When I had lunch recently with my god-daughter Grace, a 20-something Dubliner studying international law, she threw me a tough question: ‘Has the world always been this crazy, or has it only just got this way?’
I get where she’s coming from. Coming into maturity during the age of Brexit, Trump and ISIS can’t be easy. There’s a constant drumbeat of bad news. There are too many guns and knives in the hands of nutters. Not just technology but democracy itself seems open to hacking.
Result? Mass unease and distrust in ‘the system’ of government, media and business. The Edelman Trust Barometer tells us that only 15% think the system is working, with a chunky 59% saying it's failing. And I regret to say that’s where our conversation stayed; fixated on and worrying about symptoms of societal failure.
But really what I should have told her is that it’s not as bad as it looks. It’s just the good news doesn’t sell newspapers, and isn’t on everybody’s lips: the reality is that as a global society we are living longer, becoming more educated, taking greater care of our health, and becoming more open to the idea that we can change things for the better through our power as consumers. These are all verified facts, not feel good fake news drummed up by marketing spin-meisters.
Certainly these are the things that excite me about my job these days. I can remember in the 90s when I was an advertising planner, we were always trying to sell clients on the idea of having a social purpose; and what limited success we had with that gambit – they’d buy the advertising idea but wouldn’t dream of applying it to their own business.
Now I find myself in the enviable position of working with clients who ‘get it’. They know that having a progressive purpose and agenda has mass appeal, not just for clients and customers but also for their own colleagues. And they know you’d better not advertise a belief or idea until there’s tangible proof that you walk the talk.
It’s not rocket science. People want to buy from brands that make them feel better about themselves. In other words, that don’t do active harm to the planet, that give back a bit, and have the courage to do things differently. And in our age of information, they expect to be able to find evidence of these things without having to read a corporate social responsibility report.
And the great news is that it’s not just hipster consumer brands like Airbnb, Tesla and Lemonade who are driving this trend. It’s also becoming the calling card of much bigger global B2B brands like GE and EY. Given that it’s their job to advise, support and partner with other businesses, it’s fair to assume that their values and behaviours are actively helping to shift the mindsets of business leaders all around the world.
So, Grace, fear not. We may live in a crazy world but there are good reasons to be cheerful.
Freddie has 20 years of experience in brand strategy and planning across both B2B and B2C, with a keen interest in brand storytelling, digital and innovation. Since joining FutureBrand, he has helped create the new Xinova and Luminor brands, and is currently working on revitalizing an iconic global consumer finance brand.