A view from Maisie McCabe

Generation K wants to make you rich for being good

There is lots of worthy debate at the moment about whether brands should have a wider purpose. I hope most of you, who spend your working days either directly building brands or platforms for them, think they can help improve the world at the same time as driving shareholder returns and bulging their executives’ Tod’s wallets. At McCann’s Truth About Global Brands event last week, there was an encouraging stat that shows maybe the wider public do too.

Although the public have long been said to distrust the motives of big business, a recent global study of 30,000 people offered a glimmer of hope. McCann Truth Central found that 85 per cent of people believe that brands have the power to do something great for the world. Even in the cynical UK, the figure was still a healthy 81 per cent.

Suzanne Powers, the global chief strategy officer at McCann Worldgroup, suggested brands should behave as the world’s best house guests. As someone who regularly has friends and family staying over, I find my favourites bring chocolate, stay just the right length of time and clean up after themselves. I’m not sure I need John Lewis and Lurpak to bring me flowers and do the washing up, but it’s an interesting analogy nonetheless.

If adland is an industry, not a business, shouldn't it prioritise paying a fair wage for a proper day's work?

The financial big dipper we have been riding for the past seven years has radically changed how we think about the world. Yet the way business works has not altered as much as people might have expected. I’ve just read Whoops!, John Lanchester’s terrifying explanation of the credit crunch. He makes the distinction between businesses, which exist to make money, and industries, whose primary purpose is to produce something (and make money in the process).

In the book, which was published in 2010, Lanchester says most companies are now run as businesses, not industries. But how brilliant would it be if this recent groundswell of interest in doing and being good achieved more change than the crisis managed? If it led to more than just companies allowing staff to volunteer for two hours every three months? For a start, if adland is an industry, not a business, shouldn’t it prioritise paying a fair wage for a proper day’s work, as Stu Outhwaite and Ben Harris suggested in these pages a couple of issues back?

Also speaking at the McCann event was the economist Noreena Hertz. She talked about Generation K, named after Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games. Hertz says Gen K is hugely distrustful of organisations and their motives but is willing to reward brands that do good with patronage and advocacy. But just as Everdeen was not afraid to kill people who did her wrong, so this younger generation won’t hesitate to turn on brands they think should do better. Don’t wait for them to set their sights on yours.