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    Charles Frith

    I quite like the idea of brands having a position on some of the most important questions of our time. It seperates the men from the boys in that box called brand values.

    Charles Frith

    Incidentally, my internet connection was resumed with virgin who commented that we were paying to much for our whole cable package, and reduced the cost while upping the bandwidth in under two minutes. We're delighted with this kind of brand voice.

    2nd brand blowjob of the year actually!

    John Grant

    Thx to charles for linking me here.

    It's a fascinating subject. People got very excited (we all certainly did at St Lukes) in the mid 90s about the same issue which was called 'brand as policy' in Mary Goodyear's classic MRS paper. The key examples then were Benetton and Body Shop which were both a good deal more politicised than Unilever.

    I guess there are some questions:
    - Chomsky says that ascribing a personality to a corporation is slightly mad; they dont 'think' (or vote), it's an illusion; but they do contain individuals who are legally accountable and they do make political donations & lobby and so on. The point being to focus on the political reality of companies not their image.
    - brands dont think, people in the companies behind them do. And when you profess beliefs in a political view, the assumption is that it is a genuine value or belief, as opposed to posturing in order to curry favour. Unilever as the company behind Dove therefore has some explaining to do. If they genuinely believe in countering the objectification of women, how can they explain their Axe/Lynx campaign?
    - for companies that do have genuine political values (Guardian and Innocent are two I've worked with recently) its a matter of a living engagement with issues, not a fixed position. They know what they believe in then work out on ongoing basis what doing the right thing looks like. The Guardian for instance is a paper where you dont quite know what they will say on any issue; and whose columnists range from George Monbiot to William Hague. Whereas the Independent is a paper which trots out the same shrill inflexible lines every week because it has committed itself publically to definite answers to these sorts of questions.
    - most companies have moderate political values, not radical ones; and actually centrist is where its at politically too. That wouldnt make very bold brand statements; Persil thinks global warming is a shared problem and we all need to do our bit; Kit Kat thinks all mainstream political parties are pretty similar and has no preference; Heineken will support and enforce (eg as an employer) all rights outlined in the universal declaration of human rights; BMW feels house prices are a bit high although they have done well out of the felt wealth that's created, but is as in the dark as anyone else over whether its a bubble or not

    There are brands which have gone further. For instance check the Levi's corporate site; historical campaigns about HIV infected workers rights, womens rights and so on. But they do have a mixed history; while they were winning 'Martin Luther King' awards for their operatons in the USA someone discovered that some of their jeans were being made (by outsourcing/suppliers) using chinese prison slave labour.

    And that's the other reason most corporates would be slightly shy about nailing political virtue to their brand mast. You are inviting scrutiny and quite possibly NGO attacks if the reality doesnt live up to the ideals, including the reality in your suppliers' suppliers and across global operations; that's all quite hard to control as it is.

    There is a place for political camapigning for brand in my view and that is to shape the culture of your market. If you are producing greener goods its more than valid to lobby, campaign, publicise the argument for these & not the alternatives. That's what Body Shop did with against animal testing. & what (although it wasnt that political) we did with IKEA/chuck out your chintz. The policy and the operation are aligned. & it is truly what the company believes to the extent they have committed their product range to conform with this view.


    John - you've raised some great points. The ethics of brands/consumption is a huge subject, just one quick point - you say that large corporations (organisations don't think, yes, but are anthropomorphised by law AS IF individuals)have a lot at stake so will be cautious about embracing green agenda, which I think is true. But when large, visible Cos DO make a stand, even if it is on a relatively 'small' issue, it can go a long way. It's much harder for (eg) McDonald's or Unilever than it is for the Guardian and Innocent. But if or when (eg) McD does something sustainable, is that not better than doing nothing, even if it is greeted (as it will be) with cynicism?

    On Unilever, Doves vs Axes, is there any evidence that consumers think that Dove/Unilever is now any more ethical, as opposed to having found a clever/better way to sell skin cream? In similar way, even hormone-addled male teens surely know that the Lynx/Axe effect is a funny way to get their attention and appeal to them - ie it's not TRUE either?


    Dominic Scott-Malden

    John, brilliant response, I like your idea especially that Persil thinks 'global warming is a shared problem' and that most brands, if they had views on 'issues' would have bland ones!! Thanks for reminding me of Benneton and Body Shop, and what a contrast there between 'attention seeking' and 'the real thing'.I do think that your distinction between 'the brand' and 'the people behind the brand' is a crucial one, and makes such a difference to consumers' perception of brands, as in Richard Branson, Anita Roddick, Steve Jobs etc. Perhaps for more brands we should meet the people not feel they are hiding behind the mirror. Otherwise people can feel that the brand comes from a 'faceless corporation' which 'just wants my money'which is generally not the case, (though they do want our money obviously.)

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