“John Rooks’ More Than Promote represents a totally fresh take on marketing. One with the potential to elevate marketing, marketers, and sustainable marketing in one fell swoop.” —Jacquelyn Ottman, founder and president, J. Ottman Consulting and Author, The New Rules of Green Marketing
“More Than Promote is not just about green marketing Rooks’ book dares us to do more. It’s about getting in the game and making a difference. It’s about making our lives and our work sustainable, honest, and real for each other and our planet, then telling our friends. Just read it and see for yourself. And go from marketing the change to being the change.” —Glenn Croston, Author of 75 Green Businesses and Starting Green, and founder of StartingUpGreen.com
“More Than Promote is more than a book! It teaches you how to make your company a citizen, your brand a real friend, and your work a way to help society.” —Diego Masi, Author of Go Green
MORE THAN PROMOTE a monkeywrencherâ€™s guide to authentic marketing
ÂŠ 2010 John Rooks. All rights reserved. Published by: SOMA Sundae Portland, Maine www.somasundae.com
The moral rights of the author have been asserted. Written inquiries are accepted at More Than Promote c/o SOMA Sundae POB 7828 Portland, Maine 04112 or by emailing email@example.com.
More Than PromoteÂŽ is a registered servicemark of The SOAP Group and is used with permission. First SOMA Sundae edition published 2010.
ISBN 978-0-615-37390-4 Cover design and typesetting by Bil Morton/The SOAP Group
Printed on Rolland Enviro100 100% Post Consumer
Writing and rhetoric theorist Karen Burke Lefevre said that â€œinvention is a social act.â€? This book is no exception. Many voices, many points of view, it is more dialogue than monologue. Nothing at all ever happens or can happen without Meg, JJ, and Hammer. Alisa, thank you for being a creative, methodic business partner and insightful editor. Thanks to Bil, Katey, Zach, Myra, Liz, Kelin, Charlotte, Crissy, Marcy, Stacy, Bobby, Erin, and Ryan. More thanks to Gasoline Alley and The Manfort for solitude, perspective, and the new woodstove. Special thanks to Bubba, Ted, Malibu, Diego, and Caesar for your leadership and guidance.
100% of the profits of this edition will be donated to The Lonely Crowd Foundation (TLCF). TLCF is dedicated to fostering a more just culture by creating community dialogue about sustainability and social justice. Its mission is to help solve modern problems created by a wounded culture through dialogue. www.lonelycrowdfoundation.org
To the Reader ........................................................................................................ 9 Prologue ................................................................................................................... 13 The Frames We Are Given ....................................................................... 19 New Values ..............................................................................................................37 More Than Promote .................................................................................... 61 THE Promotional Utterance As Activism .......................87 Tampons and Potholes ........................................................................105 Standing on The Shoulders of Giants ............................129 Pay to Play: A Tale of Two Runners .......................................175 The Cultural Necessity of Authenticity ....................183 OF Dirty Laundry and Language .............................................205 FOREGONe CONCLUSIONS......................................................................... 217 Praxis ......................................................................................................................... 223
“Historians and archaeologists will one day discover that the ads of our times are the richest and most faithful daily reflections that any society ever made of its entire range of activities.”
—Marshal McLuhan Will that be a good thing or a bad thing?
“Learn the principle, abide by the principle, and dissolve the principle… Obey the principle without being bound by it.” —Bruce Lee Adapt, create, and destroy.
“A guy walks up to me and asks ‘What’s Punk?’. So I kick over a garbage can and say ‘That’s punk!’. So he kicks over a garbage can and says ‘That’s Punk?’, and I say ‘No that’s trendy!” —Billie Joe Armstrong Be yourself.
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TO THE READER
You have picked up, borrowed, pirated, downloaded, or perhaps even bought this book. One might assume that you are interested in developing a marketing program based on authenticity rather than metaphor. Or, perhaps you are interested in understanding what your competition is about to do. No matter. I ask you to take a pledge, a pledge that may change the way marketing is done and success is defined. It is a pledge that will set you and your ideas apart from what marketing has become: a factory farm breeding the desire to consume. This pledge is a deconstruction of sorts: an attempt to take the parts of “marketing,” and the building blocks of “sustainability” and build something innovative with them. You can (and likely should) build this new thing in your image, for the combinations are limitless. This thing we are building together will be something entirely new and refreshing and yet still recognizable as both marketing and sustainability.
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Take the pledge.
â€œWherever and whenever possible I will develop promotion that has social significance. I will architect campaigns that have corporate, civic, and cultural value.â€? Signed: ________________________________________ Company: ______________________________________ Date: __________________________________________ Visit www.morethanpromote.com and take the pledge publicly and be a visible part of this new era of promotion.
Please pass this book on to your colleagues. Ask them to take the pledge as well.
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Signed: ________________________________________ Company: ______________________________________ Signed: ________________________________________ Company: ______________________________________ Signed: ________________________________________ Company: ______________________________________ Signed: ________________________________________ Company: ______________________________________ Signed: ________________________________________ Company: ______________________________________ Signed: ________________________________________ Company: ______________________________________ Signed: ________________________________________ Company: ______________________________________ Signed: ________________________________________ Company: ______________________________________
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REVISITED It was only a few years ago that More Than Promote was first paper-published. It came out at a time when Cause Marketing was the darling of Madison Avenue, and professional marketers were either struggling to find solid footing in a rapidly developing genre of new agency services or were frustrated by the dizzying spinning off of “green groups” by the Mad Men pantheon.1 Personally [and professionally, there is no real difference anymore], I was struggling with the very concept of [capital m] Marketing as a player/coach in the social change space. I knew – and still know – that marketing has a role in movements and motivations [social, political, personal] and is important in the changing of ideas and behaviors. It didn’t feel right and wasn’t enough fast enough. I wanted to monkeywrench the system, but that’s a poor business strategy and can’t scale for shit. 1 I’m still a bit baffled that “sustainability consulting” as a conversation was and still is mostly dominated by branding companies, and was not capitalized on more by the environmental consulting community. How did marketing become the defacto voice? By doing what it does best, owning and then burning out trends too quickly.
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My company, The SOAP Group [SOAP stands for Sustainable Organization Advocacy Partners] has always been a hybrid shop geared to bridge environmental sciences, culture change and business strategy. But honestly, mostly, this bridge manifested itself as just more marketing. It’s what the market demanded. We obliged. Many amazing marketers and communicators translated this same sense of frustration into [capital D] Design. “Design” was something broad enough to change the world [at that was the goal, full of a hubris best known by marketers]. Better product designs, better business designs, social innovation [whatever that is], etc. etc. And then I saw Frank Chimero’s anthemicly-designed poster: “Design Won’t Save The World. Go volunteer at a soup kitchen you pretentious fuck.” Yes, that seemed to just about sum up my feelings toward the whole marketing to save the planet movement. It all had a sense of doing good for business not with business. This is changing. But at the time, I was struggling to articulate new solutions using old tools. I should note that More Than Promote-ing is still a new idea, but already outdated in my mind. I am a doomed Hungry Ghost of a business strategist; not pretentious enough to call myself a “Futurist” but certainly not comfortable enough
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with our progress to stop poking into the Not-Known for new ideas. But before writing the book, my response to this irritation with the business movement toward sustainability [one that my company was built to be a part of remember] was to poison the well. SOAP collected a staff of amazingly talented marketing and designers each with a passion for sustainability - enough passion to fuel a thousand companies. I started talking out of school. In bars around the shop in Portland, Maine we sat like beatniks talking philosophy, scheming. Honestly, I think we were all frustrated, but I was visibly angry. This book was cathartic – a self-indulgent, often rambling, maybe even caustic exercise in making change by watching change. For me, it was an examination of a fever revealing a more systemic disease that business has – Authenticity. Not, it should be very clear, a lack of authenticity in marketing – that’s a known side effect of capitalism. The book revealed for me a root problem with business in general2. A whole lot of it is just inauthentic. I need to make a distinction here: “Authentic” is not a moral judgment like so much of the dialogue around green marketing and even social
2 Writing it also revealed that we had drifted from the IDEA of SOAP while scaling to chase the industry. The sad truth is that when you have a company full of designers, you go out and get more design work to feed the machine. We clearly, needed to start hiring more scientists and anthropologists and social critics - and then feed that machine.
