Not doing evil doesn't mean we can't have some fun
A view from Helen Calcraft

Not doing evil doesn't mean we can't have some fun

When I was growing up, my grandmother once said to me: "Helen, don’t be a goody two-shoes in life – be a goody one-shoe." What she meant was: try to do the right thing, but don’t strive to be so perfect that you become uptight, humourless and dull.

I am reminded of these wise words when I look at our industry today. Over the past few years, we have seen a surfeit of brands seeking to position themselves as pure, above reproach and altruistic. Their communications ladder up to pompous goals and they jump on ever-more tenuous bandwagons. For example, did I really just see an ad from Shell showing a cute little girl reading a bedtime story saying "let’s keep the lights on"? Shell, looking out for the next generation? Honestly? Is that before or after they recommence drilling in the Arctic?

Of course, British business needed to clean up its act. But, nowadays, most CSR initiatives are so "C" and "R" that they have no chance of becoming "S". It’s as if we have all interpreted the admirable Google mantra to "do no evil" as meaning "have no fun".

I am a huge believer in brands with a strong sense of purpose and a positive role in life. I understand the potential to win hearts and minds by connecting to a bigger human truth. Lifebuoy is a superb example, and, yes, I just love the new John Lewis Christmas commercial. Crucially, both brands are authentically good, and so they have genuine permission to tug at our heartstrings.

Shell, looking out for the next generation? Is that before or after they recommence drilling in the arctic?

But most brands aren’t pure. Most brands wake up in the morning with jam or synthetic fragrance at their core. And putting two goodie shoes on doesn’t change that. These brands would do better by being more honest and enjoying who they are.

You see, just like we did at school, real people warm to imperfection. We all preferred the kid with a twinkle in his eye to the class swot. We will always love Virgin Atlantic for sticking up for the consumer, but also for sticking it to British Airways. We admire Lidl, the ALS Association and Ikea for doing good deeds without being do-gooders. We cheer on the lardy Southern Comfort guy, the selfish Harvey Nichols shoppers, even K-Swiss’ Kenny Powers; not despite of their flaws, but because of them.  

None of these "one shoe" brands are claiming to save the world. But, if they decided to, I bet they would do it with a hell of a lot of personality. And, more importantly, they would do it with greater social success.

Because here is the rub: brands that persist with an earnest, goody-two-shoes view of themselves risk being boring and predictable and, therefore, the opposite of conversational and shareable. So let’s lighten up. Let’s even loosen a shoelace. Because, if my grandma was right, no-one wants to dance with a goody two-shoes.

Helen Calcraft is a founding partner at Lucky Generals