A new era will dawn in which the collective power of consumers rules. David Bonney presents an impression, written in July/August 2008, of brands' future experience.
- 2008, a dawning era of "we". An explosion in collective action, fused with increasing desire to serve the common good, promises to make the world a better place. Most brands serve shareholder interest rather than the common good. But with more being demanded of corporations, values become as important as value, and corporations seek to remain competitive by putting wider concerns at the heart of their strategies.
- 2011 and "collective-investment" facilitates consumers becoming brand owners, harnessing the power of branding for the sake of their causes.
- In 2013, the aggregation of consumer causes creates economies of scale and the perfect common-good brand is born.
We believe the people should control the means of branding.1 How consumers in search of "we-actualisation" will become the brand owners of the future.
This paper considers the rise of mass collaboration and growing collective consciousness in society, exploring what these trends could mean for the future of consumerism and branding. One key prediction is that we will see a proliferation of consumer-owned cause brands.
There follows a fictional extract from a book, Commons People: in their own words, the stories of ten individuals who laid the foundations for Capitalism 3.0. Published in 2019, to coincide with the establishment of a "commons sector" in the UK, the book sheds light on the factors that converged to allow Government to redirect society towards working for the common good.2
Origins of FLOW - the perfect common-good brand
Verne Bose, founder of FLOW, tells the story behind the brand's creation. From society's growing desire to serve the common good and have companies do the same in 2008, through experimentation with collective investment and consumer-owned cause brands in 2011, to his agency's founding of the "customisable" common-good brand in 2013.
I. The power of We - the internet facilitates collective action, putting remarkable achievements within our reach
"The individual must exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. The pursuit of his own rational self-interest and happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life." Ayn Rand, 1957.3
I was a child of the Century of the Self.4 Since I could utter the word "me", I was groomed for an individualist world. I would learn alone, be employed alone, reflect upon successes as mine and mine alone. My status relative to other men was my worth, my identity my means, and my happiness a distant actualisation of "self".5
Yet, in 2008, something jolted profoundly within me, as I began to recognise the extraordinary power of "we", unleashing the pent-up potential of the world around me. Where once I'd viewed collective action6 as a sweet but impractical idealism, an affliction of one's early 20s, the tumbling costs of collaboration saw an explosion in "Wikinomical"7 phenomena as distant people united online to pursue shared agendas, achieving great things as "we" they otherwise couldn't have achieved.
If Time magazine's "Person of the Year" in 2006 was "You"8, then (with a relaxation of the definition of a person) 2008's might have been "We".
- Barack Obama had swept to the presidency, his victory built on internet fundraising of small donations from many people who had never before been involved in politics. In his victory speech, he attributed success to the community of his support - "Yes We Have", they chanted on the steps of Capitol Hill.9 - 2008 saw the discovery of an effective vaccine against HIV, the result of a mass collaboration of thousands of scientists (a similar peer-production approach to the development of Linux Software), sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.10 - The internet played a key role in bringing about the impeachment of GW Bush. Senator Dennis Kucinich was supported in his cause by 1,276,405 signatures secured via online petition.11- And, for the first time in history, the entire world was collaborating around a single issue - global warming. Although no breakthrough came in 2008, thousands of collaborations were under way, among schoolchildren and scientists alike. Al Gore's "Wecansolveit.org" was a shining example, where millions came together to force politicians to address climate change and to fundraise for research and education against this common threat.
Collective action was no longer the preserve of idealism - it was suddenly possible on a massive scale, offering a real edge to those who employed it. The authors of Wikinomics were primarily interested in charting the advantages for business, envisaging "deep changes in the structure and modus operandi of corporations and economy, based on new competitive principles of openness, peering, sharing and acting globally".12 For example, Procter & Gamble was chuffed to bits with the potential of open sourcing as a means to strengthen its innovation stream, guaranteeing shareholder returns long into the future.13
However, as is clear from my opening examples, Wikinomics also made it easier to collaborate for the sake of "the common good". And, over the next few years, the common good, and what collective action could do in its name, would become my deepest interests.
II. The goals of We - a growing interest in the common good
"Individualism is out, community is in."14
"We've been living in this bubble where individualism was seen as the highest value, amplified by phenomena like 'cool', celebrity, self-help. All the major trends reshaping our world are pushing towards a less egocentric/individual view and towards a more generative/collective view."15
Hand in hand with the rise of collective action was a rise in collective consciousness, a decline in egocentrism and a growing desire to direct resources to serving the common good (here defined as "the greatest possible good for the greatest number of people"). As British society grew older and more affluent, "wider concerns" came to the fore.16 This attitudinal shift was reflected in behaviour - the way people shopped, their career choices.17 And something was clearly afoot when the Tories put "society" back into their politics.18
The change was out of necessity as much as anything else:
- The imminence of environmental catastrophe gave no option but to put common good before self-interest.
- "Climate change is the classic example of a common problem that individuals cannot solve by acting independently. No family can opt out of climate change or buy their own little patch of retro weather."19 - Britain was sick - chronically depressed, anxious, disordered, prone to substance abuse.20 We were realising that no matter how fast we ran on the hedonic treadmill, no amount of personal wealth or status could make us "happy".21 The dawn of "well-being economics" and Positive Psychology helped us understand that authentic happiness and health were only possible in a society with high levels of community and trust between men. Both were relatively lacking in the UK.22- As much means as cause, the internet made it easier to pursue common-goodery and spawned a "Net Generation" who instinctively thought as "we" and had a firm sense of social justice.23
A think tank, founded in 2008, believed the convergence of these three factors constituted a "perfect storm", the energy from which would facilitate a "citizen renaissance" (also the think tank's name), leading to our living more happily and sustainably.
But, if thinking as "we" was necessary, it was also fashionable. Scuppies (socially conscious upwardly mobile persons) were a new breed who cared about wider concerns as much to keep up with the Joneses as to experience warm, fuzzy feelings.24 And "Feel-anthropy"25 was trendier than ever - think Live8 and Red, which urged you to "accessorise your compassion".26
A final factor was our admiration for the economies of the East; cultures with "we-ness" at their core and immunity to the cult of self. The collective brilliance of the Olympics opening ceremony epitomised China's ability to harness mass collaboration to extraordinary ends. Korea was years ahead, wikinomically speaking, having in 2002 seen its own Obama-like figure elected president, with the rallying help of citizen-run media and an SMS campaign emerging from the masses.27 And the 2008 siege by West Bengal Government of a car-production plant, until the company agreed to give 400 acres of land to local farmers, showed that even capitalist countries could get ruthless for the sake of the common good. 28
It's worth noting how notoriously difficult it is to separate self-interest and interest in the common-good.29 But if a man's motivations lead to behaviour in the interests of everyone, then their nature shouldn't matter.
III. The psychology of "We-actualisation" - fulfilling the destiny of our brains
Some explained our declining egocentrism as society en masse approaching "self-actualisation".30
But Lord Layard felt the term was inappropriate and, in a public letter to David Cameron at Christmas 2008, christened it the era of "we-actualisation".31 People wanted "belonging, community, common feeling, trust, a loss of self in service of the common good", all of which had been linked with the highest states of happiness.32 Some of these phenomena were present in Abraham Maslow's conception of "self-actualisation", but Maslow was the daddy of selfdom, and his highest state of existence remained fundamentally about self- interest. Layard's new term underlined that an even higher state was possible, one very much about unity with others, and having no business being associated with the word "self".
