I hear that statement often when giving a speech or presenting to a group of marketing directors. It’s often presented as a brash shout or a sarcastic grumble, “Our customers don’t care about sustainability!” or “Our customers don’t pay extra for sustainable products!”
Not to be pedantic, but I think the same can be said about the marketing (and products) of many similar companies in general. It was (and still is) about bringing the right story to the right team at the right time and place. And in that way, continuous storytelling isn’t that different from your typical fake dog ad? If he had lived for that time?
What to do more in 2014
- Find sustainability at the core of your brand and business, such as Nike Better World, small startup Fairphone or Patagonia’s commitment to being a benefit corporation (B-Corp).
- Join us and never be afraid to ask for help, like Starbucks’ “My Starbucks Idea,” or watch the fashion industry pledge to keep our clothes free of toxic chemicals in their no-nonsense pledges.
- Do more good advertising (advertising with a purpose) like Engen’s Fire Blanket Calendar.
- Try new collaborative business models and open sharing economies like Capitec’s Swapping Mall or BMW’s DriveNow.
- Embrace transparency like online retailer Honestby.
- Encourage guilt-free consumption like Woolworths supports sustainable fishing.
- Increase energy and resource efficiency, like Patagonia’s beautiful ads telling consumers to “don’t buy this jacket.”
- Innovation in sustainability like Nike’s Flyknit shoes or entrepreneurs GravityLight.
- Don’t think in terms of corporate social responsibility – look for new possibilities and opportunities like Kraft Foods with Tiger Biscuits.
- Ask yourself what kind of world-changing change you can make to your customers, your industry, your community, your stakeholders or your country. Look at Chipotle challenging industrialized food production with ads like Back to the Start and Scarecrow or Unilever’s Lifebuoy soap brands that make a big difference to hygiene on a global scale.
You have to tell people why sustainable produce is worth more than milled produce, and often people are willing to pay the price. Often you can not refuse. For those who don’t, save money and be smart enough to make ends meet; Sustainability is part of everyday life.
I was recently in Mozambique and one day I visited a hairdresser who had a bucket of water for her entire clientele. A bucket of water! It’s about putting your sustainability story in that context. When American supermarket chain Walmart launched its program to combat food deserts (supermarkets are a perfectly fitting name for low-income areas where healthy, fresh food is scarce, but fast food and processed foods are highly valued), they made a difference in society and were even endorsed by First Lady Michelle Obama. Has your ad been seen by the President or First Lady?
Don’t create needs, fulfill needs
Instead of creating needs, you should think about how to provide the right products or services. Suddenly, you see new business opportunities, blue oceans waiting to be conquered.
Consider Kraft Foods, known for pushing silly products like bottled squeeze cheese. It recently launched ‘Tiger Biskuat’, a range of nutrient-dense biscuits in Indonesia, with the aim of combating malnutrition. For a hard-working mother of six whose husband works hundreds of miles away, this is life-changing for the future family and their well-being.
Mega trends are weakening even the whitest smile.
Time is over for most of today’s marketing stories because we have bigger problems than showing a white and bright smile. It’s about moving your brand from being part of the problem, like selling greasy, salty food, to being part of the solution that ultimately hurts communities (and the customers you depend on). Check out the mega trends that are about to rock our world:
- Rapid population growth and urbanization.
- In general, lack of water and lack of resources
- Climate change
- Economic development
- Educational gaps
- Accelerating equality and human rights
- The growing gap between the rich and the poor
Does your brand have a say in these mega trends at all times, and if not – can it?
Despite this, most marketing directors seem to be busy hunting for new micro-trends such as catchy apps, QR codes and SEO-mechanics. Does that ever build relevance and long-term growth?
Unfortunately, short-term thinking and goal setting puts us in a Catch 22 situation – not enough time to reap the rewards of doing good.
South African brands, however, have an unprecedented understanding of these mega trends. As a country that faces these challenges every day, it is an opportunity to better understand and tell these enduring stories not only at home, but also to connect with people globally.
The South African dream
I see a lot of insightful advertising coming from South Africa, to comment on the bigger picture and connect with these mega trends rather than the ’till you drop’ marketing and shopper message of yesteryear.
In the 20th century, former colonial powers were omnipotent storytellers (as well as modern advertisers), sharing their recipes for happiness and prosperity, or calling the US the ‘American Dream’, but maybe it was the South. Does Africa have the power to tell more stories about the reality of the next century and the mega-trends facing us and future generations? Perhaps the ‘South African story’ is not survival of the species but salvation for all?
Beauty never lasts.
I believe brands that succeed in embracing this new reality and problem-solving perspective will become winning storytellers. It’s about removing yourself from the beauty pageant of incremental differences and watered-down USPs and creating a new and genuine path forward.
A recent survey from Havas Brand Sustainable Future found that 2/3 of consumers do not care whether most brands survive or not. Let’s think about it – they don’t care if you’re around or not. Stories to tell about loyalty and commitment in the boardroom; How true are they? All heritage, all faith – in this new production reality, it means nothing.
This research shows that there is a fundamental difference between the stories brands tell people (and themselves) and people. Really They want to hear and see from brands.
A true story, well told.
Maybe you’re telling the right story, but not telling it the right way? Do yourself a favor and take three minutes out of your day to watch the Rainforest Alliance ad Follow the Frog – and tell me if they’re not saying it the right way?
Basically, dear marketing director or advertising executive, if you care about people, people will care about you. That’s it for you, “No one cares!” Blast and let me add: it pays to care.