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innovation has become [the entire â€œDo Well by Doing Goodâ€? business meme is built on a disingenuous set of rules]. Moral Capitalism is not an Authenticity issue. Instead, Authenticity needs to become a business strategy. Every solution to a problem creates a problem for someone or something or some indigenous people somewhere. This is not to say the less bad is good enough, though perhaps it is in most cases. It is to say that authentically aligned sustainability trumps everything else in terms of effectiveness for environment, culture and business performance. Growth and scale, as a concept for example, may or may not be Authentic. This is a painful realization for the suits.3 As we started to research and model it, we realized that Authentic companies were better places to work [more engaged and productive employees], had less internal struggle for resources [a.k.a. budgets and time], had greater customer loyalty [higher price points and share value], stronger reputations [better brands with lower marketing costs], a sincere respect of their competitors [true collaboration], fewer external distractions [NGO and shareholder roadblocks] had shorter approval process for large projects [municipal permitting and state tax preferences], and so on and so on and so on. All of these are as important for sustainability as they are for business performance. The trick is in the alignment. 3 This isnâ€™t to say that growth cannot be done authentically, but in general, not with the old tools of scale.
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Writing More Than Promote had an odd result – it revealed that companies built on a foundation of Authenticity enjoyed playing on a surface with less friction. In some aspect More Than Promote may be the first draft of another book – an exploration. But through it we learned that Authenticity becomes a kind of lubricant for capitalism and social innovation from within. In turn, it can be used to nudge culture in the right direction. Normally, Business changes Culture for the worse. It creates trends [like Convenience – the most environmentally and culturally destructive construct to come out Madison Avenue] that are not so good for the planet. Many of these manufactured cultural trends developed under the guise of green marketing create social dilemmas where people willingly act in their own self-interest rather than for the great community for which they are a part of. Business, in America specifically, is our culture. Shopping is our therapy. This is changing. But while it may be too much to ask Business to kill itself or eat its young, we can expect it to nudge culture in the right direction. More Than Promote is just part of the on-going dialogue in the sustainability and social justice space. But for me it kicked off the next wave of sustainability – authenticity as a business tool. Any fool can see it now. At SOAP, we’ve taken all this in and built a suite of services around performing Authenticity Audits. The audits normally reveal areas where risk needs to be mitigated, but
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more importantly, they shine a light on opportunities to innovate policies, procedures, employee engagement, marketing [yes] and corporate culture that improve business and sustainability performance. Maybe reading this book is like pawing through a time capsule buried only a short time ago. Itâ€™s not old enough to have any nostalgia value or the kinds of curious perspective historians uncover. But things change rapidly, and maybe quick glances back every once and a while has more value than we think. So thatâ€™s the new context with which to read this thing. Or maybe you can skip it. Thanks. John Rooks // Portland, Maine // April 2012 Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org
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THE FRAMES WE ARE GIVEN
“We the undersigned, senior members of the world’s scientific community, hereby warn all humanity of what lies ahead. A great change in our stewardship of the earth and the life on it is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated.” — Union of Concerned Scientists, 1992
It has been said that marketing classes are coursework in psychological warfare. 1 As businesses start to adapt to the confines and markets created by sustainability, and cultural change starts to take (not new, but predictable) form, old school strategies of branding and promotion begin to lack relevancy (or, more culturally, 1 With the popularity of Cause Marketing, perhaps it should be rewritten: “Marketing is coursework in social welfare.” Throughout the book I will point out instances where marketing has taken the place of social programs.
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meaning). Rather, they’ve become exposed as never having authentic meaning at all. Really, apart from being an interesting cultural lens or contemporary artifact, promotion has always been about creating a phantom desire. These new markets created by conditional sustainability are more proof of capitalism doing what capitalism does best: solving the problems it created. And, if capitalism is the offered solution, then we need to redefine the problem. Gary Hirshberg, CE-Yo of Stonyfield, made a compelling case for capitalism driving sustainability, and vice versa, in the movie Food, Inc. He made his business case for partnering with Walmart so that more people have access to products that are better for our body and the planet. In fact, he seems to argue that the consumer has more control over what Walmart sells than Walmart. “The irony is that the average consumer does not feel very powerful. They [sic] think that they [sic] are the recipients of whatever industry has put out there for them [sic] to consume. Trust me, it’s the exact opposite. When we run an item past the supermarket scanner we’re voting for local or not, organic or not.”2 The argument is that industry will provide organic food when the market calls for it. It’s laissez faire capitalism. It’s true, capitalism is a reactionary beast. But the system that it is reacting to—a call for, say, hormone-free milk—also created, 2 Food, Inc. Dir. Robert Kenner. Participant Media & River Road Entertainment, 2009.
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if not, at the very least contributed to, the structure that created the problem of hormone-laced milk itself. It’s a fascinating opportunity to get paid to create the problem and then paid to fix it. It’s a great business model, but a crappy model for humanity. Capitalism adapts. It has turned ecology into a capitalist opportunity. So what? So marketing and promotion responds to the requests of the capitalist market. And the market (despite the plausible macro concept of reacting to consumers voting with their dollars, is still a hegemonic one) is demanding that it grow a human face.3 The modern consumer is, so the positioning goes, in the driver’s seat of market forces and capitalism is responding. That’s the argument anyway, and the shifting budgets away from traditional toward new media are a visible indicator of the confusion that the modern marketing manager has in chasing the newly empowered (vocal) consumer. One example of this is the democratizing of brands, and social media is often viewed as the democratizing tool. But they are just the tools of democracy, not democracy itself. Merge this fairweather focus on different media types with general brand strategies that embrace dialogue over monologue, the rumor 3 So called by economist Samuel Brittan in his book Capitalism with a Human Face.
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of consumer control over the brand, a crippling storm of consumer access to information, the rise of the professional amateur, a general exodus from America’s love of being advertised to, and the time is right for an authentic marketing strategy. Not just an authentic message, although that’s a step in the right direction. This is fueled by crises (environmental, economic, social, political, cultural). And that is good. Revolution happens because of crises. Because of this, the marketing profession is back on its heels trying to figure out on which plane will sustainability, digital media, and democracy collide. Culture change often creates new marketing paradigms. The early years of the Russian Revolution produced Agitprop—propagating the ideologies of communism. Today, Monsanto, Stonyfield, Chipotle, Local Farms, Pollan, First Lady Obama, and others participate in Agriprop—a type of propaganda, true or not, positive or not, that provokes a new paradigm of promotion. Today many are waiting to see in which direction the consumer wind will blow, in terms of true, imbedded sustainability and culture change. In the meantime, green marketing is used to hedge bets. We have yet to see an industry-authentic marketing response to the crises we face. Conscious consumers are wise to, perhaps even bored of, the multimedia game and are willing to tackle being engaged in a transmedia game—single engagements across multiple platforms. This movement permits the moment of trans-
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forming the spectator event of being “marketed to” toward a moment of consumer participation. Through social media, we have been offered a platform for voice, so, in essence a voice. And here’s the connection: Your Ideologic Values are a new media platform—they are just as viable a type of media as online or broadcast or print. They are not a technology platform like Twitter. They are a conditional platform that requires you to get naked with your customer. They require authenticity. It is in this sense that more than new consumers redefining our corporate priorities, new tools of consumer voices are driving them. The vocal minority is in more control than the masses. This is ecohegemony. And it is the democratizing of media that is enabling it. This is not to say it is a false market. Look at several of the points from the Natural Marketing Institute as it frames up this new consumer in its predictive NMI’s “Top Trends for the Decade.” 4 Getting “Off the Grid” A new spirit of self-reliance is now the driving force on a very personal level as consumers prioritize their spending and behavior toward what they believe is purposeful, principled, and powerful—what they can control.
4 Natural Marketing Institute (NMI), “Top Trends of the New Decade.” 2010.
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Consumer control—even if it is only perceived control—is a dangerous pill for the manufacturers of commodity and desire to swallow. But that is precisely where we are going. If advertising doesn’t eat itself first, it will be consumed by the new consumer’s reliance on self. Meaningful GREEN The challenge now is in achieving meaningful differentiation, as GREEN initiatives must be distinctive, memorable, and measurable if they are to impact environmental, social, and economic dimensions… Look for the meaning of GREEN to move beyond the struggle of statistics—x% less packaging, y% more energy efficient—to new communication platforms that extend the meaning of GREEN.