The thirst for "we-actualisation" made sense to evolutionary psychologists - our most advanced brain functions had evolved to assist our pursuing the common good (typically by means of collective action); social emotions like guilt33, functional mechanisms like "cheater detection"34, the phenomena of trust, empathy, language ... all were adaptations to help man work for the good of his group rather than himself. Biologically, collective behaviour in the service of the common good was humanity's cause d'etre, our highest purpose ... and, although relatively absent in the western world, it had always flourished somewhere, from the favelas of Brazil to the Amish communities of Pennsylvania and the "honour- system" wine bars of Berlin.35
Our century of selfish motives, the "business reflex of self-interest"36 was a peculiar blip in our development. And, in 2008, with the means of the internet, and desire to "we-actualise", humanity was ready to return to its natural inclination of working as we, for we.
The remainder of this paper describes the impact all this had on branding and consumerism, culminating in the story of how my colleagues and I created FLOW, the perfect common-good brand.
IV. Brands and the common good - a distant relationship
In 2008, I worked in advertising. So my instinct was to ask what all this "we-ness" and common-goodery meant for brands.
It would surely mean good things for "co-operatives" or mutuals37, organisations founded to serve the good of their many members.38 There were a few about - the Co-operative Group, Nationwide Building Society, The Oxted School Young Co-operative.39 However, their number had dwindled since the war.40 Most had been privatised, infected by the dominant business model of profit-and-growth- hungry shareholder ownership. Others had vanished. But interesting to note that those which had survived were doing relatively well in 2008 - was this down to thirst for "we-actualisation"?
After years of decline, since being the number-one grocery brand in the 60s, the Co-operative was experiencing a renaissance. Having seen increasing profitability since 199941, it outperformed the wider grocery market in 2008, as well as being optimistic enough to purchase Somerfield for £1.56 billion, putting it "back in the premier league of retailers"42. Equally, the John Lewis Partnership, an employee-owned collective, outperformed other high-street retailers in 2008.43
Just like the old co-operatives, the best new brands had a real sense of "we" at their core. EBay functioned on trust. Google thrived as its community of websites using Google Ads thrived.44 Craigslist employed 23 people and effectively was its community of users.
"What works for us is the culture of trust our community has built with us. We have two core values: treat others like you want to be treated, and live and let live." Craig Newmark45
And what about "agent brands", representing organised consumers rather than producers? Priceline Negotiator, HomePro, Moneysupermarket ... they worked for a common good of sorts, for example, aggregating consumer buying power to achieve better value.46
"We-era" brands needed little or no help from advertising. Meanwhile, the vast majority of the advertising industry's clients were relics of a more selfish era and existed primarily to serve shareholders.47 Some had philanthropic Victorian foundations; Unilever, Kellogg, Cadbury, whose founders' purpose was "to continuously improve the material conditions of men". But in the 20th century, as the state began to provide social welfare, the need for companies to look after communities dissipated.
When the 80s saw a receding of state involvement in society, corporations may have talked about serving society once again but in reality remained focused on their single bottom lines. The cults of shareholder value and "greed is good"48 would be dominant themes for years to come and, as late as 2008, most of our clients still took their cues from the Century of Self, with little interest in providing for the common good.
Before you argue that brands have created jobs, buoyed economies and helped develop the undeveloped world, let me assure you I recognise this. I also recognise that brands have "done their bit" since the 80s through CRM.49
Far from altruism, CRM was the response to an increasingly questioning consumer and the burgeoning "caring, sharing" 90s, an era of success for ethical enterprises like The Body Shop and Cafedirect.50
Pringle & Thompson wrote in 1999 that brands had passed through their rational phase, their emotional phase and were now entering a spiritual phase, where selling "higher-order values" would impress consumers, who were "very much predisposed to hear these messages and favour brands that send them". It was easy to be cynical about CRM because of its money-making motives. But, as Edward de Bono says, "it's the perceived outcome that's important, not the motives ascribed to it".51 And CRM was mutually beneficial to cause and company alike.52 Nonetheless, the causes involved might have felt companies could have done much more than they did.53
It's worth mentioning one final strategy commonly employed as we entered an era of "we" - speaking as if your brand had "we" at its core, but without changing anything to make it true. Orange launched a new brandline in 2008 - "together we can do more" - an appealingly zeitgeisty thought, but with no additional "we-ness" in its operations to justify the claim.54 The same superficiality was seen in "greenwashing".55 Such image tinkering was the epitome of the "seller-centric narcissism" plaguing many brands and leaving them incapable of helping consumers to "we-actualise".56
Pringle and Thompson correctly anticipated in 1999 that consumers' expectations of companies would continue to grow, that we could look forward to a "global morning after the night before". Well, 2008 felt like 11am - by then, marketing was leaving the "spiritual" phase and entering a "communal" phase, where the real issue would be not what a cause can do for a brand, but what a brand can do for a cause.
V. The "We-actualising" consumer - voting for values
"The demand for things like ethics, corporate citizenship and social responsibility is a demand for agency in the sphere of values: a demand that organisations act "for" me not only by providing products and services, but by acting with values I approve of." 57
In 2008, my mum started shopping in Lidl. Someone had told her "the same people make the branded stuff as make the Lidl stuff - most of it's really good quality".58 After years of being wedded to particular brands, she dropped the lot in this simple, logical move to Lidl.59
Mum bore little resemblance to the 20th-century "consumer" that brands wanted her to remain, passively aspiring through consumption to achieve a sliver of the happiness advertising suggested brand use facilitated. Instead, she was marketing-cynical60, price premium-questioning, we-actualising, "post-materialist"61 ... more interested in meaningful communion with the world than treadmill-like pursuit of status indicators. (If I continue to use the word "consumer" throughout this chapter, please forgive me this convenience. I am aware of the term's shortcomings, but such is the flux of what used to be known as "consumerism", that no one word has since established itself as a perfect descriptor for those who purchase brands, although "owner", "member" and even "comrade" have been used.)
More so than when I was growing up, Mum now gave a toss about the wider values and ethical convictions companies held.62 Pessimistic about business ethics,63 she expected brands to do better by the world64 and was prepared to pay price premiums to support ethical causes65, (there would always be a fairtrade coffee in the cupboard for me when I visited, though mum only drank tea herself).
Mum also boycotted brands that didn't meet her ethical requirements (eg. sharing experiences on wehateryanair.com, refusing to buy Nestle).66 Such activity was indicative of a new confidence, impatience and chutzpah in the way she and her friends "consumed".
The new opportunities for online collaboration had a lot to do with it - they enjoyed brazenly forcing lower prices from sellers, having a say in production, functioning as media ... even joining the "boards" of companies.67 In fact, Mum was front and centre in a power shift towards consumers, a "right side upping" of marketing as it became more buyer-centric, necessarily more intent on bringing about the outcomes consumers (not sellers) wanted.68 Every purchase was a vote, and Mum used it to manipulate companies' resources to do more for the world. It was consumer pressure like this (as well as increasing product parity in many categories)69, that saw values-based selection between brands become so important. Suddenly, values and value went hand in hand.
VI. Government incentivises "We-friendly" companies
In 2008, the UK Government still gave free rein to private enterprise, but was already experiencing pressure to create conditions for the common good to flourish and to incentivise companies to put "wider issues" (sustainability, well-being) at the core of its strategies.
