Give as good as you get:
Today, we find many brands and companies using ethics as a means of differentiation, the "good brand" versus the "bad brand" so to speak. In the future, as consumers increasingly call the shots, being an ethical brand simply will become the minimum cost of doing business and will not constitute a point of difference between one brand and another. In short, unethical brands will be driven into extinction. This chapter deals with preservation of brand as species.
Given the enormous cultural and individual influences, variations, and misinterpretations of even just the definition of the word ethics, a discussion of "ethics" can easily break down. Heightening this complexity is its use within the context of business in a free-market economy. Apart from good corporate citizenship, I submit that the truest measure of ethics is and will continue to be the degree to which a brand or product satisfies a real versus a fabricated consumer need and reflects contemporary culture.
However, to the degree that we allow ourselves to confuse brand identity with cultural authenticity and ethics, we become player in a potentially dangerous game of imperialistic branding and cultural abdication. Together these two killers could spell the death of free will, tradition, and soul. It is no less than the best of what it means to be human that is at stake.
The lesson we can learn from ethics is: Keep your eye on the bottom line, but remember to be good-with good being defined not only in terms of consumer satisfaction with your product/brand but also by the acuity with which you perceive and honor consumers' authentic needs. Yes, do the right thing to survive. But don't count on just being good as enough to propel and differentiate your brand. Being good soon will be the norm, the minimum cost of entry. In the area of business ethics, the consumers' role and rights will become increasingly apparent as consumers become more and better equipped to express their approval or disapproval.
Along with the benefits they will enjoy in this new era of consumer/brand collaboration, consumers now also will be held partially to blame of several obese teens against McDonald's lost, but the incendiary documentary film it inspired, 'Super Size Me', was a resounding success both as a film (it won at Sundance) and as a vehicle for imposing "Brand Conscience" (subsequent to the film, McDonald's did away with its "Superized" portions and introduced healthy alternatives, such as McSalads). 'Thank You for Smoking', a new film based on a parody of public relations and lobbying is bound to have similar effects. Smarter consumers demand more ethical brands. It's that simple. The jig is up.
Yet there still are many companies and governmental agencies that pay vast sums of money to create consumer crisis-control programs. Why not invest in doing what's right the first time?
What's most important here is understanding the difference between practicing business ethics and ethical branding. Being a truly ethical brand and using ethics as a marketing device are two very different things. For example, renowned luxury watch brand Baume and Mercier teamed up with Kiefer Sutherland, fusing Kiefer's celebrity, Baume & Mercier's luxury, and no fewer than three important causes-curing cancer, caring for children, and protecting the environment-in order to promote watch sales. This is all well and good. But does it say anything about the quality of the brand? Or does it suggest that the brand is doing the right thing for the wrong reasons? Does it mean that the brand, because of its enhanced image, will be able to charge consumers more so that Baume & Mercier can donate funds back to arguably good charities? Is it the equivalent of marking goods up an additional 80 per cent so that you can discount them by 60 per cent? For the time being, the answers to these questions probably don't matter much. At least charities are benefiting. And whether or not brands that donate to charity are being altruistic or manipulative, at least good causes are reaping the rewards.
Yet, while nobody can argue against altruism, from a branding perspective, altruism used as a method of differentiation is not a long-term marketing strategy. For one thing, it lacks propriety. There is little barrier to entry.
Here is a potentially controversial observation: The virtue of a brand should not be measured by the degree to which it is able to differentiate itself emotionally via philanthropy; rather, a virtuous brand is one that is in tune with the culture and consumer needs/desires of its time.
Certainly, environmentalism, humanitarism, and cultural respect are givens, but emotional exploitation via philanthropy, a device that worked well in a more na´ve world, will come to mean less and less as culture and consumers decide for themselves the causes that mean most to them. Consumers will define a virtuous brand as one that delivers on its promises.
Nowhere are the violations of cultural interference and unethical behavior more clear than when a brand or company interferes in politics.