Meaningful differentiation is fine, but the trick is to also understand and embrace that meaning to “me,” not the meaning to “we.” As marketers shift from targeting demographics to psychographics, to Peppers and Rogers’ pre-Internet, phantasmagorical One to One Marketing, to data segmentation, they move further from understanding meaning, not closer to it. These “new communications platforms that extend the meaning of GREEN” are precisely the void More Than Promote seeks to satisfy. Breaking the Mold Consumers are changing many long-held societal norms, and these breaches in
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behavior open the door to disruptive innovation. From eating less meat, to refusing vaccines, to trading in the suburban castle for an eco-friendly urban flat, to rejecting financial service models and managing one’s own portfolio—consumers are starting to “just say no” to traditional approaches.
Futurists Ryan Mathews and Watts Wacker called it the “deviant’s advantage” in their book of the same name. New consumers are changing traditional behavior, and that should scare the crap out of marketers. It messes with conventional models. One response is to make a new model. Pure and Simple New trends in purity and simplicity are evident as we move to simpler inputs, focused messaging, cleaner labeling, streamlined design, and easy delivery. We are removing layers of complexity— a change we desire because it becomes easier to determine the true fit of products and services with personal values.
As any information architect can tell you, the simpler things appear, the more complex they were to design. And, as information design demigod Edward Tufte reminds us, “Confusion and clutter are failures of design, not attributes of information.” Promotions may need to become more complex, but they should appear as one of many dexterous appendages, not a bolt-on claw.
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Personal ROI Consumers are DEMANDING greater value from every product or service they buy. This personal value is now being defined as personal return on investment, stemming from the desire to make the most of everything we have— including the investment of time and money.
Value is the invisible commodity of traditional advertising. It trades in it. That is its job. And now, ideological mirrors reflecting values have become the game. In part, this is the underpinning of the popular “badge strategy” of ecoconspicuous consumption (being seen in a pair of organic skinny jeans). But it creates a discursive product—consumer relationship. Sybil only had 13 personalities. Marketers should be so lucky. These new consumers are looking for deeper value. They don’t want advertising to alienate them into purchases. “Alienation” is used in the Marxist sense, representing a commodity fetish, which establishes the “without” that gives “with” meaning (more on this point later). Ultimately, it is a devaluation of the human world in lieu of an overvaluation of material objects. But still, there are trends that look promising for our survival.5 Here are some findings from Edelman’s Global 2008 5
Read as “our planet” or “our profession,” it’s your choice.
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• Consumers move from viewers to collaborators and want to be engaged more than ever before. • Consumer citizens and citizen brands emerge. • Social purpose is now a popular culture force to be reckoned with. • Globally, nearly 9 in 10 consumers (87%) feel it is their duty to contribute to a better society and the environment. • 82% of consumers globally say they can personally make a difference by supporting good causes. • And 76% of consumers globally like to buy from brands that make a donation to worthy causes. Imagine what could happen if companies and consumers united to solve problems that were deeper than a transactional relationship. That’s one of the aspirations for More Than Promote. It seems, though, that marketers still struggle to define authentic value. After all, we are taught that we can create—and it is our job to create—the perception of value. We have to stop here and ask: What if the promotion itself became part of the value?
6 Edelman , “Edelman GoodPurpose Study 2008,” 19 February 2010. www.jcpredelman.com/edelman-insights/archive/edelman-goodpurpose-study-2008
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Here’s an example of promotion falling embarrassingly short of its authentic potential. Outback Steakhouse ran a promotion that, one can only assume, was an attempt to create more value for the chain. Old enough to go to war for your country? Risked life and limb in an illegal war? Then you get a free appetizer at participating Outback Steakhouses. Seriously. That was the promotion. These exploding onions are being used as a value proposition in an effort to show support for troops. Of course, not even Outback thinks that is the real value of military service. Nor is the corporate value it receives from this lame call to action worth the sacrifices. By reducing military service to the value of an appetizer, it is chasing the halo from supporting our troops in any fashion. What’s amazing is that this is the visible face of the created value Outback chooses to show. Of course, it actually does much more as a corporation to support the troops. This is, after all, an indictment of the promotion not the corporation. Never mind that OSI Restaurant Partners, Outback’s parent company, has donated over $1 million to Operation Homefront, an NGO supporting U.S. troops. It’s not just about a free Bloomin’ Onion. But that is their paid-for consumer face. Why? From their corporate press release: “The sacrifices that our troops and their families make so we can enjoy the freedoms we have in the United States is something Outback em-
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ployees have recognized and appreciated since we opened our doors 22 years ago,” said Liz Smith, CEO of OSI Restaurant Partners. “Our commitment to donate $1 million to Operation Homefront reflects our appreciation to those who give so much.” Because they choose to make it so. (And a chance to win tickets to see country singer Tim McGraw. Just order off the special “Red, White and Bloomin’” menu in the month of March for your chance to win). Do they think this is the message that consumers want to hear? Or, more pessimistically, is it the message consumers want to hear? The steakhouse is using a popular marketing strategy. It is using the leverage created by the external manifestation of its core demographics’ internal value systems (American pride, pass the potatoes) to drive conversion. The golden ring on this merry-go-round is the halo created by the promise of cause alignment. Their promotional support of the troops is tantamount to a Yellow Ribbon on the back of a Hummer—a pedestrian manifestation of the badge of doing what is popular. Keep in mind, the television advertising is about a “free Bloomin’ Onion.” It doesn’t get much weirder. But of course it does. “As a retired member of the U.S. military and on behalf of our troops serving in locations far and wide, I’d like to thank Outback Steakhouse for its support over the years,” said General Tommy Franks (Ret.). “This support, coupled with
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the current effort to help our active and retired servicemen, women and their families, is greatly appreciated.” Franks, who ran day-to-day operations of the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan, is no stranger to the controversy of supporting our troops, having taken fire for receiving $100,000 donations from monies given to wounded soldiers in exchange for using his name in fund-raising appeals. The general distanced himself from the allegedly corrupt NGO in 2005.7 And, of course, Franks sits on OSI Restaurant Partners’ Board of Directors. Outback Steakhouse has made a mistake by commoditizing the value of supporting our troops. In doing so, it is guilty of chasing the transactional relationship. This coveted transactional relationship is what is changing for the new consumer. Marketers are being forced into a very uncomfortable paradigm—thinking beyond the transaction. Marketing has been about strategically selecting the right media. Print media, broadcast media, online media, experiential media; these are all platforms used to deliver a product’s message. But now, we are on the cusp of a new platform. Our consumer’s ideology is a new kind of media to be used in pursuit of a transactional relationship. Of course, as soon as these values are commoditized, they lose their val7 Jowlers, Karen www.armytimes.com/news/2008/01/military_ charity_080117w/, Friday Jan 18, 2008
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ue, so our pursuit must become trans-transactional. Never mind that the old strategies of branding and promotion fail overtime in this new paradigm of value-media resonance. More importantly, marketing even begins to become counterproductive to sustainability (although there is an argument that greenwashing is actually a more effective promotional tool than the truth). Ultimately, the failure of marketing is a Hippocratic conundrum—the message and the medium are not in-sync. We can ask: “What’s next?” That is one way to move forward to a model of promotion that does more than simply promote (assuming, of course, that it should). However, just asking “what’s next?” is no longer the driving component to being part of the solution to the crises of our modern culture. We might be better off asking “What other?” We may need to reinvent the system of marketing, much as our economic system may need rehabilitation. For marketers, the modern condition of marketing itself (both planning and tactics) blinds us to the important ideological centers of the emerging consumer. Let’s further explore the framework that leads to these conclusions. Advertising and marketing firms are often trend-spotters that successfully build, brand, and spin off specialty shops quickly to capture trends. Between 2004 and 2009, over 500 marketing firms, design shops, and ad agencies began to focus
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on “green.” As all trends do, it started on the fringe with excitable design shops and well-intended strategists. Of course there were earlier players like The Green Team,8 but for trend purposes, 2004 seems to be the year momentum began to shape. The fringe idea of “promoting good” started to drift into the mainstream of business purpose and the marketing juggernauts got into the picture. Once the market was starting to frame the definition and the upside was quantifiable, large shops like Ogilvy, MS&L, Saatchi and Saatchi, DDB, and Edelman rolled out different flavors of “green divisions,” “sustainability practices,” or “lifestyle groups,” either through acquisition, strategic hires, or sometimes pure, dizzying spin. The positive result is access to green marketing strategy for mega corporate clients, by offering deep brand(ed) strategy sometimes coupled with sustainability consulting—an odd business coupling if there ever was one, but a direct result of the accusations of greenwashing. Many of these new groups are simultaneously able to service “green clients” (their term) while providing counterstrategies to decidedly un-green industries. The emerging trend of transparency will perhaps put an end to this. Conflicted interest apparently only crosses product category lines, and not counterproductive technologies, attitudes, or values. Just look at Unilever’s combative Dove and Axe Body Spray campaigns discussed later.
