The World: Insider's view - US

Consumers are becoming more aware of the idea of 'brand citizenship', Eric Gutierrez writes, which will fundamentally change the way that advertisers approach their work.

There have been some interesting titbits of consumer research conducted lately, around the perceived citizenship of companies.

One survey found that more than half of US consumers who consider themselves "environmentally conscious" can't name an environmentally conscious brand or company. That's a sad knowledge gap for all those greenish people who buy stuff, not knowing whose stuff to buy. Not to mention the rainforest-sized missed opportunity for companies.

Another piece, from a survey conducted by DDB's Brand Integrity Group with, looked at people who identify themselves as "conscientious consumers". It found that standing for something, even if it was controversial, was better than standing for nothing.

For instance, Kenneth Cole, who is known for supporting causes that lean slightly to the left (on the US political spectrum), sparked admiration. I suspect this was a brand winning points for coming off as human.

And here's interesting point number three. In a survey of "cultural creatives" - close cousins of the "think before you buy" type - a majority see themselves as "conservative" or "neither left nor right".

Is it possible that thinking about the implications of what we buy and how we live has migrated from the tofu aisle to the pork rind section? Could it be that buying with a sense of global and community responsibility is becoming mainstream?

Companies are starting to pick up on this. Get online and look at the steps that brands such as Wal-Mart, McDonald's and others are taking.

The brand stories that could be told, the ones about the good a company does, are dying to get out. These stories aspire to be mainstream brand attributes. And why shouldn't they? We have proof that they create significant competitive advantage among mainstream consumers.

I know creative people who see brand "citizenship" communications as suspicious. Perhaps they're not convinced the brands we work for are such good eggs. Or maybe it's just that work in this area has just sucked. Who wants to work on a corporate image campaign? Rarely have the best creative magic wands touched these kinds of communications. But that is about to change.

In the future, some of the greatest opportunities for inventive work will be based around the citizenship of companies. It's also clear that the more companies think about this stuff, the better off we'll all be.

Rallying consumers around a good cause while you sell them toothpaste? I have no problem with that. And besides, the more that citizenship is pushed to the forefront of brand communications, the more good brand citizens we'll have.

We're looking at an area that is wide open for new creative ideas. We will get some great work for our books.

- Eric Gutierrez is the creative director of DDB Brand Integrity Group in Seattle.


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