EMPOWER issue 5 'activism and purpose' Mar 2020
This issue explores the rise of activism and purpose around the world and how brands are reponding to it, with articles on repurposing purpose, mindfulness
Issue 5 - activism and purpose
In a recent article Society writer Giles Lury said, 'we're in a period of activism not seen since the '60s', which feels apt, given the divisive times in which we live. And brands the world over are waking up to this like never before. This issue our writers explore vigilantes and repurposing purpose, having a brand voice that can speak up, Generation Z and the future of brand purpose, the age of Anthropocene advertising, mindfulness and AI, behaviour and activism and more.
Enjoy the issue.
Michael Piggott, Editor
'So how do we, as brand owners, repurpose purpose? Start with the word. Purpose is passive. It leaves a meandering sense that we should get there sooner or later,' argues eatbigfish LA's Nick Geohegan
'In my new book on the future of work, I describe four human skills that can help us survive and thrive in the age of AI: Emotional Intelligence, Critical Thinking, Contextual Creativity, and Mindfulness,' writes author Somi Arian
Verbal Identity's CEO, Chris West, explores the topic, with examples from Nike and Colin Kapearnick, TOMS' founder Blake Mycoskie, HSBC and X, Alphabet's Moonshot Factory
Why do so many brands get it wrong? Youth-led network Livity's Strategy Partner, Katy Woodrow Hill, suggests new rules for brand purpose as laid down by the next generation of consumers
'Imagine the impact if we focus the industry on building more sustainable businesses and brands, so that sustainability infuses our industry', argues Plans With Purpose's Ali Fisher
'There's never been a greater need for more activism and purpose on issues challenging our world: climate, refugees, social inequality and rising poverty', writes The Behavioural Architects' Crawford Hollingworth
'It's time for a sponsorship detox. Here's to a year of less talking and more doing. Remember what's important - a business is only as good as its people', says Just Challenge's Founder and CEO, Lucy Bennett-Baggs
Not fit for purpose: Nimby's, boy scouts and vigilantes
Words by Nick Geoghegan, US Strategy Director at eatbigfish LA
NOT FIT FOR PURPOSE: NIMBY'S, BOY SCOUTS AND VIGILANTES
Words by Nick Geohegan, Strategy Director at eatbigfish LA
In 1977, New York was in crisis.
In the wake of the fiscal crash of the mid-70s, the city had slashed the number of police officers on the beat. Crime spiked, especially on the subways. Gangs of thieves and pickpockets operated at will, ready to commit violence in search of a quick buck. People were scared. Someone had to do something. In the midst of this maelstrom of uncertainty, a new organisation arose. Curtis Silwa, a young man from Brooklyn, decided to do something about it. Like something out of a John Wayne movie, Curtis formed a posse. Recruiting twelve other civically minded and fed up young men, Silwa and his crew would ride the subways at night, offering protection to the terrified passengers of the underprotected transport system.
Having a penchant for the dramatic, Silwa called his team 'The Magnificent 13'. Bedecked in highly recognisable red military berets and tight fitting T-shirts, these men would be quick to throw themselves into a fight, chasing off any would be muggers and performing citizens arrests. Soon, The Magnificent 13 was no longer an appropriate name. The numbers of recruits swelled, made up largely of young men from minority backgrounds and Silwa renamed them 'The Guardian Angels'.
GUARDIAN ANGELS NEW YORK CITY CURTIS SLIWA HISTORY FROM 1979-1999
While police numbers slumped, subway riders were reassured by the karate trained young men who would mostly offer a highly visible presence in stations and in cars, but who would not hesitate to throw a punch to stop a bad guy. There was one story of a group of Angels who stepped in to chase away a gang who were beating up a police officer. New York was captivated.
The Guardian Angels still operate today, in cities around the world. Still a non-profit organisation. Still unarmed but noisy and highly visible. Still standing up for the everyman against those that would wrong them. This was an organisation that sees its role in the world very clearly. It exists to make the world a better place as they see it. It is unafraid to ruffle feathers on its way to doing so. You could say that this organisation has a clear purpose.
'This was an organisation that sees its role in the world very clearly. It exists to make the world a better place as they see it. It is unafraid to ruffle feathers on its way to doing so. You could say that this organisation has a clear purpose.'
Nick Geohegan, eatbigfish LA
There is also a word that is often used to describe the Angels: Vigilantes.
I think it’s time we brought some of that vigilante energy to the world of brand purpose. At eatbigfish, we spend all of our days thinking about challenger brands. Brands that are determined to change the status quo and to bring progress to categories and societies (however they want to define progress). We know a thing or two about brands taking a stand for something that they believe in, that being at the heart of every good challenger brand.
