Since the UK riots over the summer, brand marketing has found itself increasingly thrust under the spotlight and its ethics called into question. Undoubtedly, as a discipline, it does have a massive influence on society, often in a subliminal way so that the average consumer is mostly unaware of the power of marketing and advertising in their day-to-day decisions.
Having said that, today, there are just as many, if not more, examples of brands doing good things as there are examples of brands doing things we perceive as bad. Of course, successful brand marketing creates demand from consumers – that’s what it is supposed to do – but to try and pin the rise of materialism on brand marketing alone is nonsense.
It’s far too easy to say that the looters during the August riots were attracted by Nike trainers or Sony TVs in a bid to share in the lifestyle ideals to which these brands purport, but clearly we would not blame the brands themselves for what was effectively a wave of reckless opportunism. It could be argued that the media is in fact playing a far bigger role in the rise of materialism than any brand marketer, and that this combined with a lack of credible role models and the breakdown of the family unit is what is fuelling many of the problems in our society.
Asked what they want to be when they grow up, the majority of under-nines will now mention things like footballer or reality TV star, which are now seen as credible role models, and this notion has certainly been created by the media. Technology could also be seen as being hugely instrumental in the breakdown of family units with the demise of some verbal and physical communication, thanks to, for example, too much time being spent on Facebook, Twitter and text messaging. And, of course, I’m aware of the irony that these are channels marketers use to get their messages across.
Yes, much of the role of brand marketers is about creating aspiration and of using the technologies at their disposal to best reach their target audience, but the harsh reality is that in tough times we need brands to create demand if we are to get the global economy going again. But what this doesn’t mean is that we, as marketers should resort to recklessness. Done responsibly, marketing can have a positive impact on society, and what is needed is a greater sense of accountability. This is already reflected in the growing number of “brands giving something back”, and if anything brand marketing is leading the way here.
The modern brand marketer needs to be as aware of his audience as he is of his surroundings. He needs to act as good citizen and lead by example. I would go as far as to say that I believe ALL successful brands these days that profit from the consumer should be “giving something back”. So, whether this be through corporate responsibility projects like Dulux’s Let’s Colour Project, or more direct environmental moves like P&G’s excellent packaging initiative, which has massive environmental benefits, it is the brands that contribute to society and have effective two-way dialogue with their consumers that will eventually win out.
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