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But that’s OK. These larger corporate entities serviced by larger agencies are able to buy more media in a day than smaller entities have access to in a year. This purchased access is bringing the concept of sustainability to Main Street and is very important. It is, perhaps, the best thing about greenwashing. Without greenwashing, authentic niche agencies would be even more fringe. Whether through malice, ignorance, or overexuberance, the green marketing missteps associated with greenwashing are still prevalent, and the watchdog groups are taking note. So, on the one hand, paid visibility of the concept of “green” got us where we are today. On the other hand, it got us where we are today. Perhaps it is too hard to shake the adman mystique of a snake-oil salesman, saying anything to pitch a product. But authenticity still ranks low in most promotions. Ironically, it is also the latest trend. The claim is that most promotion is 90% spectacle and 10% substance. That’s likely generous. Agencies use the word “creative” as a noun for a reason. The product is creative, not literal or actual. And that’s important to get attention; critical even. But being creative is not the problem. Reality, it seems, is boring. So in the face of “proof ” and “authenticity,” which is at the heart of avoiding greenwashing, what is a creative agency to do? How close can we get to reality without losing the consumer’s attention?
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Spectacle still reigns supreme among most marketing. Marketing is as likely a subject to study cultural ideology as is celebrity. Consider this: If you were given $500 million to appeal to American ideologies, you could mirror Coca Cola’s increase in its 2004 marketing budget or make a movie on par with Avatar.9 Marketing is pop culture. So this quest for reality in marketing creates a real problem for us in the fiction-generation industry. Clients who were once paying for creative that was also “almost accurate” now clamor for both the spectacle and the substance—even though they or consumers may not be able to tell the difference. This is perhaps the single greatest challenge facing the marketing industry today. More Than Promote offers part of the solution. Guy Debord10 published his work Society of the Spectacle in 1967. Not much has changed. In it is a series of 221 short theses (about a paragraph each), divided into nine chapters. It applies Marxist theory to topics ranging from “commodity fetishism” to mass media. Indeed, it is a condemnation of them both. It should be no surprise that Debord was part of a group of revolutionaries that advocated the “experiences of life 9 Sampey, Kathleen. “Coke’s Marketing Budget to Rise by $400 Mil,” AdWeek, November 11, 2004. www.allbusiness .com./ Leins, Jeff. “Is Avatar’s Budget Half a Billion, or Half That?” Newsfilm. November 9, 2009. www.imdb.com. 10 Debord was a French Marxist Theorist, filmmaker, situationalist, and hypergraphist. He died in 1994. The French Ministry of Culture officially declared his work to be “a national treasury”— although only to prevent its being sold to Yale.
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as an alternative reality.” They suggested and experimented with the construction of situations, namely the setting up of environments favorable for the fulfillment of desires (much like advertising promises). These were not commodity transactional relationships they experimented with. Using methods drawn from the arts, Debord developed fields of study for the construction of such situations, such as unitary urbanism and psychogeography. It is very much a predecessor to More Than Promote and modern urban space planning as a social function. “Commodity fetishism” and “mass media”: That’s the very ideology of modern marketing. You cannot destroy the spectacle and leave conventional marketing intact. That is impossible. So, if we want to salvage marketing, we must also agree to the rules of the Spectacle. We must be willing to sacrifice some authenticity. Or, we can re-imagine, rather than salvage, marketing. Conditionally, part of the structural underpinning of the Spectacle is that it is a conversation with itself about itself. Much as Super Bowl ads are more about being a Super Bowl ad than they are about promotion. In the Spectacle, the consumer is a silent participant along for the ride. As long as the current structure of traditional marketing is the dominant form of marketing, two-way, fairly symmetrical dialogue (a popular strategic framing, but rarely fulfilled promise) is impossible. More Than Promote creates a space where nodal points
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and narratives converge. The narrative of consumer, of the civilian, and of the corporation joins to create the new narrative of partnership imperative to solve significant problems. These new nodal spaces become the replacement parts to the broken system of promotion.
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NEW VALUES “Destroy to build.” —Mao Zedong
In business strategy, social entrepreneurs often start their companies looking to feed the Triple Bottom Line: People, Planet, and Profit. The halo of this strategy glows bright and now traditional corporations, historically known for the pursuit only of the latter, are implementing strategies to capture some of the glow from the former. This approach to business has successfully penetrated most of the tactical elements of business itself, save one: promotion. This business trend sets the stage for evaluating marketing’s role in both the corporate structure and societal culture. Look at B Corporations. These are businesses that have agreed to a framework that supports economic, social, and en-
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vironmental stakeholders. It’s not pie-in-the-sky, tree-hugging CEO wishfulness, either. At the time of print, there are nearly 300 active B Corporations representing $1.1 billion in revenue in over 54 different industries. The organizing structure, B Lab, has set a goal to reach 5 to 7 percent of U.S. GDP; essentially the size of the entire nonprofit sector in 2009.1 Another B Lab goal is to establish a new legal framework that treats these B Corporations more favorably from a taxation perspective. Currently, Vermont has presented and successfully passed a measure before its legislators called “The Vermont For Benefit Corporation Act.” The bill views a public benefit as, “a material positive impact on society and the environment, as measured by a third-party standard, through activities that promote some combination of specific public benefits.” 2 B Corporations meet benchmarks that differentiate them as a “good business” as opposed to a business with “good marketing.” The legal task is to define new codes of value. How much is corporate citizenship worth? And this concept of defining or understanding value should be very important in the discussion of promoting sustainability and brand equity. Think of how carbon has become currency. It is traded on an exchange, and “the market” purchases virtual blocks of 1 www.bcorporation.net/why 2 McLean, Dan. “Beneficial Business Takes Shape in Vermont.” Burlington Free Press, February 22, 2010.
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it to offset certain behaviors. One metric ton of carbon has a tangible financial value in our economic structure. One ton can be purchased for between $2.75 and $15.00, depending on the argued quality of the offset. It is bought and sold like beef— by the carcass weight. It is a commodity. The move to quantify other “eco-system services” is strong and getting stronger. Humans extract value from the ecosystem, like putting a price on carbon sequestration. Can’t we also put a value on, say, soil retention or wetland filtering? Of course, the problem with all of this is that once we place a value on a service, it becomes a commodity. And the battle to provide this commodity at the lowest possible price begins. The carbon market is about 20 years old, but the bulk of its action has come in the last three years when it became commoditized. Consider this, if we can make progress toward redefining for-profit business as contributing multiple values to both the environment and society, we can do the same with marketing as well. After all, marketing is just another business strategy, and many business strategies have been retooled to better capture these values of additionality. Business, it seems, is coming around to the reality that it needs to pay for the values it extracts as well as be rewarded for the value it creates. Marketing has a cultural cost as well.3 Of course many disagree with this concept of business as having some moral contract with, or obligation to, society. 3 One problem is that many corporations are looking to get paid for not creating a negative impact on the environment or our society. This is the definition of extortion.