Today, we see brands of all shapes and sizes taking up what is commonly known as a 'purpose' - an ethical stance that is meant to go to the very core of the business, supposedly driving all decisions and practices. There are those who would say that all brands need a 'purpose', not just from a moral perspective, but from a need to survive in a world where we see more and more consumers weighing up with social weight of each purchase decision, though I would say that is going too far. As such, with consultants, agencies and insight experts espousing the benefits of purpose, we see more and more taking that plunge. For many of those that do decide to embrace it, it is clear that the current vogue for 'purpose' at both the level of brand and business is not as liberating or exciting as it might have been thought to be. In this time of social media pitchforks and 'cancel culture', even brands who have no desire to be polemic can get drawn into hot water, even when they aren’t looking for it. What a weird weekend Yorkshire Tea had...
Ethics, beliefs and activism weigh heavy on brands, especially the big ones. Taking a stand on one issue or another naturally puts you on a collision course with someone or something. For big brands built on their ability to appeal to everyone and reliant on their scale to compete, the chance of alienating anyone puts their model in jeopardy. Against that backdrop of controversy and risk, too many brands half-ass “purpose”, and with that, the chance to make any meaningful difference disappears.
In the spectrum of marketing purpose, I would say there are three types of brands.
Firstly, there are NIMBY’s (Not In My Back Yard). These are brands whose purposes are vague and anodyne - designed to give off the impression that they care, but really the strongest action they’ll take is the corporate equivalent of a “tut”, maybe along with a strongly worded letter to the editor of The Daily Mail. For these brands, purpose is an opportunity to hide behind a non-committal statement that’s strung up in their lobbies and on their websites. It’s the box they tick whenever consumer insights tell them that younger generations want to buy from ethically responsible companies. It’s the line the CEO trots out at the shareholders’ meeting while the waiters top up the bubbly. We’ve heard these types of purposes a million times, normally on ads we see in airports or on CNN. Usually involves something about “preparing for a better tomorrow”. Something like that.
"I’ve heard it said that 'It’s not a belief until it costs you something', and these beliefs cost them nothing."
'I’ve heard it said that "It’s not a belief until it costs you something", and these beliefs cost them nothing.'
Nick Geohegan, eatbigfish LA
The second type of brand is the Boy Scout. These are brands that are desperate to offer a hand here and there in search of a merit badge or two. They want to be seen to be “good”, and as such everything is delivered with a sickly sweet dose of wholesome worthiness. They want us to like them, to say nice things about them. But no-one wants to hang out with a Boy Scout. Boy Scouts are boring. And while they may help old ladies across the street, they aren’t there to create meaningful change. Really, they’re just in it for the good publicity and any goodwill they can generate.
Finally, we get on to the vigilantes - these are the guys we admire at eatbigfish. These are the challenger brands who are putting a stake in the ground for what they believe in, fighting the good fight (as they see it). They are unafraid of offending and they don’t care if you don’t agree with them. For these brands, their 'purpose' is not a nice-to-have for green minded investors or a campaign meant to up their likeability score. It’s designed to be at the heart of their business.
Patagonia’s now iconic “Don’t buy this jacket” advert actually led to a 40% sales uptick over the subsequent 2 years in that very jacket. Why? Because it spoke to something that Patagonia cared deeply about - products that were designed to care for the environment by standing the test of time. More than anything, they are able to make their 'purpose' energetic and interesting so that soon it becomes something that people want to talk about and engage in. 'Having a purpose doesn’t have to be so purpose-y' said Eric Mills, Associate Director of Marketing at Kraft Heinz whose Country Time Lemonade brand decided to pick a fight with archaic laws that were preventing kids from opening lemonade stands.
Tony’s Chocolonely is a chocolate brand from the Netherlands who are enjoying a remarkable period of success. At the heart of the brand is a fight about inequality. Internally, they only use ethically sourced cocoa - in fact, their vision is to force the whole chocolate industry to go '100% slave free'. And to highlight the inequality in the world of chocolate, they’ve made their bars impossible to share evenly. You want an even piece? Well get on and do something about it.
While some of the big homecare brands will talk about wanting to put people or the environment first, Who Gives A Crap?, a wonderful challenger brand in the world of toilet paper, is recruiting people into a mission to build toilets around the developing world, by making people stop and think when they’re on the loo. These brands show that a sense of purpose can be compelling and can lead to fantastic creative ideas.
Let’s bring that to our own categories.
So how do we as brand owners repurpose purpose?
I think we have to start with the word. Purpose is too passive. It leaves too much to a meandering sense that we should get there sooner or later. It lets us plan for the smooth ride, when really the world demands more. We need to bring more fight to the table, a greater sense of urgency and vigour. I propose that when you next sit down with your teams to discuss your brand purpose, you introduce an element of vigilantism to force us to be more direct. Brand purpose allows us to lobby behind the scenes. Vigilantism requires us to be on the streets. Purpose says it’s about the destination. Vigilantism is about the fight. Purpose enables quiet progress. Vigilantism requires a noisey, visible presence. Purpose plays within the rules. Vigilantism ignores the rules, as they clearly no longer work. Purpose is the incumbent’s way of appearing better. Vigilantism is how challengers take on the status quo.
Let’s take it to the streets. See you there.