Commercial manipulation in the political arena is perhaps the worst, most dangerous business sin. A business or brand is not a person, although it can be inspired by a person or persons. A brand does not have the right to govern, and brands should not interfere with the natural evolution of culture.
I rue the day when government and the very definition of what is socially right or wrong, just or unjust, will be brought to us by the makers of laundry detergent or any other product, brand, or industry. When and if this time does come (and some would claim that it already has), we, in the broadest sense, will be lost. Culture, as historically defined, will be dead or left bloodied and dying.
I am not predicting doom and gloom or painting a future scenario of brands inheriting the earth. In fact, I am predicting the exact opposite. In the very near future, ethical branding will devour unethical brands, and hopefully, tomorrow's marketers will wake up and realize that they inhabit the same, albeit branded, world as the consumer.
Wal-Mart, the company we seem to love and hate, surprisingly has conceded this by creating a new CEO position. No. I am not referring to a new head of the company. Rather, it has created an entirely new executive position, chief ethical officer. And lest any brand or any company choose to test the hypothesis that ethics doesn't matter and the consumer catch wind of it, that company or brand most assuredly will become the object of quick justice-consumer-inflicted justice. That brand will hang by the neck until dead.
Free will means that it is up to good marketers to actually use their brilliant imaginations to focus on more appropriate things than merely leveraging brand "goodness just for show." Consumer free will prompts our discovering new, more fascinating methods of satisfying the real desires of consumers and lending a touch of stardust to their daily lives during the course of satisfying even mundane basic needs. The good news, which this chapter explores, is that you are in control of how you use your brand.
Excerpt from 'Living Brands' by Raymond A Nadeau. Reproduced with permission © 2007, Tata McGraw-Hill Publishing Company Limited.
Price: Rs 395. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
A new approach to branding for the 21st century.
Nadeau, advertising and branding pioneer extraordinaire, starts with a simple and reasonable premise: The job of advertisers should not be to invent consumer needs, but to fill existing desires. The advent of technology, he argues, has created an empowered consumer that has more say than ever in how brands are created and evolve. Drawing from his own set of diverse experiences in the business, as well as those of his eclectic and creative industry friends, he reveals the six "secrets" of connecting with consumers and establishing your brand as a personal part of their lives and identities. Through interviews, case studies and a keen observation of cultural trends and human psychology, Nadeau shows the reader what works in advertising and marketing, what doesn't, and why. What differentiates this book from other "advertising guru" books on the market is both Nadeau's incredible pop-culture savvy, and his thoughtful, intellectual and ethical treatment of his subject. A smart, fun and inspirational read that will change the way you look at marketing.
edge New York Review:
by PJ Gach
EDGE Entertainment Contributor
Tuesday Jan 23, 2007
"Whether it's advertising, marketing or even business to business relations, Nadeau, effectively explains it all."
Advertising and marketing have a basic construct; create a need for a new product. Advertisers, marketers and branders have never looked at the general public for cues on what they need; rather they have artificially created a need for a new product. At one point, that paradigm may have worked. Now, with the advent of viral marketing, TiVo, Internet banner ads, and a generally more sophisticated consumer who doesn't really care who squeezes the Charmin, many companies are scrambling to get a grasp on the ever splintering market and short-term attention span of the public.
So what can a business do to not only stay ahead of the game, but to be a viable resource? It's simple, pay attention to the consumer. Realize that they aren't just dumb sheep to be blindly led to the cashier; rather they are intelligent humans who can and do make sharply intelligent decisions.
Nadeau's slim book, Living Brands explains to anyone in the marketplace exactly what they need to do to stay the course. Whether it's advertising, marketing or even business to business relations, Nadeau, effectively explains it all.
The man knows his business, from working the bars of California to overseeing the marketing strategies of the Celine Dion, Jennifer Lopez and Marc Jacobs perfumes as Global Creative Director for Coty Inc, Coty Beauty and the Lancaster Group.