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In Milton Friedman’s now infamous New York Times Magazine essay on the social responsibility of business, he argued, “the discussions of the ‘social responsibilities of business’ are notable for their analytical looseness and lack of rigor. What does it mean to say that ‘business’ has responsibilities? Only people can have responsibilities. A corporation is an artificial person and in this sense may have artificial responsibilities, but ‘business’ as a whole cannot be said to have responsibilities, even in this vague sense.”4 This argument gives business a license to steal the value from ecology, even society. Or, at the very least, it lets them off the hook from having to be responsible for those actions. This sense of “artificial responsibilities” is most interesting. But let’s be clear, consumers are guilty of thinking this way too. We don’t pay the real value of items. The three-dollar alarm clock purchased from a big box store surely has a total cost far greater than its components and production in mass quantities. What value did that alarm clock use and not pay for along the way to the store shelves, to our bedroom, to the landfill? Adam Werbach, former Sierra Club president, founder of sustainability consulting firm Act Now Productions, and now Global CEO of Saatchi S (the world’s largest sustainability consulting firm) has shunned the term “environmentalist” and given birth to the “blue” (as opposed to “green”) 4 Friedman, Milton. “The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase Its Profits.” The New York Times Magazine, September 13, 1970.
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movement—a strategic attempt to use business as a lever to further an environmental agenda.5 Launching cyan-colored campaigns for Walmart, Dell, FritoLay, Procter and Gamble, and others, Saatchi S has taken a decidedly un-Friedmanlike approach to social responsibility—putting it squarely in the lap of business. Clearly, these responsibilities are not artificial as Friedman claims. Would these companies spend millions of dollars chasing an artificial responsibility? They wouldn’t. Unless, of course, it was all a staged chase driven more by market than Friedman’s “responsibility.” But let’s assume goodwill, and take it at face value that “responsibility” is the driving force behind corporate America’s new attitude, as demonstrated by very real actions. Maybe, like carbon, these responsibilities have become a type of currency to be traded and valued. Communication theorist Marshal McLuhan has noted, “That which is current creates currency.” Carbon is currency. Facebook friends are currency (although seemingly only worth Whoppers at Burger King),6 and our personal values are now a kind of currency. At the very least, we hope, they are anything but artificial. But then, that’s what badge marketing seems to enable. The blue/green debate framed up by Werbach has some merit. Author J.G. Ballard suspects “…that many of the great
5 See www.strategyforsustainability.com 6 See www.facebook.com/apps/application.php?id=33988778285 (May 17, 2010)
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cultural shifts that prepare the way for political change are largely aesthetic.”7 And Werbach knows his history. In an article in Environmental Leader, he points to the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine and the red hue of the Russian Revolution. Those colors, he argued, were important to the cause they were created to support.8 Back to Ballard, the presumption is that cultural shifts can be read as aesthetic, which is arguable. That is both the point and the problem. As the proverb goes: When you’ve got a hammer, everything looks like a nail. When you are a marketing firm, sustainability is a marketing problem. Branding firm? It’s a branding problem. Polluter? PR retainer. And while few principals at ad agencies would argue that sustainability is an aesthetic problem, most of us are quick to use aesthetics and framing as part of the solution. But, honestly, they are not. Ultimately the question of “who is responsible for being responsible” is an issue of ownership. And, as Cone, Inc.’s Past. Present and Future of Cause Marketing 2009 Report details, “Companies are becoming drivers of change.” It is wishful to think that consumers really were the drivers of change. Sustainability based on supply and demand 7 Baxter, Jeannette. “Age of Unreason.” The Guardian, June 22, 2004. www.guardian.co.uk/books/2004/jun/22/sciencefictionfantasyandhorror.jgballard. 8 Werbach, Adam. “Sustainability and Color: Moving Beyond Green.” Environmental Leader, December 4, 2008. www.environmentalleader.com/2008/12/04/sustainability-and-color-moving-beyondgreen/
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might be inevitable. Sustainability is not a framing based on aesthetics, but rather on ideology. How many “make green cool” articles can one stomach? And yes, an ideology can become represented by a color, but not the other way around. Perhaps the best we can ask for is that we become the challengers of the change that business is representing. Perhaps that can be a “way in” to the authenticity of marketing debate—authentic marketing as gadfly. But Friedman wants it both ways. He wants business to reap the benefits of the world’s resources, but not have a responsibility to cough up for the cultural, social, and environmental costs. That leaves the government, NGOs, and consumers to take care of the “social responsibility” stuff. Werbach is right. Business can fix this, but not with old strategies and old actions. The problem with capitalism is that it relies on “something else” to solve the problem it creates. And when it does attempt to solve the problems, it is for its own purpose. For capitalism, modern problems are either a distraction or an opportunity. If it becomes distracted by current problems, we can’t progress. If it is solving the problem using the same tools that created them, we need to rebuild the structure. Truth articulates itself, after all. But I’m not suggesting we rebuild capitalism. No, for my part, I want to blend strategy and tool (tactic) into one element; to take the best of promotion and the objectives of sustainability and blend
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them. Samuel Johnson described poetry as “when you make new things familiar and familiar things new.” More Than Promote does that for marketing and promotion. By Friedman’s calculations, the government will be an ineffective resource to provide real solutions to the problems we face today. (“The government solution to a problem is usually as bad as the problem.”)9 So, who then? Who’s left to have responsibility now? NGOs? The consumer alone? If Friedman is right, that the government is ill equipped, then the massive steps required today can only be taken by business. And, here, let’s call attention to the specter of our consumption-based economy, only to leave it alone for a short period. NGOs can certainly provide some firepower in solving these social and environmental crises. They always have, and hopefully always will. But they are perhaps also ill equipped to provide the type of scale and speed that is needed. In an odd way, perhaps the modern NGO’s most productive roles will be as (1) keeping corporations honest and (2) using corporate money to activate social responsibility. Mass philanthropy is part of the solution too. So, there are multiple players and layers to the solution. An easy argument to make here is to laud the proliferation of Corporate-NGO partnerships as seen in Cause Marketing. Collaboration is important. Funding NGO advocacy 9 Friedman, Milton. “The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase its Profits.” The New York Times Magazine, September 13, 1970.
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and action is very important. Let’s just be mindful to ensure that we are not feeding a corrupt system more corruption. “Corruption” may be a harsh word to use in conjunction with Cause Marketing, and I don’t mean to imply that it is a bad strategy, but in some cases, it does permit the cycle of (over) consumption that seems to be at the heart of the structure itself. Friedman’s argument is that there is no value to that structure in acting responsibly. Or, perhaps, not enough corporate value. It seems that recently this has been proven to be untrue. But on the flipside, we may intuitively expect that, based on day-to-day demands of both, business and sustainability cannot coexist. Well, that’s not true. It’s the experience of growth as a corporate mission or mandate that creates an unrepeatable dichotomy. Look at the mandates from your manager. What is the underlying measurement? “Up,” “More,” and “Increase” are likely operative words. Unbridled growth and sustainability cannot coexist. Detractors say that capitalism responds to market demands. But capitalism that shrinks sends waves of panic to ensure that it does not happen. Growth, it seems, is in many ways antithetical to sustainability. But more importantly, for More Than Promote, growth becomes only one of three equal measures of success, and it is this new view of measuring marketing that draws us to look at the outdated concept that simply measures progress purely through growth.
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“Too big to fail” is proven to be incorrect, General Motors is discontinuing the Hummer, new construction home sizes are shrinking, “Less” was the most used operative in green advertising in 2009,10 and three books were recently published on the treatise of living a life with less. “Slow” is another manifestation of “Less,” and examples extend even beyond the United States, where “Slow” is a reaction to fast. Witness in Europe the “Slow Guides” movement with the tagline, “live more, fret less.” These newly published guides (Slow London, Slow Dublin, Slow Melbourne, Slow Sidney) celebrate the local, cultural, natural, and traditional elements of these cities.11 These are signs that both a corporate and consumer culture is examining the concept of “more and growth” with a raised eyebrow. Only America’s waistline seems to argue this point. To reiterate: If capitalism is the solution, we need to redefine the problem. But this isn’t a new revelation. In The Gospel of Consumption, Jeffery Kaplan reminds us that by the late 1920s, business was battling economic stagnation with what one industrial consultant called “the gospel of consumption”— the notion that people could be convinced 10 2009 Study completed by The SOAP Group available at www. thesoapgroup.com 11 Copy from the website on how to purchase a book reads: “How to buy a book. Start off slow and get your book the old-fashioned way; pop into a store and interact with somebody. But if you’re too entranced with what’s happening in your garden or gazing on a cloud, order one here (www.slowguides.com.).”
