver the tightened-up processes that we’re all crying out for. It can also be the catalyst that marketers need to help them shape the wider business by aligning company culture with the more public face of its purpose-driven marketing. But it doesn’t really matter which side of the fence you sit on: marginal gains or seismic reconfiguration. Either way, we have no choice but to transform into a slick discipline that makes decisions based on real-time data. It’s the only option for swiftly delivering relevant communications with operational rigour.
Chris Gorell Barnes, Chief Executive Officer and Founder, Adjust Your Set.
Brands taking a stance is a trend that’s quietly been finding its feet for a while now. From climate crisis to equal rights, 2016 saw several brand behemoths come out on controversial issues. Now - more than ever - is the time for brands to find their political voice.
This year’s Super Bowl was the most political ever. We saw Budweiser celebrate immigrants, Coca-Cola replay an ad hailing diversity and Airbnb say it’s on everyone’s side. But gong for the most talked about spot came from the lesser-known 84 Lumber. Its offering, "The Journey", was a not-so-subtle nod to Trump’s ‘big beautiful wall’ that sees a mother and daughter migrate from Mexico only to find a huge wall.
With a Super Bowl spot costing $5-million for 30-seconds, these brands are definitely putting their money where their mouth is. And in the current frenzied political climate, who can blame them? But it would be naïve dismiss the year’s politically-charged Super Bowl as a one-off knee-jerk reaction to Trumpism.
Brands taking a stance is a trend that’s quietly been finding its feet for a while now. From climate crisis to equal rights, 2016 saw several brand behemoths come out on controversial issues.
Lush caused a stir by selling soap to raise money for refugees. A number of A-lister brands, from Apple to Uber, came out against North Carolina’s transgender discrimination. And when Trump started signing those executive orders quicker than you can say “#MuslimBan”, it felt like brands such as Nike, Starbucks and Kickstarter had really begun to find their political voice.
Some brands have even gone beyond paying lip service by taking tangible action. It’s partly thanks to Amazon, Expedia and Microsoft’s involvement in a lawsuit that Judge James Robart overturned Trump’s ‘travel ban’. For these brands, as employers of many talented immigrants, their stance was largely practical.
But what about the others? The ones that weren’t frightened to use advertising’s most high-profile and expensive platform to convey their point-of-view. What’s in it for them?
These brands must’ve been utterly convinced of the commercial and ethical effectiveness of taking a stand if they were prepared to blow $5-million for the privilege. And the evidence backs them up.
In November 2016, JWT research claimed consumers are getting more political and expecting brands to take sides. It’s a sentiment that was echoed by Edelman’s January release of the annual Trust Barometer, which recommended brands play a more positive role in society to help assuage the global trust crisis.
With the digital revolution came mass transparency. Social media has left businesses with nowhere to hide, and people are now more interested in how a brand acts and thinks. Which is why the marketing industry is finally getting its head around ‘purpose’.
For those of us who’ve recognised the moral and business importance of purpose for some time already, getting brands to take a stand on controversial issues is the next step in developing positive societal roles.
Of course, not every person will sympathise with the views aired during the Super Bowl. For every brand that stands up for LGBT rights, there’s a bakery refusing to make a ‘gay cake’. So it might be tempting for more ‘vanilla’ sectors – like FMCG, say – to play safe by sitting on the fence. But it is, ironically, the ultimate global giant of FMCG – Unilever – that has led the way in the politicisation of brands. As everyone knows, Unilever is now synonymous with sustainability. What better way to voice an opinion on the state of the environment than by taking positive action to rectify it?
The big fear around coming out on political issues is that a brand might alienate part of its customer base. But now that we are living in such highly polarised times, the old orthodoxy of keeping schtum simply doesn’t work any more. If you don’t stand up for something meaningful, you won’t stand for anything at all and will rapidly become an irrelevance.
Or, as Aaron Sherinian, CMO at United Nations Foundation, points out: "Silence on social issues could be the kiss of death for brands. Especially the way that young customers are engaging them right now. They’re going to vote at the cash register."