Ultimately, pressure from lobby groups such as Green Alliance, and economists and psychologists like Richard Layard and Oliver James70, would tell and, over a nine-year period, the Government would introduce radical measures to influence companies' relationships with the common good. From tax incentives, to the replacement of GNP with a well-being-promoting index, to founding Capitalism 3.0 in 2019 by creating a "commons sector" which, together with the corporate sector, would give society two engines to run on.
You can read more about these extraordinary developments in my end-notes71 and other chapters in this book. But I like to think the actions documented in the coming pages went a long way to creating the favourable environment required for Government to bring about such drastic changes with such limited opposition.
VII. Social innovation - social values at the heart of everything companies do
"If business is to prosper, the environment in which it operates must prosper too."72
"In the future brands will be differentiated by the values and actions of the company behind them ... their "Total Role in Society."73
It was in 2008 that I started getting a sense from wiser companies that they felt it necessary to do more for the common good. Consumers were evolving so fast, and everyone anticipated pressure from the Government. So the idea emerged that society and social values should be put at the core of businesses - not, you understand, for moral or ethical reasons, but because it made good business sense.
Michael Willmott74 had reviewed a heap of research and concluded that: "Good corporate citizenship, putting society at the heart of the company, is strongly related to commercial success. Companies gain a strategic advantage by building brands that embrace and encourage core values with a citizenship component."
He argued that when Co-op Bank only invested in ethical funds, when Marks & Spencer made sustainability their "Plan A", or when Cafedirect built a positioning on fairtrade, consumers responded favourably, their increasing trust, goodwill and satisfaction paying off in good old-fashioned commercial success.
"Citizen brands"75 were testing the increasingly widely held belief that working for the common good was at odds with pursuing shareholder-value and economic growth.76 In fact, ultimately it might be corporate suicide not to behave as a citizen. The rules of business were changing - community, welfare and long-termism were increasingly important. Theorists raced to be first to make sense of these new realities, to define this new brand of capitalism. One was my good friend, Umair Haque, a Harvard Business Review blogger who summed it up in compellingly simple terms ...
"There are now greater opportunities to profit by doing good than by doing evil. That's not a belief. It's an economic fact. The numbers are unambiguous. Google didn't just launch Google Arms Trading. It launched Google Health. See the point?"
Haque believed "evil" companies like Facebook were doomed because they focused on extracting value, rather than creating it. Being evil destroyed the potential for future value creation, while a "good" company, like Google, looked after the health of its community and helped them to prosper, ensuring everyone was better off in the long term.
Patrick Cescau, the then chairman of Unilever, wanted his company to be "good". Cescau, a prominent voice in the debate on brand citizenship, saw social responsibility and citizenship as opportunities for innovation and growth, coining the term "social innovation" for the development of new markets which, at once, could be good for the commons and profitable for corporations. He believed that, if brand managers placed themselves at the heart of social trends, had deeper, less mercenary dialogue with consumers and found out what really mattered to them, there would be competitive advantage.77
Cescau believed social innovation would be most meaningful in emerging markets, (eg. Unilever's Shakti initiative in India, turning women's self-help groups into door-to-door sales teams).78 But it would also play a role in developed economies by linking products with values (consider Dove, Ben & Jerry's).
"Social innovation" was a timely strategic evolution for Unilever, for it would be among the companies most seriously tested by values-conscious consumers in the following years. Consider the impressive "Lynx/Axe Ransom"*, which resolved itself in March 2010, a remarkable illustration of the power shift from brand to consumer, and the mounting desire and capability of consumers to aggregate power, becoming a real force for corporations to reckon with.
*16-year-old Michael Davis from California had launched a YouTube campaign to get Lynx/Axe to apologise for objectifying adolescent males as sex-hungry morons. He and his friends, as typical Net Generation kids, had grown up co-operating online81, and it seemed a very natural thing to ask millions of Lynx users around the world to stop using the brand until Unilever released an ad acknowledging that life for teenage boys wasn't so easy and making a £10 million donation for research into depression among their cohort.
Two million YouTubers agreed to boycott the brand and Unilever (perhaps fearful, perhaps for PR) complied with the terms of the ransom. It was amazing that a bunch of kids could aggregate their dissatisfaction to extract behaviour change from a multinational corporation.79
VIII. Designing brands around common causes and values - the "good" communications agency
"A buyer-centric approach doesn't start with the value the seller wants to sell, but with the value consumers want to realise in their lives."80
"We must stop believing in what we sell, and start selling what we believe in."81
It was around 2010 that this story became my story. I'd been a typical advertising planner for six years, and if there's one thing I felt a good planner understood, it was what mattered to the consumer - her fears, his hopes, their values. For a while, I'd had a particular gripe about the paucity of emotional depth in brand communications and was itching to build brands more meaningful and affecting to consumers.82 I was also a member of "Planning for Good" - after all, I was going through my own "we-actualisation" and wanted my talents to help the common good.83
"Social innovation" was a marvellous opportunity for planners who wanted to bring more "good" to their work. Off the back of a random brand-repositioning project given to me by a favourite client, I cobbled together a "brand-creation agency"84 with a couple of fellow diplomats from the IPA Excellence Diploma. We'd offer clients the objectivity, consumer empathy and creativity they needed as they sought to innovate in these new and (for them) scary times.
We were called "Groundswell", and worked by identifying widespread values or common causes in UK communities and using them as a basis for the development of brands that could make a genuine difference to consumers' lives. We believed that solving real problems created value for everyone.
We were principled, existing as much for fulfilment as financial success. We were motivated by the opportunity to have the creative control and meaty upstream strategic problems that brand creation, as opposed to pure communication, offered. We were motivated by fairness - a frustration with the payment-by-retainer culture dominating advertising and diminishing incentive to innovate (we'd charge performance-related fees and profit share on brands we created). And our biggest motivation was the great feeling of helping causes greater than ourselves.
Groundswell quickly won business working with existing brand owners to develop new brands targeted at growth opportunities outside the categories they usually worked in, and designed around the deepest values and causes of consumers.
IX. The Groundswell method
We started by identifying candidate consumer values and causes - through our own intuition, through software observing blogs and highlighting sentences in proximity to words like "feel", "wish", "believe" and "hate",85 and by penetrating support networks which had organically developed around common goals (via 43things.com86 and Facebook groups). Causes seeming to be widespread or evoking passion were pounced upon. We also engaged with health experts and academics to determine the values and behaviours that were most in the interests of our targets, whether they knew it or not.
With important values and causes identified, potential consumers were encouraged to collaborate with us online in the refinement of brand concepts. This method not only harnessed their valuable feedback but, as predicted by the Hawthorne Effect87, would earn us their advocacy if the concepts ever launched. We also elaborated this technique to ask for consumers' hypothetical investment in brand concepts - "is this idea good enough that you would invest to see it happen?"88 This began as a fictional investment game whereby, if a critical amount of funding was secured from consumers, it would be seen as indicative of eventual market success and the brand would launch.
X. Trading ownership for advocacy
But consumers were upset when they realised they couldn't invest for real in our concepts. It occurred to us that if they were allowed to invest, for real, it might bring about unrivalled levels of consumer advocacy (much as you can't stop a new father talking about his child).89 And not only advocacy - what better way to shore up consumer trust than having fellow consumers part-own the brand?90
Some of our clients saw the potential in this (actually just two brave clients - the legal complications for shareholder-owned brands were generally prohibitive). So we created two brands that were co-owned by companies and a multitude of their customers, brands that would prove fascinating evolutionary beasts - almost "missing links" between the consumer-owned brands we have since brought into the world, and the famous shareholder-owned brands of the 20th century.