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that however much they have, it isn’t enough. Kaplan further points out that in 1927, then Secretary of Labor, James J. Davis, provided data to illustrate a problem, “the textile mills of this country can produce all the cloth needed in six months’ operation each year” and that 14 percent of the American shoe factories could produce a year’s supply of footwear.…“It may be that the world’s needs ultimately will be produced by three days’ work a week.”12 More telling were assertions made in Director of General Motors Research, Charles Kettering’s, 1929 article called “Keep the Consumer Dissatisfied.” According to Kaplan, Kettering was defining the industry’s strategic shift from fulfilling basic human needs to creating new ones. We get the lust for growth honestly, as it is part of our American mythos—literally called the American Dream. It started by claiming our Manifest Destiny of expansion; we perpetuate it in the hopes and dreams of immigrants who want it all. Queen frontman Freddie Mercury sang it best. “It ain’t much I’m asking if you want the truth. Here’s to the future. Hear the cry of youth. I want it all I want it all I want it all and I want it now.”13 “All now” is not that much to ask. But of course it is when we are discussing sustainability. 12 Kaplan, Jeffrey. “The Gospel of Consumption.” Orion Magazine, May/June 2008. 13 May, Brian. “I Want it All.” Lyrics. The Miracle. David Richards. 1989.
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Technology creates a construct and expectation of endless advances. In a digital world, we can expand, seemingly forever, faster than the day before. This does not translate into sustainability. William E. Rees, in “The Ecological Crisis and Self-Delusion: Implications for the Building Sector,” points out that any society so firmly wedded to ever-rising material expectations will naturally resist the argument that there are limits to growth. He quotes behavioral psychologist, Gustave Le Bon, writing more than a century ago: “The masses have never thirsted after truth. They turn aside from evidence that is not to their taste, preferring to deify error, if error seduces them. Whoever can supply them with illusions is easily their master; whoever attempts to destroy their illusions is always their victim.”14 The All and Now myth lives. That’s a problematic equation for sustainability; and equally problematic for marketing expectations. Oddly, this is the stuff that traditional advertising promises: More for your money: Better and cheaper. Walmart’s current tagline is “Save Money. Live Better.” It is not: “Own less. Be happier.” Walmart is perpetuating the myth of more is better, for that is its business strategy. The bulk-buying craze of the 1980s and 1990s wasn’t necessarily about saving money (as it is today). It was about
14 “The Ecological Crisis and Self-Delusion: Implications for the Building Sector”, William E. Rees Building Research & Information, Volume 37, Issue 3, May 2009
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having more and buying bigger. The physical stature of the big box was a metaphor for the way they expected us to shop. Today, buying in bulk is a greening strategy. We can’t “win” if consumption is the answer to the problem. Even during a severe global recession, Walmart is opening close to 750 new stores a year, including about three supercenters per week in the United States and another 600 stores annually around the globe.15 That is a growth-based strategy. The value to the consumer? A shorter drive to lower prices. It’s as if big box retailers think there is a consumption barrier. According to writer Christopher Ketchum, it’s not the monopolies that we need to be concerned with, it is the oligopolies, “a very few obese firms, the Big Three or Big Six dominating their sectors while being insulated from failure by the government.”16 Ketchum reminds us that in 1950, E.F. Shumacher, Chief Economist at the British National Coal Board, came to the conclusion that the coal supply in England could not supply its ideology of infinite growth. Sounds familiar. But it is important to, again, acknowledge that growth is a very important measurement for our success (or status)— especially for marketing. In 2009, the joke was “flat is the new up.” But a possible dead cat bounce and the marketing manag15 Mitchell, Stacy. “Putting Wal-Mart’s Green Moves in Context.” March 5, 2010. The New Rules Projewww.newrules.org/retail/news/ putting-Wal-Marts-green-moves-context. 16 Ketchum, Christopher. The Curse of Bigness (Orion, March 2010).
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ers’ quotas bounced back up, too. See what Father Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard, had to say when asked if growth is part of Patagonia’s business strategy: “Well, no. Growth isn’t central at all, because I’m trying to run this company as if it’s going to be here a hundred years from now. And if you take where we are today and add 15% growth, like public companies need to have for their stock to stay up in value, I’d be a multi-trillion-dollar company in 40 years. Which is impossible, of course. So all of these companies that are going for the big growth, if it continues for any length of time, will outlast their resources and outlast their customers and go bellyup. And that’s why these huge companies have massive layoffs all the time. Since I’m trying to run this company like it’s going to be around a hundred years from now, we have to limit our growth and keep it to what we call “natural growth.” In other words, I don’t advertise on billboards in inner cities so that kids buy our black down jackets instead of The North Face’s. In fact, we hardly advertise at all.”17 Impossible, of course. But the point isn’t necessarily to limit growth. It is, however, time to look at new measures of success. This is inherent 17 Gordon, Jacob. “The TH Interview: Yvon Chouinard, Founder of Patagonia (Part One).” February 7, 2008. www.treehugger.com/files/2008/02/the_th_interview_yvon_chouinard. php?campaign=TH_sbl_radio
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in the triple (people, planet, profits) and even quadruple (add spirituality) bottom line that many businesses are now marketing as their public goals. Seminal books like Firms of Endearment have demonstrated that there are, indeed, many corporate values in behaving. Looking at â€œfirms of endearment,â€? such as Whole Foods, Honda, JetBlue, Harley Davidson, New Balance, and Patagonia versus the S&P 500, the authors compared shareholder returns over a ten-year period.18 Firms of Endearment
Firms of Endearment argues that there are other corporate values to engaging in social responsibility, including Human Resourcesâ€™ ability to attract, retain, and motivate employees; the social capital gained through community support; and (of course) positive media attention. The authors also point out that corporations are at their peak performance when favor is high and constraints are low. But it is not a marketing exercise; they are talking about reputation, and not one 18 Sisoda, Raj, et al. Firms of Endearment (Philadelphia: Wharton School Publishing, 2007)
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based on marketing messages. It is about doing things. This is important. No one would call Harley Davidson “green,” and yet it ranks among these firms of endearment. So, businesses are increasingly doing good (or better). Yes, largely this is true. And businesses are finding new profit centers (or at least lower operating expenses) in doing so. A whole new school of consulting has been augmented to support these new internal initiatives. Accenture® has monetized this into a business practice: connecting sustainability to business performance, or, rather, business performance to sustainability. As stated on its website, it calls attention to the fact that, “…sustainability is moving from the periphery to the heart of business and government. As that transition occurs, organizations need to transform their operations—and, in some cases, their business models—to fully integrate sustainability initiatives across the enterprise. It’s a daunting effort. But the challenges are offset by the tremendous opportunities that lie ahead. Sustainability is an engine that can drive high performance.”19 In its corporate sustainability video, Accenture’s Mark Forster, Group Chief Executive Management Consulting and Integrated Markets, argues that, “…there is an overlap 19 “Achieving High Performance: The Sustainability Imperative.” Accenture.com. Accenture. December 7, 2009. https://microsite.accenture.com/sustainability/Pages/landing_corporate. aspx?c=ad_gp09usconpsgs_1208&n=g_Sustainability/a_0_k/ sustainability_consulting&s_kwcid=TC|7232|sustainability%20 consulting||S|b|3724910113
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in the overall mindset of sustainability and corporate social responsibility. And many organizations are finding that fundamental to attracting the talent they need to succeed in the marketplace.”20 Sustainability, fully integrated across the enterprise, is capable of driving performance. These two sentiments are the core of the argument. Businesses are listening and shapeshifting to fit the model of responsibility. I doubt that they are reacting to Freidman’s artificial responsibilities. But I also wonder if they are creating artificial expectations of sustainability. As Chouinard said, dropping the other shoe, “Yeah. There’s no such thing as sustainability.” As humans and industries we consume and waste to do what we do. Sustainability is a mythic creature, and today we use it to sell things. Sustainability as an artificial artifact changes the game of green marketing. And when we stitch together the arguments this way, the patterns appear. It’s as if we are wagering on how quickly consumers will catch on. Sustainability has become a media and consulting darling. Sustainability is sold as a prerequisite to bottom line performance. But what if Chouinard is right and it does not exist as a place or thing to be levered to sell more goods? Then it is part of the spectacle. It seems that many business and marketing consultants are selling their services based on sustainability’s financial impact to the bottom line—not as some sort of environmental 20 Ibid.