Profitability, however, is only part of the story. In these days of mass division, there’s clearly a convincing commercial argument to ‘come out’ because, as aptly demonstrated by 84 Lumber, it helps a brand drive conversations and stand out from competitors. But if the commercial argument is not enough to persuade brands to stand up for what they believe in, then the moral imperative should be.
At a time of great global upheaval, brands now more than ever have a duty to respect and protect their customers by seeing them not as mere consumers, but as citizens; citizens that can be helped to use their buying power to protect the world against environmental and political recklessness. When environmental authority is being handed to oil executives and climate change deniers, it’s vital that brands use their newfound political influence to speak out.
Chris Gorell Barnes, Chief Executive Officer and Founder, Adjust your Set
Brands can profit by taking a stand on issues such as climate change, writes Adjust Your Set's chief executive Chris Gorell Barnes.
Another day, another Trump-ism. Last week’s most depressing Trump-ism was the news that the president elect will pull funding from Nasa’s Earth Science Division. Proof, if proof were needed, that The Orange One intends to roll back years of progress on the climate crisis.
According to experts like George Monbiot, this is just the tip of the (melting) iceberg. And it’s yet another sign that we’re living in a new world order where power is being handed to people with short-termist, self-interested views. In short, governments can no longer be trusted to protect the planet.
To be fair, as Brexit showed, we were already living in an era of burgeoning public distrust in the establishment. This societal shift leaves people increasingly feeling they can no longer rely on governments to solve global issues like climate crisis.
This means that now more than ever is the time for businesses – and brands in particular – to step up to the plate. With growing worldwide evidence that "the people" want to give the political system a damned good kicking, you could argue that brands now have more loyalty, trust and power than politicians.
Brands should take positive action
As the Trump-supporting PayPal founder Peter Thiel and New Balance can attest, people who once voted passionately for politicians but now feel there is no one to represent them can redirect that passion by voting with their wallets instead. So the customer base has become a new form of voter base. And brands should start using this privilege to fill the emerging void of political inertia by both giving a voice to the issues and taking positive action to create change.
At Cannes this year, we saw a blurring of the divide between politics and marketing when UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, took to the stage with marcom’s "big six" to discuss industry support for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. It’s encouraging to see advertising is waking up to the issues. But to effect real change, we need to do more than talk.
Action is something Marks & Spencer boldly embraced when it helped develop the Seafish Responsible Fishing Scheme and the Reserve Seafood label. From the boardroom, to the supply chain, to the shop floor; this is a masterclass in using brand power to protect the environment and – mercifully – it’s something that other big brands, like Coca-Cola, are also trying to embrace.
More than box ticking
The moral imperative is clear. What’s perhaps less obvious, but equally as compelling, is the business imperative. Thanks to Unilever’s impressive results regarding its brands with purpose outperforming those without, it’s becoming well-established that social purpose is now much more than a CSR box ticking exercise.
Sustainability is part of the zeitgeist and it’s something that people want to play a part in. So if a brand can offer an opportunity to buy in a way that doesn’t contribute to climate crisis, it can make it easier for people to feel they’re doing their bit. Unilever’s strong stock market performance must be at least partly down to the fact they are giving consumers an option to buy ethically.
Unilever is, of course, widely recognised as a global leader when it comes to progressive policy in support of last year’s COP21 Paris agreement. But Unilever is not alone, because chief executive Paul Polman is part of The B Team, an initiative calling for net-zero emissions by 2050 that also features Virgin’s Richard Branson and Tata’s Ratan Tata.
You could be forgiven for thinking these titans of global commerce are in the enviable position of using their immense revenues to offset emissions. But you’d be wrong. The B Team also features a Chinese construction company, an African telecommunications group and a Brazilian cosmetics manufacturer.
These lesser-known players could have opted for the Trump-style, short-term, quick buck view of make ‘em cheap and stack ‘em high. But they seem to have taken the wiser, longer-term view by hitting upon a crucial truth: not only does purpose give consumers an extra reason to engage with a brand, it also helps future-proof the business. Why? Because there will be no consumers to engage with unless we curb the climate crisis. It’s a simple but stark case of ‘no planet, no profit’.
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