The following were Groundswell's three biggest launches (the first being one of the two "missing links"):
- A Heinz consumer-co-owned series of urban farms, bringing back the concept of "grow your own" and allowing young urban families to experience community, responsibility and ownership they didn't experience in other domains of life. They didn't just get cheap vegetables in lieu of their labour, but a price reduction on all Heinz and Waitrose products (in a move marking the beginning of a post-competitive era, where different companies would co-operate to create welfare and markets, Waitrose invested some vital resource in the founding of these farms).
- For Cadbury, after years of its talking about "happiness" and "joy", we got it to do something that would actually make its consumers' lives happier. While the fleeting pleasure of a chocolate bar was meaningless in the scheme of things, a poor substitute for authentic happiness, the Cadbury-funded "Futurelife" was designed to overcome a flaw in human psychology that gets in the way of happiness ... our inability to accurately perceive the future. 91 "Futurelife" was an online game that allowed people to create avatars of themselves 25 years in the future, walking them through everyday life, witnessing the impact today's life decisions would have on their future happiness, calculating their future financial means and better understanding what it would take to become the people they wanted to be 25 years hence.92 It was also a great platform for selling pension schemes and retirement villas.93 - And for Nescafe, conscious that many of its core 50-plus female audience were at a point of relationship flux and redefinition, we developed a national programme of latter-years marriage counselling and "sex after 60" classes (I was glad my mum drank tea).
XI. More common-goodery was possible than shareholder ownership permitted
Groundswell was part of a revolution, as we helped corporations develop brands to improve welfare and the common good, at the same time as opening up new, profitable markets.
But it was a small revolution. Very few companies embraced social innovation. And, our clients' raisons d'etre remained shareholder value, meaning they could never be as genuinely interested in serving common good as companies founded to pursue objectives beside profit (ie. companies with multiple bottom lines, including environmental or social goals).94
We rarely heard much about these privately or co-operatively owned companies, because they often chose not to grow, (eschewing the conventional path to business fame). But it doesn't mean these "small giants" weren't really good at achieving their non-economic targets - like Patagonia seeking solutions to the environmental crisis, Zingerman's deli promoting the welfare of its local Michigan community or the employee-owned TCHO chocolate company which existed to be a place people wanted to come to work.95
If these companies were great at helping the common good, even better were companies existing to dedicate all profits to the common good. Most famous (in fact the only example I knew) was Newman's Own in the US, with its tagline "Shameless exploitation for the common good". Having succeeded over the years in generating $250 million for charity, I couldn't help but be excited by its success.
XII. Owning the means of branding - collective investment democratises the brand
"Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string"96
2011 was the year Groundswell took a firm step towards changing branding forever. I remember the key inspiration for me came from one of our online brand-development communities.
We'd brought together a sample of depression sufferers, showing them brand concepts for potential social innovation in the interests of depression research. It was all quite pleasant until one guy lost his temper and wrote a moving post, entitled: "Why do we need this coffee company ... can't we get together and do something against depression by ourselves?"
It was a great point. Why did we need clients to create common-good brands? We certainly didn't need their capital.
While historically, the capital behind any venture had come from the few, we now realised it could come from the many. It's what brought success to Obama. Yet neither Wikinomics nor Right Side Up ever recognised this new potential for a multitude to club together online, each investing tiny amounts of money, to accumulate a powerful amount of capital to help some cause common to them all, with any risk being shared by all. "Micro-credit" companies like Kiva got a mention97, but that wasn't quite the same.
The Obama phenomenon was more like "micro-investment" ... although the term "collective investment" would eventually stick.
Groundswell's hypothetical brand-investment tool held great potential as an orchestrator of "collective investment" (you'll remember that people desperately wanted their investments in our concepts to be real). Given our recent experience with social innovation, we thought it would be interesting (and fun) if we invented some entirely consumer-owned cause brands. We were particularly curious to test our hypothesis that such brands, authentically existing to the total benefit of a good cause, would be unbeatable propositions to values-hungry consumers.
It felt like the inevitable next step in the evolution of consumer empowerment. The masses had already gained some control over pricing, production, media and brand values ... could they now gain total control by adding "brand ownership" to their achievements?
Product would be an after-thought as we developed our brands. But in all cases we chose to work in FMCG, our domain of greatest experience. We liked to think of FMCG as "low innovation", whereby significant breakthroughs in technology were rare, and superfluous incrementalism was rife.98 With limited need to innovate, we could rely on existing producers. Product parity was widespread and, as Seth Godin said, this was an era in which production was cheap, and it was "easier than ever to ensure quality and durability".99
The failure rate of new FMCG launches was high, but we were confident our brands' values would earn us preference with consumers and retailers alike. In FMCG, values were the key differentiator between brands100, and we would have the strongest possible.
Among some weird and wonderful brands, we launched ...
- A coffee brand supporting research into depression, the fastest-growing illness in the world, harnessing investment from sufferers and their loved-ones - "Pull Yourself Together" was founded with capital of £1,370,000, raised across a quarter of a million investors worldwide. Waitrose agreed to distribute and, as a "charity", we paid no tax.
- A natural chewing-gum brand supporting teens wanting to raise awareness of "Papyrus", a charity for the prevention of youth suicide; 83,000 adolescents donated varying sums to raise £260,000, with some offering their parents' living rooms and their labour for free. We imported product from Greece, from the only natural chewing-gum producer in Europe. American Apparel and several nightclubs (mourning atmospheric cigarette smoke and its ability to hide bad breath) stocked the brand. Online orders were significant.
The beauty of these brands is that they existed purely to serve the common goals of their distributed founders. The authenticity of their ethical stances resonated strongly with consumers. Additional benefactors were also giving. We knew it unlikely our brands would survive long enough to make a substantial difference to their causes, and we knew distribution would become problematic once their stars faded. But the fact of their consumer-founded, consumer-owned existence was impressive to us.
XIII. It didn't all go swimmingly
Of course, with success comes failure - for example, a bottled water campaigning against street violence and a popcorn with quiet packaging, promoting politeness and quiet conduct in cinemas. We also had critics, notably Les Binet of DDB Matrix. In a letter to Admap101, Binet predicted the failure of our brands, asking a number of challenging questions:
"Suppose we're a bunch of ordinary consumers who got together via the internet to start a chocolate company. How well would we run it? Who'd own and control the company and define what 'perform' meant?
"Suppose I'm a charity and someone gives me £12 million to invest - do I invest it in a balanced portfolio of stocks, bonds, commodities and cash, to optimise the mix of risk and return and keep my assets liquid, or do I 'put it all on black' and open a chocolate factory that might pay back after several years (but would tie up my precious capital in buildings, machinery, etc.)? Would I invest it in a chocolate company, when 75 per cent of food launches fail, despite the backing of big corporations with distribution networks, reserves of cash and economies of scale that allow competitive pricing?
"Suppose two charities ask for my money. One says every penny goes to helping families affected by Alzheimer's. The other says my money will be invested in a chocolate company and maybe, some day if it's successful, the profits will be used to help families affected by Alzheimer's. Who would I give my money to?"
But our critics underestimated ...