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or moral obligation or responsibility to something other than the prototypical Friedman-esque stakeholder. At least that is the language they use, or, at the very least, the language that worked before. Look at the language used by sustainability consulting firm DOMANI. Its home page headline (May 2010) read: “Making Success Sustainable.” “Success” is code for “more.” It then closed the deal with three compelling financial arguments. “DOMANI offers sustainability consulting that has helped Fortune 500 companies: Reduce operating costs, Improve risk management, Increase revenue. Today’s global business leaders understand that environmental and social factors can improve your top and bottom line perforPhysical Improvements mance—and DOMANI can help you improve your financial 21 performance.”Logistic and Production Efficiencies For the most part the promised financial argument of Press forup The Latter sustainability can be summed with:
+ + = + =
Lower Operating Costs Consumer Favor Growth
What DOMINI promises is financial return, so it is not
Making Success Sustainable. www.domani.com/ December 7, 2009.
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surprising that this is a result of its approach to consulting. What we need to be asking is: What’s driving this? Consumers? Marketers looking for the newest hook? An ideological culture shift? Is “business” responding to something or driving it? Media mogul Rupert Murdoch has long voiced concerns about the authenticity of the climate crisis. He doubts it poses an immediate and catastrophic threat. But even Fox News, home to more climate change deniers per capita than any other channel, has committed to reducing its carbon footprint. Why? Murdoch stated that “our advertisers are asking us for ways to reach audiences on this issue.” He also argued that the new climate strategy would reduce energy costs, help the company recruit top talent, and provide “a chance to deepen our relationships with our viewers, readers, and web users.”22 And, stealing a play from the Walmart manual, he quickly points out that Fox News Corp’s hundreds of millions of viewers and readers represent a “…carbon footprint [that] is 10,000 times bigger than ours ... Imagine if we succeed in inspiring our audiences to reduce their own impacts on climate change by just 1 percent. That would be like turning the state of California off for almost two months.” “The challenge is to revolutionize the [climate change] message,” Murdoch publically declared. He emphasized the need to “make it dramatic, make it vivid, even sometimes 22 Little, Amanda. “Rupert Murdoch Launches Effort to Green News Corp’s Operations and Programming.” Grist, May 9, 2007.
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make it fun. We want to inspire people to change their behavior.” But it is the advertisers, according to Murdoch, who want to reach the green consumer that is driving this.23 A few seconds on CSRwire.com, a leading news distribution service for corporate social responsibility and sustainability news, quickly reveals the publicity of corporate infrastructure improvements all moving those entities closer to sustainability. • Walmart to nearly double solar energy use in California (Corporate press release dated April 22, 2009). • Sodexo Launches “The Better Tomorrow Plan” for Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility (Corporate Press Release dated December 3, 2009). • Hormel Foods Continues Reductions in Product Packaging (Corporate Press Release dated December 3, 2009). • AT&T Builds on Commitment to Reduce Energy Consumption (Corporate Press Release dated December 1, 2009). • Kraft Foods Eliminated More Than 50 Million Truck Miles Since 2005 Through Focus on Transportation Sustainability Efforts (Corporate Press Release dated November 19, 2009). • JohnsonDiversey Announces Commitment to Triple Its Absolute Reduction in Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 2013 Under WWF’s Climate Savers Program (Corporate
23 It does not go unnoticed that is sounds like Murdoch is saying that advertisers are driving content.
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Press Release dated November 5, 2009). â€˘ Green Mountain Power Celebrates First Methane Plant at Westminster Farms (Corporate Press Release dated October 20, 2009). What is exciting is that while much of the news on CSRwire is about corporate giving and cause marketing alliances (even Hooters is in the game: Hooters Makes $40,464 Donation to the MDA)24 a lot of it is about corporate action, too: steps taken to reduce a given footprint. It is also cross sector. The sampling above ranges from consumer packaged goods (CPG) to utilities, including both B2B and B2C markets. No matter how pessimistic or jaded you are, these are good things that are happening. Mostly, these take the shape of operational shifts like procurement practices toward more favorable labor practices, lighting retrofits, product redesign toward more sustainable ingredients and lifecycles, packaging and waste reduction, and physical plant re-engineering toward more efficient energy use or shifts to alternate energy sources. Cisco, for example, thanks to a new pilot program to rethink and engineer materials and size of packaging, will realize a savings of about
Hooters Corporate Press Release, November 13, 2009.
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$24 million.25 And, of course, for the companies making these changes, there is the promotion of all of it. And it is precisely the promotion that we as marketers should be most concerned with. Why can’t we marcom professionals make sweeping operational changes that result in a boon for our companies? We source FSC paper, select soy-based inks, reduce the number or size of printed catalogues, implement better database management practices, and send more e-newsletters. None of that, though, is really the stuff of sustainability, is it? And, all of that just offers more fuel to the customer as superficial changes that result in accusations of greenwashing. At best, it is obvious and expected. We only have ourselves to blame. As marketers, we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t. Few have navigated this “master of both worlds” mentality of intermingling with the sustainability nuts and the business geeks. Interface, Inc., designer and manufacturer of environmentally responsible modular carpet, comes to mind as one of the best at the integration of action and promotion. But it did this through a wholesale shift in business strategy toward sustainability. It took a spear in the chest and 25 Heimbuch, Jaymi. “Cisco Saving $24 Million With Packaging Diet.” Treehugger.com, March 11, 2010. www.treehugger.com/ files/2010/03/cisco-saves-over-24-million-with-packaging-diet. php?campaign=th_rss
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a heap of southern charm to make it happen for Interface. Apart from clear returns gained from process improvements, like Interface found, and reduced construction costs for smaller builders, like Walmart found, and cheaper operating costs through energy efficiency, like AKZO Nobel found, saving 90 million Euro in 2005 through efficiency steps, there are reputational advantages to a company promoting its sustainability efforts. Corporations are adept at finding and squeezing out value at every turn. So green marketing and reputation management have become a way to further compound savings (or offset the expenses) of sustainability.
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“Design won’t save the world. Go volunteer at a soup kitchen you pretentious fuck.” —Frank Chimero, rock-star designer1
Let’s be clear about something. Lots of companies do things that are More Than Promote-ish, sometimes in intentional, if not entirely authentic ways. They accomplish doing good and gaining exposure for it using a wide variety of marketing tactics. The good they do is what comes close to More Than Promote, not the exposure. In fact, most professional companies do some good these days, and the reasons why almost don’t even matter.
• • • • • • • •
Philanthropy Corporate Social Responsibility Cause Marketing Employee Volunteerism Emergency Relief Operational Footprint Reduction Promotion Community Outreach Issue Awareness and Education
To offer more clarity: Many corporations are already doing several of the things suggested by this book, and many 1 www.work.frankchimero.com
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have put it all together. And it is beautiful. They are mere steps away from reaping the financial, social, and cultural benefits of activating sustainability and social justice through their marketing campaigns. But the framing of More Than Promote is different than promoting the good things that have been accomplished or goals that have been set. And these frames are more cultural than professional. To understand the cultural framing, a backdrop to this concept of “green marketing” is offered. “Green Marketing” seems to be the mother (perhaps stepmother) of this new mode of, perhaps at the closest, “marketing about sustainability.” Green Marketing has gone through some quick evolutions recently. Exploring the moving definition of it presents an opportunity to examine how it has changed over the past decade, which provides perspective. Perspective gives us a vantage point to predict what is next, and futurists look backwards more than forward. Here are two equally accurate definitions of Green Marketing: Definition No. 1:
Marketing that minimizes the impact of itself.
This definition is the most literal. It is marketing that is aware of and works to reduce its own impact, and its life as a functional definition of the strategy was fairly short lived.