Cover photo and final story photo credit: Kyria Abrahams
Mindfulness in the age of AI
Words by Somi Arian, an award-winning filmmaker, author, tech philosopher, entrepreneur and LinkedIn Top Voice
MINDFULNESS IN THE AGE OF AI
Words by Somi Arian - an award-winning filmmaker, author, tech philosopher, entrepreneur and LinkedIn UK Top Voice
Let me start this article by sharing a shocking revelation that I recently discovered about Larry Page, the co-founder of Google.
I was researching for my upcoming book on the future of work, when I came across a passage in, “Life 3.0”, by professor Max Tegmark of MIT. He describes a heated after-dinner debate that he witnessed between Elon Musk and Larry Page where, in defence of his “digital utopian” views, Page accused Musk of being “specieist”, since he was “treating certain lifeforms as inferior just because they were silicone-based, rather than carbon-based.” (Tegmark, 2018)
On the surface this may sound like a science fiction debate that has no bearing on our “real lives”, but it’s far from it. These sentiments were expressed by one of the most influential people in technology, if not the most influential person, on our planet. The truth is that within a few short decades the digital revolution has grown into an incredibly powerful force with a life of its own. This means that our knowledge is growing at an unprecedented speed and information is more accessible to us than ever before.
Now, we’ve all heard that “knowledge is power”. We also know that “with great power comes great responsibility”. But what if you weren’t fully aware of the amount of knowledge (and power) that you had? If you think you don’t have a huge amount of knowledge and power to impact the world around you, think again. What kind of device are you reading this article on, right now? Your phone, tablet, or personal computer? In 2020, you can access more knowledge at the touch of a screen on your smartphone than what was accessible to the President of the United State in the 1990.
Technology is giving us access to knowledge and power, but it can’t give us the wisdom to use this power sensibly. That part requires conscious choice and awareness, you can also call it mindfulness. Most of us go through the motions in our day to day lives. We work to pay the bills, go on holidays, post Instagram pictures, and raise kids - a future generation that has to live with the consequences of our unconscious decisions, today. We are often oblivious to how technology is changing our lives, living mindlessly and not fully engaging with what’s unfolding around us. The business landscape is just one example of how technology is changing the very DNA of the society, not always for the better.
Artificial Intelligence, and in particular, Machine Learning, which is one of its sub-fields, is here to turn our worlds upside down. According to a McKinsey report “about 60 per cent of all occupations have at least 30 per cent of activities that are technically automatable, based on currently demonstrated technologies.” (McKinsey & Company, 2016) This creates a huge challenge for companies and individuals, as it means that we all have to redefine the way we think about work. But the change is happening quicker than we have the ability to manage it well.
Company leaders may be rubbing their palms in excitement, at first.
More automation means less human workers, less sick pay, less maternity and paternity leave, less need for emotional engagement, and higher productivity. However, growth is not always for the better. When growth is not managed and paced well it can lead to catastrophic consequences. The environmental crisis of our time, and the increasing gap between the rich and the poor, is a testament to this. The digital revolution has created a winner-take-all economy, giving a disproportionate advantage to a small number of tech giants around the globe who sadly display little wisdom, despite their great knowledge and power. Is this the world that we all want for ourselves and our future generations?
So, what’s the solution?
In my upcoming book on the future of work, I describe four human skills that can help us survive and thrive in the age of artificial intelligence. These four skills are Emotional Intelligence, Critical Thinking, Contextual Creativity, and Mindfulness.
Now, mindfulness is the bedrock of the other three skills. All of these skills require the ability to understand our own subjective experiences, and that of others, and a sense of togetherness, empathy, and compassion. These all are concepts that would have made no sense in the business landscape as we knew, since the first industrial revolution. Ironically, today’s digital revolution has the potential to force us to change our way of life to live more mindfully, be more engaged and ultimately more fulfilled. Alternatively, we can choose to let go and allow technology to grow on autopilot, losing control of what our society, and our species, will turn into. The choice is ours.
Somi gives talks and workshops, internationally on the topics of digital transformation and millennial/Gen Z engagement, both in Marketing and HR. Follow her on twitter @somiarian
The value of having a brand voice that can speak up
Verbal Identity's Chris West explores the topic, with examples from Nike, TOMS' founder Blake Mycoskie, HSBC and X, Alphabet's Moonshot Factory
A Nike athlete takes a knee. A razor brand takes a stand.
We instantly know why they’re doing it, so we waste no time piling on in social media, signalling our own virtue.
But even a ball player’s actions are clumsy, sometimes. And wasn’t Gillette merely enforcing ownership of the toxic masculinity it had invested in for so long? The problem with brand actions is they’re simplistic: how we interpret what a brand is doing depends on our worldview.
To change someone’s mind, to be on the right side of history – if that’s what the CMO and the brand owners really want - a brand can’t just act up, it also has to speak up. And that’s the problem for most brand owners. Because in an attempt to control their brand language, they opted to make it uniform rather than flexible. Their brand voice is left with no trace of humanity, an unexpected item in the bagging area.