- how easy it was to appoint a board of trustees to run the brands, our agency offering ongoing strategic advice;
- how easy it was to work with existing producers to ensure quality;
- the keenness of "good" retailers to stock our brands and help us achieve national distribution;
- the appeal of a "sustainable charity", one that learns to make a living rather than living hand to mouth;
- the communications value of our brands - ROI may be slow in coming, but in the meantime here's a presence in consumers' lives which is actively communicating your cause;
- the desire of people to experience brand ownership and enjoy gambling on brand fortunes (like the stock market, only more tangible to the average consumer);
- the huge amounts of advocacy these owners would create; and - the desire of consumers to ensure the premiums they paid in their everyday shopping went to those brands with the deepest values.
Most significantly, our small, stumbling, consumer-owned brands offered investors and consumers alike more community and feel-good than other brands, along with real, first-hand social emotions instead of arbitrary, superficial emotional associations.
Nonetheless, our critics were worth listening to. And, if nothing else, our collective brands would be the first noble failures in trying to democratise brands for the common good.
XIV. FLOW, the perfect common-good brand - "where would you like your profit to go?"
Our biggest problem was that the causes people believed in were incredibly niche - one man's pony sanctuary was another's adult literacy.102
But it was upon re-reading the classic marketing text, Right Side Up that I realised, just as agent brands can aggregate consumer wants to increase buying power, we could aggregate consumer causes to increase branding power. It'd be easier to sustain one brand that represented all causes of all consumers, than to maintain separate brands for niche causes. Aggregating those causes into one brand would create vast economies of scale, increasing reach as a business. And aggregating the deep emotions associated with each cause would build a massive bank of goodwill for this "super-brand".
The brand would be called FLOW103 and the trick was this - consumers could choose, at point of purchase, where the profit on their FLOW purchases went. Having already visited our website to nominate a cause/causes they wished to support - absolutely anything, from local playgrounds to polar-bear reserves - when it came to their being in the shop and paying for their FLOW goods, through a simple scanning of a barcode on their personal FLOWcard or inputing a PIN prior to scanning their FLOW items104, consumers could ensure the price premiums they were paying went to their chosen causes. It was like a customisable brand - you could make it stand for whatever cause you cared most about, surely an unbeatable ESP.105
So, if 100,000 consumers assigned their profits to Alzheimer's research, and if FLOW (like own-brand) managed to have a decent offering in every FMCG category, that would mean a hefty annual income for Alzheimer's research.
Easier said than done. In 2013 we used our old friend, collective consumer investment, to launch FLOW in three commodity categories. But it was on a visit to Venezuela to negotiate a coffee deal for "Pull Yourself Together" that we realised how interested benefactors would be in helping us expand. Hugo Chavez had heard about FLOW and was excited about its potential as a "socialist" competitor for western interests.106 He offered us $120 million to grow the brand, which we wisely/foolishly turned down. However, the resulting PR led to others (Bill Gates, Arpad Busson) making similar offers and it was these benefactors who helped FLOW grow so quickly - things would have taken decades longer had we to wait for individual launches to turn in sufficient profit to facilitate expansion to new categories. Nonetheless, we were a sustainable charity and every one of our FLOW lines would eventually become self-sustaining.
We marketed FLOW through Cadbury's hugely popular Futurelife, showing consumers what they could achieve with 25 years spent on FLOW goods.107 But generally we had scant need to deploy paid-for communications, as PR and WOM did extraordinary jobs for us.
Our objective was to have a FLOW presence in every FMCG category. As we expanded, if we felt we couldn't ensure product quality by working with unbranded producers, we would work with branded producers, sometimes even taking over brands and their infrastructures. For example, Innocent and Gu became FLOW brands in 2015.108
The FLOW website became a buzzing community of "we-actualisers", making friends, campaigning for support for their causes. In most cases, FLOW customers elected to support local causes.109 And, even though there was nothing stopping them arranging all their FLOW profit to be paid out to their personal beer or holiday fund, the vast majority chose to support the common good.110
With FLOW instilling such a strong sense of community in people, we were once again facilitating deep, social emotions. Not just empathy, kinship and responsibility, but guilt ... whenever you chose another brand over FLOW, you weren't just letting down some company, but your peers, your friends and the better part of human nature!
FLOW was governed by a board of trustees, including consumers, Groundswell employees and independent marketing consultants offering their time pro bono. In 2017, after four years of trading, we released our first profits to the various causes of FLOW customers, a total payout of £314 million. By then we had presence in 32 FMCG categories in six countries, occupying position one or two in 21 of those categories. We also had a fashion label and, with the revised goal of being omnipotent, had begun to negotiate partnerships with corporations in high-innovation categories like automotives, computing and mobile telephony. (It was our hypothesis that, while organised bodies representing causes (like FLOW) would drive corporations out of near-commodity categories, corporations would refocus on owning/harnessing innovation and become stronger than ever in high-innovation categories111).
As important as financial success, FLOW customers in 2017 scored significantly higher on measures of authentic happiness.112 Longitudinal studies (set in place in 2013) echoed this, indicating that switching to FLOW brought about increased perceptions of community, trust in others and happiness. And "FLOW-or-nothings"113 were significantly less likely to suffer from depression and reported fewer GP visits.
Owned by the people, for the sake of the people, FLOW, more than any brand before it, actually helps people to "we-actualise". And, personally, although FLOW hasn't made me rich, I feel extremely wealthy to have found a way to use consumerism, and my work, to make the world a better, happier place.114
Is this an unlikely story? Possibly. Is it impossible? No. Here are some concluding thoughts:
- In the future, the engines of society may be geared towards making the world a better place, not just wealthier. Personal growth may be as important as economic. And any system that allows people to dynamically link together to use their purchasing and brand affiliation for the common good will flourish.
- Brands should attempt to move beyond the superficiality of image branding, facilitating authentic social-emotional experiences, even personal growth, for consumers.
- Brands will win (or survive) by putting the common good at the core of their business plans.
- Consumers will increasingly use their power to extract behaviour-change from brands that don't behave in the common interest. Brands should explore the possible advantages of giving co-ownership to customers.
- Communications agencies should ask (a) whether their skills might be better (and more fulfillingly) employed for the long term in brand creation and brand ownership, and (b) whether they would rather be wedded to consumer clients, perhaps evolving into agents of customer values; organising people and harnessing their collective might to ensure they get maximum returns for the values they hold.
1. A word-play on the Marxist concept, "Means of Production", by which I mean represent the shift in power from production to branding.
2. Edited by Umair Haque, 2019 (Wiley).
3. Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand's magnum opus, is a dedication to "objectivism", the morality of self-interest. A highly influential piece, it set the tone for the decades of individualism that followed.
4. Title of an acclaimed documentary series produced in 2002 by Adam Curtis, investigating the rise of the all-consuming "self", against the backdrop of the Freud dynasty, and its significance in 20th-century consumerism and politics.
5. The pinnacle of human development, according to Maslow's oft-cited "Hierarchy of Needs".
6. Here defined as "the pursuit of a goal or set of goals by more than one person".
7. "Wikinomics" - a term created by authors Tapscott and Williams to describe the analysis of mass online collaboration.
9. Obama was hoisted to power on the strength of cutting-edge online methodology that raised small donations from many people (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/03/06/obama-raises-55-million- _n_90268.html). Obama's website houses a group called "Wikinomics for Obama" (www.my.barackobama.com).
10. The discovery was confirmed in September 2008, the public were not aware until it was wiki-published in Nature in March 2009.
11. Senator Kucinich thanks petition signees in a YouTube posting entitled "We did it" - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mPMvbNEkr1Y&feature=related.
