I'd always thought Google's unofficial motto, "Don't be evil", interesting. It has served the business well so far - it's the world's largest media owner and second-most-valuable brand on the planet.
Yet Google has taken a public battering this year and stands accused of inaction over child pornography, dubious tax practices and breach of privacy. I mean, Google reads the contents of our personal e-mails, which even my mum says sounds creepy. The Google empire not only controls our access to information but to our own personal data.
All this has led some to argue that the brand values Google preaches are empty. Whether it is being evil, however, is a value judgment. Consumers are happy for brands to use the "dark" data arts to drive greater relevance, but only if the value exchange is tipped in their favour. It's possible to get it very wrong: Instagram felt consumers' wrath as a result of a terms-and-conditions debacle and lost half of its daily users.
The brands that are winning are those focused on cultivating connected experiences by leveraging data, and not just on broadcasting messages. It is no longer about you, the brand owner; it is about what you enable.
If brands are to prosper, they need to employ simple tools to help plan for better-connected experiences. Propositions that merely drive what brands say are based on an outdated broadcast mindset. Today, brands need organising ideas that drive what they are and do, as well as what they say. Brands must align every facet of their business around a higher purpose.
Nike has genetically re-engineered itself as an experience brand. Its spend on TV and print advertising in the US has dropped by 40 per cent in just three years, even as its total marketing budget has steadily climbed to hit a record $2.4 billion last year. Where is the money moving? It's moving to connected brand experiences - and with a resulting 14 per cent uplift in market share over the same period.
Coca-Cola gets it too. Once vilified for bullying suppliers, the brand has cleaned up its act. Coke's strategy for the digital age is built on the premise of "shared value", while the new organising idea, "open happiness", invites audience involvement and helps define the shared experience for consumers. The "share a Coke" campaign is a great example and sees Coke step aside to facilitate moments - in a similar way to Red Bull, O2, Apple and other forward-thinking brands.
Google is taking things a step further with new services including Google Now, which takes data such as Gmail calendar appointments, combines it with route information and proactively alerts you that you need to leave or you will be late. In the future, we'll see more of this as other brands start behaving like always-on proactivists.
Where an experience is contextually powerful, consumers will value and become hooked on it, and so forgive the odd "evil" intrusion. Far from being evil, most brands are becoming an effective weapon for holding even the largest global corporations to account. Greater transparency is driving better behaviour.
Tomorrow's winners will be those that create experiences built around a higher purpose, where the "give" more than balances out the "take". Consumers - for now - are prepared to share their data to power these experiences, provided the brand high is worth it.
Magnus Fitchett, planning director, SapientNitro
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