Only dictatorships can enforce change. For the rest of the world, humans have to be persuaded by other humans. Which requires a human voice. TOMS shoes (disclosure: a previous client of Verbal Identity) can do it because they’ve maintained a human figurehead. Here’s Blake Mycoksie talking about gun control back in 2018:
Toms Founder Blake Mycoskie Announces $5 Million Donation to End Gun Violence
Blake said, “We’re going to do something about it” and then he gave $5M (the single largest corporate gift for this cause at that time) to the organisations who were on the ground working to end gun violence.
TOMS had a human voice to explain why it was so important, and a human voice carries with it the emotions to show it isn’t just virtue signalling. But you don’t need an opinionated figurehead for your brand to speak out. Your brand just needs an opinion. The tech giant Alphabet owns one of the most ambitious companies in Silicon Valley. It’s called X. Disclosure: They’re a client. Full disclosure: We took them on as a client not just because they had the money to pay us (important) but because they exist to invent radical technology to make the world a better place (very important).
For the leadership at X, finding their voice was critical. They have to persuade Government ministers to let their balloons fly in the stratosphere over their territories, in order to 4G-speed wireless connectivity for the previously isolated rural communities below.
They have to persuade State legislators that road deaths will be reduced when they allow driverless cars onto the roads. And they need to persuade diabetes sufferers that they can maintain their health better by using a new type of contact lens which monitors their blood glucose level. The strategy for X to be on the right side of social change wasn’t just to speak up for their own causes but to recognise that they have a platform – and then share it:
But what do you do if your brand doesn’t have a human figurehead or a world-spanning platform?
1. Create detailed guidelines (rather than a grab bag of adjectives) to codify your brand voice and help it be flexible. If you don’t, you’re in danger of showing up like Jimmy Carr at a funeral, quipping inappropriate one-liners.
2. Accept that everyone in your organisation with a keyboard is writing for your company in one way or another. So, make sure everyone in the organisation understands the voice and knows how to use it.
3. Never write anything you wouldn’t say. Try it: when you’re campaigning for social change, read your copy aloud. (And make sure it’s you reading it out, not a VO artist – they can make an instruction manual sound like the Declaration of Independence.) This is the single most powerful advice to make copy better. Reading it aloud soon reveals when your brand sounds insincere, or pompous, or holier-than-thou.
And finally, never rely on words alone. Nor actions alone. HSBC’s recent copy-led campaign has an opinion. But I’m not sure what actions it’s taking to back it up. Even just carrying that voice over into its website copy would make the opinion seem less like an adland zag and more like a unifying mission. Instead, decide on what you want to change, commit actions to it, and carefully define how your brand language can flex so it amplifies your message with a human and audacious brand voice.
You can follow Chris West on LinkedIn to hear him talk about the unique power of brand language, the importance of competitive audits, creating tone of voice guidelines (although actually they’re much, much more than just ‘tone of voice) and delivering radically enjoyable writer training for John Lewis, the Co-Op, Hunter Boot, LVMH, Christie’s, Vauxhall and a handful of ambitious start-ups. Or just email him.
What the new generation of consumers signal for the future of brand purpose
(and why so many brands are getting it wrong) Words by Livity's Strategy Partner Katy Woodrow Hill
WHAT THE NEW GENERATION OF CONSUMERS SIGNAL FOR THE FUTURE OF BRAND PURPOSE
(and why so many brands are getting it wrong) Words by Livity's Strategy Partner, Katy Woodrow Hill
The needs and expectations of the next generation of consumers have always challenged the status quo and shown the way for innovation.
The new gen challenges the norms of the one before and it’s marketing’s job to respond to these culture shifts in order to change consumer behaviour. However, the difference with the newest generation of consumers (Gen Z born between 1995 and 2012) is that these disrupting norms are accelerating faster than the industry can keep up with, largely because of our access to cheap and pervasive mobile internet and the post-boom[er] context of rising inequality, climate crisis and rapid globalisation. And so, brand purpose, has become the supposed tonic to our societal ills and an opportunity for capitalism to right itself, to give back to wider society, and for drive value beyond the bottom line and shareholder interest.
So then why are there so many bad examples with no real substance behind them? Why doesn’t brand purpose yet add the true value to the consumers it's supposed to be championing? Perhaps because it is trying to be a fix for an increasingly out-dated model of brand-building - linear, zero sum benefit, focused on the brand’s reason for being rather than being focused on the consumer need or perceived value.
Activism (irl, not from brands) starts with deep, emotional connection to an issue and plays to connected, personal or lived experiences of it. And so if most brand purpose work exists in campaigns and sideline activations away from the centre of a business, and exist to make a brand look good rather than be good, this deep emotional connection will be impossible to fake.
So it’s time to learn from Gen Z, whose commitment to self-improvement and changing the world, its critique of anything less than authentic, its openness to imperfection and its ability to see through tokenism from 100 paces will push brands (and society) forward and show us a better way to create purposeful brands.
I’d like to propose the new rules of brand purpose, as laid down by the next generation of consumers and ready to become the new norm.
