Editor's Comment: PM's big invitation to brands
A view from Gareth Jones

Editor's Comment: PM's big invitation to brands

Mention the government's 'Big society' initiative and you're likely to be met with either a blank face expressing apathy or a knowing grin aimed at concealing state of intellectual befuddlement.

Back in July, when the prime minister unveiled his masterplan to empower individuals to take more control over their communities, he was greeted with a mixture of confusion and cynicism. Many were highly sceptical, both as to how exactly David Cameron intended to enable voters to run institutions such as post offices and how such schemes would be funded.

While uncertainty still abounds, this week's Tory Party conference has revealed that brands, at least, are keen to lend Joe Public a helping hand.

With the government desperate to reduce expenditure, Cameron's flagship policy will create opportunities for brand-owners to get involved in 'people power' initiatives. Of course, many companies, from Kellogg to Npower, are already active in grass-roots schemes. Last month, for example, Starbucks launched 'Realising potential', a pilot project enabling groups in Brighton to bid for cash and volunteer time to support initiatives.

While this is admirable, 'Big society' looks set to go one step further, potentially allowing brands to embed themselves in the very fabric of local life - on a national scale. If approached with caution, the benefits for brands could be considerable, assuming that the initiatives are intrinsically linked to a brand's values and business objectives. There needs, however, to be more clarity over how Cameron's 'expert organisers' will police initiatives and prevent companies from overstepping the mark. For example, no one wants to see their gym 'saved' by a burger brand.

Ultimately, opinion remains divided over the 'Big society', but the government's desire to do less means that brands will be free to do more.