12. Tapscott & Williams, (2006, 2008). Wikinomics, Atlantic Books.
13. Cited in Wikinomics.
14. "Citizen Renaissance", a think tank founded in 2008.
15. John Grant, "Brand Tarot", 2007. http://www.brandtarot.com/blog/?p=552.
16. "Wider concerns" - term used by Michael Willmott, author of Citizen Brands, to describe social or ethical issues which are broader than any individual or corporation's self-interest.
17. An FT survey of graduate employers, published on 14 April 2009, shows the continuance of a trend observed in the same survey in previous years - third-sector employers racing up the list of preferred employers as quickly as they'd raced up the political and public agenda.
18. http://www.conservatives.com/tile.do?def=news.story.page&obj_id=145626.[ QQ] 19. Robin Cook, "Only collective action can overcome the climate crisis", The Guardian, 10 December, 2004.
20. C.f. Affluenza, Oliver James. http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2006/jan/01/healthandwellbeing.fe atures.
21. Substantiated by Richard Layard (Happiness: Lessons from a new science, Penguin, 2006) and Martin Seligman (Authentic Happiness: Using the new positive psychology, Brealey, 2003).
22. Layard, 2006, uses the relative lack of trust and community feeling in the US and UK to explain lower levels of happiness relative to continental Europe and Scandinavia.
23. Tapscott observes how the "Net Generation's" absolute exposure to the internet means they have grown up collaborating, intuitively possessing a strong sense of common-good and collective responsibility, hungry for interaction and believing they should share in the wealth they create. Tapscott, Growing Up Digital: Rise of the Net Generation, McGraw-Hill, New York, 1997). Research updated in Wikinomics.
24. The Sunday Times, May, 2008.
25. Or "feel-good philanthropy", Mintel, 2007.
26. Red blog.
27. The election of Roh Moo-Hyun, the "Korean Obama" is dealt with here: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1077920.
28. "A good industrialist has also to be a good human being. We're in favour of positive development. But if someone tries to blackmail us we will not bow our heads." Mamata Banerjee, leader of the Trinamool Congress party, West Bengal. BBC News, August 2008.
29. Chris David & Corinne May of GfK discuss in their paper "The Dawn of Ethical Branding", Admap, June 2007. "Many academics claim there is no such thing as altruism, suggesting that acts of apparent altruism are in fact selfishness in disguise. Our research supports this, in so far as ethical consumption is driven more by emotional fulfilment ... than objective, rational criteria. The key drivers of ethical consumption include the "feel-good factor", avoidance of guilt and the ability to communicate one's values to others ... The emotional appeal of ethical brands is consistent with the old marketing axiom that the emotional component of a brand most drives its appeal."
30. Michael Willmott, Citizen Brands, Wiley, 2001; Pringle and Thompson, Brand Spirit, Wiley, 1999.
31. The term "we-actualisation" first appears in 2008, in a 50-page "Christmas Letter" to David Cameron, simultaneously released on Layard's blog "Beseeching the next Government to make Britain happier". This public pressure to put the economics and psychology of happiness at the core of Britain's strategy was difficult for Cameron to ignore and ultimately led to the Tory Government making many changes in line with Layard's recommendations during its 15 years in office.
32. See every author on positive psychology - Layard, Seligman, Csikszentmihalyi, etc.
33. David Bonney writes about the power of "social emotions" in June 2008. Social emotions were qualitatively different to the shallow, animalistic emotions that occupied the advertising literature. Bonney argued a greater role be played in brand communications by the emotions of group living - guilt, empathy, trust. ("Emotion - a close friend we barely know", Admap, June 2008).
34. There is evidence for the evolution of a "cheater detection mechanism" in the brain. Barkow, Jerome H, Leda Cosmides, and John Tooby (eds). The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and the Generation of Culture, New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1992.
35. 30 per cent of this chapter has been written in one of Berlin's "honour-system wine bars", and I have no doubt it's influenced my views on the benefits of trust, community and common-goodery. For a taster, see ... http://www.boingboing.net/2008/02/20/honor-system-winebar.html.
36. Alan Mitchell, Right Side Up: Building brands in the age of the organised consumer, Harper Collins, 2002.
37. Co-operatives and mutuals are different. With mutuals, customers do not become owners by staking capital, but simply through customer relationship with the organisation.
38. Liz Harrison of the Co-operative group presented at the 2008 MRS conference, describing how (unlike many brands) ethics, social responsibility and wider concerns were in the DNA of her company ("When CSR is in your DNA", MRS Annual Conference, 2008).
"Co-operatives are based on the values of self-help, democracy, equality and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, co-operative members believe in ... honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others. Co-operatives are owned by their members and answerable to them through democratic governance." For Liz, the co-operative nature of her company was a competitive advantage and virtuous circle; having social goals led to commercial success, allowing them to fund their social agenda.
39. Set up by pupils selling fairtrade products in their school.
40. Observation by Les Binet in email conversation, July 2008. Also, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demutualisation.
41. "The Co-operative Renaissance in the UK", Bob Burlton.
42. Reported in the Manchester Evening News, 7 July, 2008.
43. Widely reported in trade press: http://www.food-business- review.com/article_feature.asp?guid=23ABEC23-7F07-4A6E-BA61- 4238A371A90C.
44. Umair Haque (on his blog, "Plastic Generation") writes about Google's decision to kill "domain tasting" by ceasing to monetise all domains under five days old. Despite being a short-term hit to revenue, in the long run this would amplify the health of the ecosystem (Google's community of domains legitimately using Google Ads).
45. http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/10/10/here-are-the- answers-to-your-craigslist-questions/. Or, as Brian Morrissey writes, "strong community = strong brand". "These brands build community", Adweek, 12 May, 2008.
46. Right Side Up: Building brands in the age of the organised consumer, Alan Mitchell (2002).
47. Based on audit of the top 20 UK agencies conducted by myself in August 2008.
48. Wall Street's (1987) Gordon Gekko.
49. Cause-related marketing, not customer relationship management.
50. "Today, Cafedirect is the UK's largest fairtrade hot drinks company. It prides itself on being a company where good business makes business sense." Sylvie Barr of Cafedirect, Admap, January 2005.
51. Foreword to Brand Spirit, Wiley, 1999.
52. Pringle and Thompson (Brand Spirit) offer case studies highlighting the mutual benefit of CRM to cause and brand. One is Andrex with Guidedogs for the Blind, where joint activity saw the charity receive £236,300 in donations and Kimberly-Clark gain a 15 per cent increase in Andrex sales 15 and five times their usual press coverage.
53. A repeat of the Andrex-Guidedogs promotion in 2005 saw £203,055 going to the Guidedogs for the Blind Association (source: GDBA website), a sum that came directly from the consumer at no cost, only gain, to Kimberly-Clark. That sum is well under 1 per cent of the annual sales for Andrex in the UK in 2007 (in excess of £336 million, making it the UK's biggest non-food brand (source: ACNielsen 2007). With the annual expenditure for Guide Dogs being £65 million in 2007 (GDBA Annual Report), what Andrex delivered for the charity was a drop in the ocean of its needs and far less than what Kimberly-Clark could have done for the cause.
54. The rebranding was cynically received in the blogosphere, with people sceptical of Orange suddenly calling them "partners" instead of "customers" (http://www. theregister.co.uk/2008/07/01/orange_rebranding/). "If I join Orange as a partner, does that mean I'll get my calls for next to nothing? No? Thought not. Call me what you want, just lower the charges, for now I'll stick with O2" (From a discussion forum on mobile operators). Although nothing in Orange's operations had changed at the time of rebranding, Orange executives lauded the new line as a vision that would help them to "bring people together". "This is not just a campaign ... it will inform everything we do, from call-centre training to personal statements on business cards of executives. This is not just a fresh coat of paint on an old building" (Orange, in an interview with The Guardian).