1. Change the language
As brand marketers we should be talking more about convictions and promises because a purpose should come from the foundations of a business - its product and organisation - not just from the brand or marketing function. Sure, there is an obvious seat at the table for brand teams when talking about business purpose, but if you’re creating it in isolation of product, customer service or finance, then it probably won’t work because it won’t be truly valuable. It’s time to start talking about brand beliefs and convictions so we can start building meaningful brands for an audience who actively cancel brands when they don’t deliver on the promises they make. This isn’t a trend that is going to go away - Gen Z are more likely to actually boycott brands (40% compared with 16% of Millennials according to IPSOS) - so we need to take notice.
2. Take your time
When you design your brand purpose, your baseline audience mindset should be the audience who demand consumer value above most else. 69% of Gen Z think brands should help them achieve their goals and over half of Gen Z consumers consider how trustworthy a brand is before buying it. When you design with this demand in mind, you are challenged to seek out what is right for the consumer experience over a strong comms message or brand campaign that will live and die within the month. A strong starting point here is to think about the action your business is taking to create meaning - or the why in your Simon Sinek Golden Circle (below).
Why do you exist as an organisation and (most importantly) then understand the value this has in people’s lives. Then you need to build this value over time, understand it fully, meet real people who experience it and seek it out, collaborate with them, invest in them and then, only then should you talk about it.
3. Avoid the tokenism trap
There is a fine line between representation and tokenism and the difference lies not only in why you’re talking about an issue but how you produce your work and specifically who you work with to make it. When you think about driving forward your brand purpose, you need to think about it from every angle - who is in front of the camera, who is behind it, who is scripting it and ultimately who will see it. If you are championing women in your latest campaign, give roles to women when you’re producing it; if you’re doing a campaign to celebrate Black History Month, make sure the crew is representative of the Black culture you’re showcasing; if you are focused on helping young people achieve their career ambitions then create work opportunities by bringing them into the production of your platforms and campaigns.
4. Reclaim positivity
As a strategist working on big impact and purpose programmes for brands, the most interesting (and often most complex) element of projects is the need to blend traditional behaviour change thinking with the rules of brand activation. Working with the new generation of consumers pushes us towards positive framing and messaging, empowerment and celebration, rather than using negative messaging because, according to Unicef, it’s more effective for youth audiences. There is data to support this in public policy and health communications and loss aversion is a well known behavioural norm within behavioural economics.
In our current age of complexity, polarisation and increasing anxiety, the brand work we do at Livity focuses on celebrating the positive experiences of young people, generating long term skills or creative value and facilitating positive interactions between people, in order to have wider social impact. Not only does this create more impactful work, it’s also a joy to make in collaboration with young people.
5. Cherish creative craft
Whilst younger audiences are more comfortable with imperfect, iterative brand messaging, they are also extremely sensitive to visual cues and design, having grown up in a hyper-commercialised world full of ads and branded content. When you put brand purpose work in front of youth audiences for review it often falls flat because of its worthiness, 'greenwashing' or lack of creative vision. Too often in brand purpose campaigns you can almost hear the strategy screaming out at you rather than being taken to a new and wonderful place with imaginative creative thinking. It’s really good to remember that for every Greta lover, there’s a 15-year-old who is just following what their friends are doing and happily going along for the 'good is the new cool' ride. The opportunity for brand purpose work is that it becomes the most business critical, aspirational and creative work we can do rather than (often) the opposite of that reductive, cliched and false.
Lisa Pike Sheehy, VP of Environmental Activism and Corley Kenna, Director of Global Communications and PR, both at Patagonia
6. Invest in culture
The new gen has far more nuanced and intersectional interests, media choices and identities, so future-facing brand purpose needs to be both a work of both art and science that can play to these nuances rather than “something for everyone”. For brand purpose to work you need to understand the cultural truths and subtleties that you are railing against and/or supporting but most brands grew up just shouting really loudly about themselves so it’s unsurprising that so many of them are getting them wrong.
Most brands don’t exist in culture or try and earn their place there but are instead obsessed about themselves. In effective brand purpose, or more importantly, socially impactful business, consumer centricity and cultural sensitivity are both critical. We need to think not just about what we say in some ads but how our marketing plans influence what we are investing in, who we are sending the lift down to and the people we are hiring to make our work.
What is anthropocene advertising and why does it need you?
Words by former Unilever Brand Marketing Manager now Sustainability Enabler, Plans With Purpose's Ali Fisher
WHAT IS ANTHROPOCENE ADVERTISING AND WHY DOES IT NEED YOU?
Words by former Unilever Brand Marketing Manager now Sustainability Enabler, Plans With Purpose's Ali Fisher
The last decade saw the climate and sustainability emergency explode onto government and business agendas like never before.
A diverse range of powers have stuck their heads above the parapet and rallied to help, from Greta & Sir David to XR & the UN. Undoubtedly, as an industry, we are doing more than ever before to drive towards more sustainable business.
We can do more.
We have entered a new era: The Anthropocene – a geological era defined by humankind’s impact on the environment, ending the 12,000 year climatically stable Holocene. The planetary health warnings that come with this seismic environmental shift are best highlighted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change alerting us that we have only until the end of this decade to keep global warming from rising above 1.5 degrees. We have already seen a one degree rise and are feeling the impacts across the world. Our new year and new decade was heralded in by the tragic loss of 10 million HA of Australian bushland and an estimated half a billion animals.
