Tech Innovation and Earned Media - the twin kings of marketing for the last couple of years - are now being challenged for their title. They will undoubtedly remain strong players for years to come, but the new kings of the hill are likely to be Purpose and Earned Business.
Earlier this year we presented 1,000 Swedish consumers with the hypothetical choice of buying an expensive and exclusive piece of clothing: only one in ten preferred a clearly visible logo. Among the rest of them, half preferred a discreetly visible logo and about 40 percent no logo at all. In the west, the term brandalism coined by Banksy, is on its way to becoming mainstream and individual.
In emerging economies however, you are likely to find a more materialist value-system. This notion was supported in a large survey of urbanites performed globally last year. About 15,000 consumers in 30 cities across six continents were asked if brands are important when buying clothes. In Beijing and Mumbai only about a tenth of respondents disagreed with the statement, whereas in Stockholm the figure was over 50 %.
The Logo rises in the East and sets in the West
In short: The eastern world is rapidly becoming commercial, while the western world is entering post-commercialism. And it's tempting to draw up the Bell Curve of commercialism - logo size is growing in the east and shrinking in the west; i.e. growing in the early phases of commercialism and shrinking in the later ones.
Post-commercialism is a consequence of the age of transparency resulting in informed consumers empowered by media to impact businesses and markets. Central to post-commercialism is the question of who deserves to earn your money, and that consumers reward corporations that take stands rather than building brands. In the post-commercial society, consumption becomes one of the most important ways of expressing views and values, in contrast to the commercial society where consumption primarily expresses lifestyle. Buying a product is no longer a result of identification with a brand but rather a vote on the stand point of the producer resulting in a growing demand for products and services that not only meet a consumer need but equally important develops the industry and benefit society.
That's why it's time for the communications industry to stop helping our clients talk the talk and start helping them walk the walk. And walking the walk means focusing more on stakeholders, rather than just shareholders - and focusing on the society in which the company operates.
From earned media to earned business
Marketing thought leader Porter recently told Harvard Business Review that the world is running out of new consumer needs, but that society's needs have never been greater. The only natural conclusion from this is that social good is the new potential comparative advantage for any business. So consequently it's not just media that you have to earn these days, it's business itself. Media is not the message - business is the message. This means that the marketing industry should probably focus less on tech innovation and more on the mission-driven promise of its clients. Because earning media doesn't necessarily mean that you're doing the right thing. Actually, in our industry it tends to mean doing an unexpected, funny or techie stunt. And that's all good. But not as good as doing good. Legendary businessman and entrepreneur Jan Stenbeck, founder of Modern Times Group and Metro, once said that politics beats money but tech beats politics. Today there is a new king of the hill - purpose beats tech.
This notion was quite apparent when I had the opportunity to judge TED's Ads Worth Spreading in the category Social Good this fall. We have come a long way since CSR. Responsibility today is not something you add on top; it's the foundation you build from. It's at the very core of your business. It's the reason why consumers choose you and not the others. It's how you earn your business. The term Prosumer was coined by futurologist Alvin Toffler in 1980 describing a future where consumers also are producers. Today, that idea is a reality and the term is gaining a new meaning - prosuming meaning supporting through buying. Supporting businesses that deserve it, businesses that serves a purpose.
The buzzword at Cannes Lions 2012
Purpose also happened to be a major talking point at Cannes Lions 2011, possibly best presented during WPP intelligence agencyLandor's workshop. And late last year this focus continued throughout international forums and dominated the World Economic Forum in Davos.
But what will be the buzzword in Cannes Lions this year? My bet is that people will be talking about getting political. And not in the sense of backing political parties, but by taking stands for issues with societal dimensions.
Not only because it's election year in the US, and not only because we've witnessed a year of uprising and occupying. Not only because the Time's 'Person of the year' issue compared 2011 with game-changing years like 1989 and 1968. Not only because we are the 99 percent. Not only because W+K rightfully (hopefully) will receive a bag of Gold Lions for their social and political orientated work for Chrysler and Levi's. Not only because the struggle to keep the national economy together has reached Western Europe. Not only because Al Gore and Sean Parker kidnapped SXSW in Austin, causing the tech community to scream 'occupy democracy!' Not only because Americans Elect won the prestigious people's choice award at the same festival. Not only because Clinton speaks at Cannes.
But perhaps mostly because of the key insight from the TED Social Good-work - that the sustainability agenda has switched from THE environment to YOUR environment.
Don't create advocates - be an advocate
This means more focus on the local society and less on countries far away, more focus on rights and less on catastrophes. And local rights have a tendency to become political. During the last year we have seen projects and campaigns about bullying, about gay rights, about homelessness. We have discussed local child poverty, unemployment and CEO bonus programs. With this backdrop it's funny that businesses over the last decade have been talking about transforming their customers into advocates. Honestly, if you want me to stand up for you, you'd better stand for something yourself. Don't try to create advocates - be an advocate. Take a stand. Get political. Earn your business. Like Heineken that says that 'The sunrise belongs to the moderate drinkers' or Disney that recently introduced the idea of nutrition guidelines for advertisement in their channels. Poetically enough, the expression 'bottom-line' means both profit/loss and final statement/purpose.
This article is also published in the Contagious magazine. Click here to read it.
/Tom Beckman, executive creative director, Prime