55. Appropriating an environmentally friendly gloss, without undertaking the substantial changes necessary to make your company greener (Admap, October 2007).
56. "Seller-centric narcissism" is to stick your fingers in your ears, close your eyes and scream "USP". The term is used by Alan Mitchell to describe the reluctance of organisations that had flourished in the 20th-century push-marketing, seller-led system, to recognise the need to put buyer wants, whims and values at the core of everything they do.
57. Alan Mitchell, Right Side Up, Harper Collins, 2002.
58. Many brands have relationships with retailers to produce unbranded/own-branded food. For example, Kellogg had a relationship with Aldi before the relentless increase of own-brand's market share made it nervous. Supplying own-label was a hugely lucrative business (c.f. "Shelving own label", Marketing Week, 6 July, 2006). But in most cases, these relationships were secretive, as brand owners were petrified their brand equities might be compromised if consumers realised the same quality was available under a different name at a cheaper price. These secretive relationships are increasingly public knowledge - several marketing novices have revealed the "extraordinary" truth about own brand to me in the last year.
59. Mum wasn't alone. There was a national exodus from Waitrose, Sainsbury's and Tesco to Lidl, Netto and Aldi. In 2008, the stream became a torrent - some blamed the credit crunch, others saw it as an overdue erosion of the irrational snobbery that had made branded producers so untouchable.
The National Consumer Association in Ireland stated in 2008 that Lidl was more than 50 per cent cheaper for a basket of 28 own-brand goods than Tesco. And consumers were responding - TNS revealed in August 2008 that both Aldi and Lidl were delivering double-digit growth in the UK, the stores growing 19.8 per cent and 12.3 per cent respectively in the 12 weeks to 10 August. Richard Lancaster, the managing director of Netto, said: "More people are looking for the right deal now than ever before. The snobbery factor about which fascia you shop at is starting to disappear."
60. Mum hated that I worked in a "lie-based" industry, and our conversations and strolls through supermarkets over the years left me in no doubt as to how cynical and questioning she was of marketing. Throughout marketing literature - from Seth Godin to The Cluetrain Manifesto - it is a given that most modern consumers are marketing-cynical. And who could blame them - consider the stories that broke in 2008 about fake employee blogs and brand-generated "consumer" comments (eg. Sony, Walmart).
61. A study by MORI, for the Co-op, shows the increase in "post-materialists", people who attitudinally and behaviourally have evolved beyond concern with status and objects, to become more engaged with experiences, meaning and wider concerns. "How important is ownership?" (2005, Market Leader) charts the rise of post-materialism and suggests only 45 per cent of consumers continue to see consumerism as a means towards increased life satisfaction.
62. People aged 55-64 show the strongest commitment to ethical brands. Women are more likely to buy ethical brands than men (see David & May (GfK NOP), "The dawn of ethical branding", Admap, June 2007).
63. "Almost half of consumers surveyed in the UK, Spain, Germany, France and the US believe business ethics have worsened in the past five years, and are turning to 'ethical consumerism' to make companies more accountable" ("The dawn of ethical branding").
64. 56 per cent of respondents felt "companies should be promoting their ethical credentials more strongly" ("The dawn of ethical branding").
65. Ethical consumption had entered the mainstream, with the wider concerns of people like my Mum translating into real sales, ethical brands growing at twice the rate of their non-ethical counterparts ("The dawn of ethical branding"). 43 per cent of consumers thought brands with "ethical" claims put pressure on others to become more accountable. And consumers would pay to see ethical brands grow. Almost 50 per cent claimed that they would pay at least 5 per cent more, almost a quarter 10 per cent more. UK shoppers emerged as the most aware, most critical and most supportive of brands like Co-op and Innocent. Chris Davis (GfK NOP) said: "The UK is the hothouse for what is coming. If a brand is going to do well in the ethical market, it should probably look at the UK."
A study by the Co-operative Bank showed that between 1999 and 2007, across eight separate indicators, UK consumers reported an increased predisposition to ethical behaviours. Average household expenditure had risen from £366 in 2002 £664 in 2006 ("The Ethical Consumerism Report 2007").
66. "68 per cent of US and European consumers have boycotted a food, drink or personal care product on ethical grounds, and UK companies lost US$2.7 billion of sales through consumer boycotts in 2003. Now, 70 per cent of UK consumers say they will deliberately avoid buying goods from organisations they think are unethical, and 85 per cent claim to be interested in ethical issues" ("The Ethical Consumerism Report 2007"). C.f. http://www.wehatefoxtons.com) and http://www.ethicalconsumer.org/Boycotts/currentUKboycotts.aspx.
67. Consumers forced lower prices through agent brands, or self-organisation, to hold sellers to account - eg. pensioners in the US pooling buying power to extract lower prices from pharmaceutical companies. Consumers, or "prosumers", were actively involved in production (be it reviewing a book on Amazon or working with Procter & Gamble to improve a new skincare offering). Consumers increasingly controlled the media, nay were the media - blogging and commenting about brand experiences. And, according to Alan Mitchell, "consumer boards" and advisory boards were more common, whereby consumers get treated like partners and given a say in company direction.
68. Alan Mitchell heralds the dawn of right-side up" marketing (Right Side Up, Harper Collins, 2002).
69. Many authors (eg. Alan Mitchell, Seth Godin) have argued that products have reached functional parity in many categories, particularly FMCG. The conscious down-shifting of consumers can be interpreted as recognition of this parity and a declining perception of premium value in the intangible aspects of brands.
70. Oliver James describes, in his 2008 book Affluenza, the first meeting he and Layard had with the Government to establish the importance of a well-being agenda to sit alongside the dominant economic agenda in the UK. That meeting was a failure, but a strategic partnership with David Cameron would prove fruitful in the following years.
71. In 2010, with the Government under pressure to encourage more "we-centric" behaviour from corporations, the first of several extraordinary measures were introduced:
- 2010, the UK Government incentivises companies for putting common values at the core of their strategies. This after years of lobbying from groups like "Green Alliance" - "Granting a company licence to create income for shareholders at the expense of other stakeholders is not wealth creation in any true sense of the word", Wilson and Olsen, in "The Private Life of Public Affairs", Green Alliance. Tax incentives would wean companies off hypocrisy and maskism, by rewarding deep commitments to act for the common good. They would also protect "good" companies in the short term from competition by "bad" ones uninterested in changing their ways.
- 2016, the Government finally replaces the concept of GNP with an index promoting well-being and, thus, puts the common good at the centre of national strategy. "GNP measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile." Robert Kennedy.
- 2019, with most commentators having concluded that neither the Government nor the Market could ever be trusted to provide for our common interests, many were surprised when the UK Government acted to "reclaim the commons" for the people, bringing about Capitalism 3.0, a vision first offered by Peter Barnes in 2006. Essentially, the Government created a "commons sector", by assigning property rights to commons trusts and creating a new class of genuine co-owners. This commons sector would mean society had two engines to run on - one (corporate private sector) geared to maximising private profit, the other to preserving and enhancing common wealth. These twin engines would feed and constrain each other. When properly balanced (the role of the Government), these twin engines would make us more prosperous, secure, content and sustainable than our present single engine ever could.