We can still do more. We have strategic nouse, creative lightbulbs, behaviour change know-how, engaged teams and, if we’re lucky, budget.
To date, much of our industry focus has been on deep diving into product value chains (rightly so), looking at how we can build a more circular economy, reduce waste, reduce water usage, reduce pollution and more. Advertising in an Anthropocene Era flags to us the need to now embed this same sustainability rigour into our MarComms, whether that’s by choosing to showcase more sustainable behaviours in our ads or choosing eventing agencies who commit to using recycled and recyclable production materials.
Imagine the positive impact if we focus the power and pounds of the marketing industry on building more sustainable businesses and brands, so that sustainability infuses every pore of our industry. The potential impact change if we laser focus our targets, not just on penetration and brand equity, but on sustainability too is spine tingling. As many of us mantra’d in Recycling Week 2019 ‘It’s in our own hands’.
‘Knowledge deficit’ and ‘a preference for existing ways of life’ are two of the key barriers to citizens adopting more sustainable living (Globescan 2019 Healthy & Sustainable Living Project). Who better to answer this brief than the Marketing Industry? What if we reviewed every marketing brief asking ourselves the question: what can this brief do to move the needle on the sustainability agenda? Mindshare are one agency already embracing this idea with their #ChangeTheBrief initiative, partnering with clients to create marketing and media plans designed to encourage small changes in behaviour that will help address the climate crisis when delivered at scale. With businesses and brands being challenged for green-washing, purpose-washing, woke-washing, green-rinsing and other forms of negative eco-washing traits, building a new era of Anthropocene Advertising, a new level of responsibility and leadership, to answer the escalating needs of our human-dominated era with all its challenges, seems a no-brainer. For those that can embrace this approach across the broad spectrum of their MarComms, the benefits of their authenticity and thoroughness will win through with their audiences.
Hellmann's: experiential campaign highlighted food waste
Employees, most markedly Millennials, tell us hands down they are hungry to work in businesses that are more sustainably driven. The opportunities to have positive impact within this industry abound. This is an era of business not as usual and it makes for an exhilarating brief for those willing to step up and answer it.
We can look inside our own industry for how-to inspiration on Anthropocene Advertising.
The Unstereotype Alliance was founded to bring the advertising industry together as a force for good to eradicate harmful gender-based stereotypes across all media and advertising content. Unstereotype provides inspiration and proof points for the capabilities and potential of this industry to embed responsibility, equality and positive change at the heart of marketing. Unstereotype shone a light on the continued prevalence of negative gender-based stereotypes. It is time now to shine the light on the prevalence of negative environment-based stereotypes and prejudices. It is our moment to call time on our industry’s unintended environmental consequences. It is time to replace the single-use hard-to-recycle coffee cups featured in Christmas coffee shop posters with the stay-in or reuse model. It is time to feature trains over planes in our promos and ads, replacing ‘Tagskryt’ (‘train-bragging’ for the non-native Swedes) over Frequent Flyers. It is time to offer staycation wins over exotic jet-setting. It is time to offer lower-carbon flexi, veggie and vegan over meat and two veg in our meetings, events and sets. It is time to embed sustainable regenerative thoughts and actions into every nook and cranny of this huge marketing machine. NAN might be an appropriate acronym to add to the marketers’ lexicon of the 2020s: Nudge, Aspire & Normalise sustainability where-ever you can.
The Unstereotype Alliance is underpinned by a Code of Principles. Anthropocene Advertising must likewise be guided by principle. Cultural principles must focus on accountability, education and collaborative challenge. As a starter for ten Anthropocene Advertising content should:
- Focus on renewable energy and technology over finite and fossil
- Champion nature as one third of the solution to the climate crisis and because, in the wise words of Sir David, 'No-one will protect what they don’t care about; and no-one will care about what they have never experienced.'
- Represent and show-case more sustainable citizen behaviours
- Bring circularity to resource use
- Demonstrate transparency and depth in sustainable storytelling
Humankind has shaped a new geological age where we dominate the landscape. It is our responsibility to respond with marketing plans that reflect this new age and use all the mastery of our trade to bring about positive environmental impact. We need responsible Anthropocene Advertising to regenerate our planet through the once-in-an-epoch challenges of the Anthropocene Era.
Greta Thunberg: Our House Is On Fire! | World Economic Forum 2019
Let’s start a behavioural revolution!
Unlocking the power of behavioural science to ignite activism and purpose. Words by Crawford Hollingworth, Founder at The Behavioural Architects
LET'S START A BEHAVIOURAL REVOLUTION!
Unlocking the power of behavioural science to ignite activism and purpose - word by Founder of The Behavioural Architects, Crawford Hollingworth
In 2020 there has never been a greater need for more activism and sense of purpose around the hugely significant global issues challenging our world: the climate emergency, the ongoing refugee crisis, social inequality and rising levels of poverty.
Even though many of us have an urge to act on these issues, this often doesn’t materialise, known in behavioural science as the ‘intention-behaviour gap’. We know from behavioural science that the ‘huge-ness’ of these challenges mean people feel powerless and unable to affect real change. We can also suffer from the belief that one individual cannot make a difference, building a further sense of paralysis…But the truth is more optimistic! Research by Erica Chenoweth at Harvard University suggests that it only takes around 3.5% of the population to engage with activism around a specific challenge to instigate political change.
In this article we will explore:
1. How behavioural science can:
a. Help people engage with complex issues
b. Reduce the intention-behaviour gap that holds us back
2. How brands can connect to these two behavioural strategies by helping consumers engage in activism and purpose
1a. Using behavioural science to help people engage with complex issues
The global challenges we are facing can appear so daunting and widespread that it seems impossible that one individual could do anything to help. The problem is not that people don’t want to act, it’s that they don’t know how to - and they’re not convinced that anything they do will have an impact. Behavioural science can go a long way towards bringing these overwhelming issues back to earth and provide people with the tools to convert energy into purpose.
Chunking is a great tool to help people work towards a goal or complete a task. Breaking something down into sections - or chunks - helps us stay motivated by keeping us focused on smaller ‘sub-goals’ that seem more manageable and less distant. Instead of focusing on the giant challenge of social inequality for example, focusing on little things that can be done immediately - or in the near future - helps get people engaged. These could range from a one-off donation to charity, writing to your local MP as a call for action, or signing up to volunteer at a food bank.
The language we use to talk about certain challenges can be extremely important in encouraging activism and building behavioural energy. Behavioural science shows how the way something is described, or ‘framed’, can have a large impact on the way a message is perceived. A great example of this is the recent reframing of global warming to the Climate Crisis or Climate Emergency. Before this, global warming or climate change doesn’t really sound that bad, and it definitely doesn’t sound like something that requires urgent action. On a similar line the framing used by Extinction Rebellion is full of behavioural energy and action.
This was also seen with the change in language from ‘immigrants’ to ‘refugees’ in the wake of the tragic image of a drowned Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi, in the global news in 2015. This reframe encouraged empathy and support rather than fear and distrust. Immediately after the image was shown globally, donations to Syrian refugee charities surged to 55 times higher than donations previously. Donations also rose in the long term as a result of the permanent reframe of the issue in the collective consciousness of society. Change the frame, change the meaning, build connection.
1b. Reducing the intention-behaviour gap that we all struggle with!
When it comes to bigger changes in behaviour - changing how you travel or becoming vegan or flexitarian - many people claim to want to act. But many of us find it much easier to ‘talk the talk’ vs ‘walk the walk’; in behavioural science, this is a concept called the intention-behaviour gap.
Throughout the day, many concerns and stimuli compete for our focus and attention, and as a result we are likely to forget things if we are not prompted at the point of action. A great example of this is food donation baskets at supermarkets. Although we may intend to donate groceries to food banks, many people find it hard to remember to pick up extra items whilst shopping. By the time you walk past the donation baskets at the end of the checkout, you’ve already paid and it’s too late. Additionally, it may be too effortful to overcome our daily habits to do something different - if something isn’t easy to do, we just won’t do it.
Behavioural science can be very useful in helping people remember to act on their intentions. To ease the cognitive burden, overcome habitual behaviours, and address forgetfulness, we can make use of action planning and implementation intentions: when we specify when, where and how we are going to achieve a goal. Indeed, these techniques have been found to be highly effective in helping people achieve their goals.
For example, implementation intentions have been shown to be incredibly powerful in political activism. When trying to increase voter turnout in the US, voters who were encouraged to make a plan for how and when to vote were 9.1% more likely to vote than similar individuals who didn’t make a plan. So, if you want to act, make a plan!
Finally, one of the most effective tools in behaviour science to encourage action is to change the default choice, something which often w tmore than doubles or even triples participation rates. In the clothing world, whilst people are beginning to understand the vast carbon footprint of fast fashion, behaviour change is slow. To help drive this change, initiatives that alter the default option can help. For example, rather than local sporting events handing out t-shirts to participants as the default (participants often aren’t given the choice to opt-out of receiving one), initiatives such as Trees no Tees encourage offering participants to plant a tree instead of receiving a ‘tee’! In offering participants a choice – and a greener option – rather than receiving a t-shirt by default, it will be easier for some behavioural action to occur.
2. How brands can connect to these two behavioural strategies by helping consumers engage in activism and purpose
People often demonstrate their support for a campaign or cause by purchasing goods that align with their values. For example, the increase in the number of people opting for a vegetarian, vegan or flexitarian diet reflects growing concern about the climate crisis and the damage meat and dairy production is doing to the environment.