19 August, 2019, The Sunday Times reports "The prime minister owes the ease at which such sweeping changes could be introduced to the timely, if not unlikely, success of FLOW, the world's first cause-aggregating, consumer-owned brand. In the words of Mr Cameron, "I have found inspiration and hope in the existence of FLOW and the vision of Groundswell. While on this day we celebrate as the British people reclaim their ownership of those physical things that we commonly hold to be valuable, we must acknowledge that this dream was made so much easier by FLOW's empowerment of our common values." - Also in 2019, the Government heavily taxes conspicuous consumption of luxury items, as well as commercial gains made through gratuitous innovation.
72. Andrew Wilson, Ashbridge Management College, cited in Citizen Branding by Michael Willmott.
73. Conclusion of research by St Luke's advertising agency, cited by John Grant on his blog, "Brand Tarot".
74. Formerly of the Future Foundation, author of Citizen Brands (2000).
75. Willmott's term for brands wise enough to put society at the core of everything they do.
76. Herman Daly in Beyond Growth (1997) exposes the foolhardiness of any notion of "sustainable growth", arguing that growth is actually unnecessary for the maintenance of a healthy and wealthy society. See also Bill McKibben, Deep Economy (2007).
77. "Beyond social responsibility: Social innovation and sustainable development as drivers of business growth", speech by Patrick Cescau, INDEVOR Alumni Forum: Integrating CSR into Business Strategy, May 2007.
78. Unilever's Shakti initiative in India is an example of social innovation in an emerging market. Shakti taps into existing women's self-help groups, which have developed on the back of micro-credit schemes in 650,000 rural villages. Shakti entrepreneurs from these groups became local sales representatives, selling, door-to-door, Unilever's products. 30,000 Shakti entrepreneurs now operate in 100,000 villages serving 100 million consumers. The revenues are close to $100 million a year, similar to what Unilever achieves through its mainstream distribution channels.
79. This was just the latest in a trend of consumer boycotts of brands. One of the first was the threatened student boycott of HSBC in 2007, leading the bank to reverse a decision to do away with an interest-free student overdraft.
80. Alan Mitchell.
81. Bill Bernbach.
82. Other advertisers shared my frustration about the lack of meaning and depth in brand communications (eg. David Bonney "Sad-vertising", Admap, December 2006, and "Emotion, a familiar friend we barely know", Admap, June 2008).
84. A number of "communications agencies" have crossed the divide to become brand owners, by innovating new brand concepts themselves (eg. Droga 5, Anomaly).
85. A sophisticated cousin of the methodology used by "We feel fine". http://www.wefeelfine.org/methodology.html.
86. Social networking site where people pool their support around common goals.
87. Describes the effect of market research on participant loyalty, goodwill and advocacy. It asserts that if you give people a sneak preview of something new, listen to their response and give them a say in what happens to the new concept, it creates involvement, empowerment and ownership that results in high levels of goodwill and advocacy. The effect suggests market research can be a powerful driver of word-of-mouth and influence. See Paul Marsden, "Measuring the Success of Word of Mouth", MRS Annual Conference, 2006.
88. Our method was similar to the "predictive markets" research approach used by Brainjuicer in the UK, based on a belief in the "wisdom of crowds" and asking people to place bets on how they believed a concept would perform in a market. There is evidence for the tool's effectiveness ("Predictive markets - a fresh approach to concept testing", BrainJuicer). Our method also resembled the "peer-to-peer lending" schemes, revolutionising the finance of enterprise in the developing world (eg. Kiva).
89. Traditional advertising would play a little role in the promotion of our innovations.
90. Kevin Kelly of Wired predicts that consumer ownership of companies will become widespread. Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems and the Economic World, 1995.
91. Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness, 2006, Vintage Books.
92. Technological innovation was alien territory for Groundswell, but we occasionally partnered with technology experts. Futurelife was developed with the assistance of freelance web programmers. We also co-operated with Linux and Foxconn Technology Group in China to bring about a technology-based social innovation for Vodafone - not simply brand innovation, but real innovation aimed at improving people's lives. "CONSCIENCE" was a mobile phone-based software package that sought to regulate one's lifestyle, including functions to reduce stress, monitor time spent working and safeguard quality time with family. The more consumers used conscience, the more free calls they received.
93. Just as Second Life developed its own economy, so did "Futurelife". Cadbury took 1 per cent of all transactions between consumers and permitted corporate brands to enter the world for a substantially higher percentage fee (eg. Bupa, NHS, pension companies were terribly eager to get on board). C.f. "Cadbury does a Google", Campaign, 17 March, 2012.
94. The vision of economist, EF Schumacher was of an economy made up of small-scale enterprises with multiple bottom lines - employee-owned and more in sync with nature and the human psyche than shareholder-owned giants could ever be.
95. See http://www.tcho.com/tcho_is/heuristics and Small Giants by Bo Burlingham, celebrating companies that chose "to be great instead of big" (Penguin, 2005).
96. Ralph Waldo Emerson.
97. "Loans that change lives", http://www.kiva.org/.
98. Innovation in food typically concerned subtleties of packaging or the piecemeal improvement of flavour - rarely genuine technological advancement.
99. Seth Godin, "All Marketers are Liars", 2005, Penguin.
100. "It's often argued that in modern markets products and services have reached functional parity, and therefore emotional added values have become the only meaningful differentiator." Alan Mitchell.
101. Admap, August 2012.
102. Seth Godin talks about the huge diversity and niche nature of people's values ("All Marketers are Liars").
103. FLOW is the highest state of happiness. Christened by Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, this state of mind is marked by a loss of self-consciousness. As my Uncle Frank used to say, "I am happiest when I forget that I exist."
104. Our previous work with Foxconn and Linux meant we had the relationships in place to develop this technology with minimal hassle. It was as simple as a Tesco Clubcard, and consumers were willing to pay a small fee to get one.
105. "Emotional selling point" (coined by John Hegarty) came to prominence as a term when widespread product parity saw the declining relevance of USP.
106. Over the years we have suffered accusations of being Communist or Socialist. We remain apolitical, but we strongly protest that our system will never employ the coercion and infringement of liberty required to make communism work.
107. 25 years of expenditure on FLOW food products could amount to £38,000.
108. "Everything we've ever tried to achieve at Innocent can still be achieved through FLOW. In fact, being bought by FLOW puts us in a more powerful position to do more for the world. My belief in the objectives of FLOW is the reason I will join their board of Trustees as a strategic adviser." Richard Reed, commenting on the sale of Innocent to FLOW.
109. Research indicates that local causes matter most to people ("The Ethical Consumerism Report, 2007").
110. We'd seen the "wisdom of crowds", and now there was the "goodness of crowds". There was something inherently good about a large group of people working together. Consider Barcelona football club, owned and governed by its supporters - they were the only football club in the world to give advertising space on their shirts to a good cause (Unicef), eschewing the opportunity to earn millions by selling the space to a sponsor.
111. Procter & Gamble's recent strategy has been to increase the number, range and utility of their patents, adopting an open and sharing attitude to do so.
112. Martin Seligman has developed reliable and valid questionnaires for the measurement of happiness (www.authentichappiness.org).
113. Loyalists who aimed only to purchase FLOW products.
114. Making the world happier ... quite a revolution for a marketer! Especially when the prevailing wisdom was that marketers make people unhappy (http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2008/08/destroying- happ.html).