Initially, this form of ‘grassroots activism’ tended to focus on declining to purchase certain products. However, we are increasingly seeing consumers actively purchasing products that support the things they care about, supported by brands that provide a vehicle for doing so. For example, when you purchase clothing from Everlane’s “100% Human” range (right), a portion of the proceeds goes to a civil rights organisation and buying a LifeStraw for your next camping trip gives a child in a developing country safe water to drink for one school year. Brands can also help consumers by making salient their adherence to ethical consumption, like providing point of sale reminders such as ‘no parabens’ when purchasing beauty or hygiene products. Airline companies could also promote carbon offsetting by providing links to carbon offset partners at point of sale. Skyscanner already offers something similar; when you search for flights on their website, they highlight the lower carbon flight options from aircraft that fly more efficiently.
The future looks brighter through the lens of behavioural science
It’s often easy to feel overwhelmed by the daunting issues and emergencies we face in today’s world and the behavioural changes we all need to make. But step back a little, arm yourself with some simple tried-and-tested tools from behavioural science and what felt impossible suddenly feels like it might just be achievable. Change a frame and change engagement, eat that proverbial elephant one chunk at a time and make your action plan to bridge that gap.
Looking at this from a company or brand perspective what is clear is that there is energy or intent for change amongst consumers to tackle these big issues. So ask yourselves how can we help people bridge the intention-behaviour gap? Let’s leverage behavioural science to simplify actions and reduce the friction, and we just might change those dystopian future visions we started this article with…
No more fat cats quaffing champagne
It's time for a sponsorship detox, writes Just Challenge's Founder, and winner of the Women Leading Change in Asia Award, Lucy Bennett-Baggs
NO MORE FAT CATS QUAFFING CHAMPAGNE
It's time for a sponsorship detox, writes Just Challenge's Founder and CEO, and winner of the Women Leading Change in Asia Award, Lucy Bennett-Baggs
Let’s cut to it. This conversation has been rolling around for a while now - the sponsorship world is tired.
The days of quaffing champagne, ploughing through single use plastic, watching the same event year on year, entertaining the same clients, building a structure then tearing it down, inflating sponsorship ROIs, are gone. Sponsorship and events now need purpose. They need to engage. Be meaningful. Give back.
We’ve all read, seen, listened to some of the most respected figures in our industry stand up and address this issue and how to solve for it, but how much are brands really taking note and more importantly taking action? With consumer demand rapidly gathering pace, there is no doubt that brands need to work harder to reflect their own values, as well as being good corporate citizens, invest in their communities, whilst supporting important local and global causes.
But this is so much more than a mouthful or a few empty lines on a website. We, in the marketing world, all recognise that this fundamental shift is no longer a nice to have, it is business essential. Not only to keep our brands relevant in the eye of the customer, but to actually make a significant impact on the lives of employees, the community we serve and the world we live in.
It starts with us.
Yet, as consumers ourselves, why do we have such exacting standards from the brands we engage with?
And yet, for the brands we represent, too readily accept the brush off explanations – ‘well that’s the way the business wants it’ or ‘that’s the way we have always done it’. Are we that afraid to address the elephant in the room and throw out these old practices and empty values and confront our organisations with the fact that this simply won’t cut it anymore? Well here is a message for your business; brand purpose is no longer marketing fluff - it's business critical and makes bottom-line sense. In fact, it is the implementation and activation of purpose that has been shown to lead to incredible growth. A recent study by Deloitte found that among marketing leaders, 80% of companies stated that a clear and collective purpose is linked to customer loyalty and 89% said it drives employee engagement and with nearly two thirds of millennials and Gen Z expressing a preference for brands that have a point of view and stand for something – that’s got to cut through…
'Are we that afraid to address the elephant in the room and throw out these old practices and empty values and confront our organisations with the fact that this simply won’t cut it anymore?'
Lucy Bennett-Baggs, Just Challenge
However, activating purpose cannot happen in a vacuum.
It needs to involve customers, employees and the larger ecosystem of stakeholders. Firstly, identifying what a brand stands for, then ensuring everyone is aligned, and finally create an activation plan that puts your purpose into action. We’ve led charge on shifting budgets from football and F1 - to leading employees and clients on challenges that better their mental health, raise funds, drive awareness and smash the stigma. We recently took Barclays on ‘Mind over Mountains’ – bringing 100 employees from around the world together to The Himalayas, to have honest conversations, raise money for mental health charities, hear from mental health ambassadors, and take the tools back to the workplace to use as a catalyst for change. Every employee stated they felt prouder to work for Barclays post experience.
Let’s not forget what’s important - after all, a business is only as good as your people.
A quote from one of our recent participants… 'The opportunity to trek 100km through The Drakensberg with Brian O’Driscoll and Bryan Habana really was a once in a lifetime, money can’t buy, opportunity. I built a relationship with my client that I couldn’t imagine doing in the boardroom, or at a sponsorship event. A truly memorable, once in a lifetime experience, that forms wonderful friendships. We’ll forever have memories to laugh about together’. One of thousands of unbreakable bonds formed with Just Challenge.
So here's to a year of less talking, and more doing, when it comes to being brave with events.
Have courage, address the elephant in the room and start somewhere. The smallest pivot in the right direction can often have an immeasurable impact. The champagne can be drunk at the finish line.