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The tools to implement this type of marketing are mostly relegated to the production manager and art director’s specifications. Soy inks, recycled content, FSC-certified papers, and size/weight characteristics are considered in this definition. Business cards and brochures displaying Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Printed with Soy Ink logos are the most visible manifestation of this. Strategies such as these are often the easiest to implement. They might currently cost a premium and take some specialized knowledge, but they are—in general—more along the lines of operational shifts toward lightening the environmental footprint of an organization. One would hardly claim that changing conventional light bulbs to compact fluorescents in the marketing department constitutes green marketing. Alas, making marketing less bad is not necessarily good for the environment. In fact, it may serve as permission for more sloppy marketing. Packaging (re)design has lately been a focus of many consumer-packaged-goods companies. Or, rather the promotion of packaging redesigns has become a focus. When Dwell Magazine promoted that it was implementing “green changes” and embracing sustainable publishing by switching to recycled content paper, soy inks, and trimming the size of the publica-
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tion from 9 inches to 8.375 inches,2 it was using this strategy to increase its green profile. In reaction to negative press surrounding the environmental impacts of bottled water, companies like Poland Springs have introduced a new plastic water bottle using “up to 30% less plastic” and the label is smaller too.3 Prominently promoted as the eco-shape® bottle, this redesign is a sister-act to this definition of green marketing. Product packaging is a specialized art form of marketing. It’s making the presentation of something more appealing or valuable. Obviously, it can also be used to make consumables appear greener. Lately this definition has received a new visibility in an entertaining way. Like all television channels, the American Broadcast Company (ABC) has anchored sustainability into some of its programming, and ABC News routinely runs segments designed to help viewers lower their carbon footprint. But when it came time to promote the return of the classic 1980s’ miniseries V, ABC could have heeded their own advice. The promotion was to include giant red “Vs” skywritten above U.S. landmarks such as the Statue of Liberty, Fenway 2 MetroHipper: “Dwell Magazine Embraces Sustainable Publishing.” http://metrohippie.com/dwell-magazine-embraces-sustainablepublishing/ December 11, 2007. 3 Poland Springs Corporate Website. “The Better Bottle for Your and Our Environment.” The Eco-Shape Bottle. January 18, 2010. www. polandspring.com/DoingOurPart/EcoShapeBottle.aspx
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Park, and Santa Monica Pier. Clever, except that the green media picked up on it and calculated the carbon footprint of the promotion. A Washington Post article titled, “ABC’s V is for vastly polluting PR stunt” got the scoop. Columnist Lisa de Moraes reported that the stunt would use “400 gallons of fuel containing maybe 800 grams of lead—aviation fuel is exempt from the EPA’s ban on lead—and around three tons of CO2, among other pollutants, if each ‘V’ outing took about one hour of flying time.”4 Arguably, ABC executives likely burn more than that in a week with air travel, but de Moraes makes an important connection when she points out that the network’s parent company (Disney Corp.), in its corporate responsibility report, said that it would cut carbon emissions from fuels in half by 2012. This comes as part of Disney’s goal to achieve net zero direct greenhouse emissions at its corporate office and retail complexes, theme parks, and cruise lines, because, as the company’s Senior Vice President of Environmental Affairs explained, “we thought it was important . . . to communicate a sense of commitment.” It appears that the noteworthy corporate commitment and dedication to reducing its environmental impact memo didn’t make it to the marketing department. But of course, it
4 de Moraes, Lisa. “ABC’s V is for Vastly Polluting PR Stunt.” The Washington Post Online. October 20, 2009. www.washingtonpost.com/ wp-dyn/content/article/2009/10/19/AR2009101903260.html
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did. The marketing department crafted the press release. It’s not a disconnection of communication. It’s a disconnection inherent in marketing itself. Marketing is the message, not the thing. This disconnect is part of the problem pointed to with this strategy. ABC wisely cancelled the campaign, not wanting the continued negative publicity surrounding the polluting promotion.5 This is noteworthy because rather than green watchdogs calling out a company on claims of falsifying green attributes, relatively mainstream press are calling out a company that is not even making a single green claim, but rather on the impact of the conventionally conceived marketing campaign itself. It would be one thing if ABC was promoting a green product with heavily polluting methodologies. We could see it earning a “greenwash” label were that the case. But it was not. ABC was simply promoting, and got caught with its pants around its ankles thanks to the popularity of transparency as a communications tactic. It wasn’t greenwashing. It was just dirty promotion. This is a turning point in marketing, where the environmental footprint of a promotion begins to weigh heavily on the product being promoted. Definition No. 2: Marketing that promotes environmentally beneficial aspects or attributes of a good,
5 I want to note that we’re not talking about crafting zero-footprint marketing. That is not the goal.
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product, or service.
This is by far the most widely used definition and the elements that most marketers understand and implement. That it is now taught in marketing courses is some indication of its accessibility and popularity as a concept. The tools needed to do this effectively are traditional, requiring the same special skill as conventional marketing. These tools include consumer segmentations (demographic and psychographic) and an understanding of green motivators, market research, and trend analyses. Over the past few years, research firms have been scrambling to publish authoritative texts and findings on the topic. With few exceptions, it is mostly new data. The Natural Marketing Institute (NMI) has an advantage over many research firms as it has been watching the green (or LOHAS) market for perhaps the longest. Since 1990, NMI has been tracking trends in the wellness community and has a wealth of data on the subject. But they are far from alone. Yankovich, Edelman, Mintel International, The Hartman Group, The Shelton Group, EarthSense, Landor Associates, BBMG, Porter Novelli, NPD Group, GfK Roper, Deloitte, Cone Inc., and others are publishing bookshelf discourse on what works and what doesnâ€™t to convince consumers to purchase green goods and services. Much of the research continues a trend started in the early 1990s that deploys data pointing to the percentage of Ameri-
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cans who are concerned with the environment. Researchers profile the psychographic and demographic makeup of green consumers, segment them into a variety of groups, and point to the motivating features of each group. It is up to the individual marketer to then translate these figures into market share, revenue potential, and ad campaigns. Lately, the research methods have become more specified, from documenting language patterns, ranking cause marketing, certification awareness versus effectiveness and monetizing reputation based on green aspects. The woman who literally wrote the book on green marketing,6 Jacquelyn Ottman, recommends segmenting the green consumer by his or her personal green interests. She segments green consumers into Resource Conservers, Health Fanatics, Animal Lovers, and Outdoor Enthusiasts. Porter Novelli calls the lot of them â€œGreenfluencersâ€? but segments them into Non, Light, Medium, and Dark Green. Roper says True-Blue Greens, Greenback Greens, Sprouts, Grousers, and Apathetics. Landor has used Not Green Interested, Green Interested, Green Motivated, and also Active Greens, Muted Greens, Green Motivated, Green Hypocrites, and Green Ignorants, Bright Greens, Green Motivateds, Fading Greens, Dull
6 Ottman, Jacquelyn A. Green Marketing: Opportunities for Innovation, New York, (BookSurge Publishing, 2005).
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Greens, and Greens. Hartman uses Radical Engagement, Sustained Optimism, Divine Faith, Cynical Pessimism, and Pragmatic Acceptance. NMI has stuck to LOHAS, Naturalites, Conventionals, Drifters, and Unconcerned. Each of these firms is branding the green segmentation in an effort to establish the authority over the information. Even if the data didn’t align with other studies (which it mostly does), they have to distance themselves from similar studies. It’s what agencies do. Joel Makower, founder and editor of GreenBiz.com, has his own segmentations: Committed, Conflicted, Confused, and Cynical.7 He admits to being a little bit of each one.8 And most consumers likely are also, depending on what day you ask what question and in what context. If you want to find a segmentation to support your strategy, you can. But that’s not unique to green marketing. The understanding supported by research that enables companies to “do green marketing” effectively is really no different than what is used to market more effectively to women, Baby Boomers, Hispanics, lesbians, or children. Sure, a deep cultural understanding, affinity, and authority of the subject
7 I’m a sucker for alliteration. 8 Makower, Joel. “The Many Shades of the Eco-LOHAS-Sustainable-Green Consumer.” May 28, 2007. Two Steps Forward. http://makower.typepad.com/joel_makower/2007/05/the_many_shades.html
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matter is vitally important in this kind of marketing, but, it’s a bit more of the same…tactically. Some are better than others. Some are more authentic than others. Some have better insight and methodologies. This kind of authority (really more a sense of “authorship” opposed to “authority”) is trumped when it is combined with authenticity on the part of the agency and the client equally. Some communication agencies have a great deal of authenticity and passion for the sustainability movement. And this translates into an intense dedication to the right ideals. This passion is translatable into real value. If you are authentic in your passion for sustainability and profitability, seek like-valued groups out. It is up to you to judge their abilities and dedication to the ideals; no one else. Still others are solely focused on the profitability side of green marketing and justify promoting alternative energy and clean coal with the same account service team. That is not their problem, though. It is yours. Both above definitions are important and correct. When combined, they make up a very solid marketing strategy (understanding, tactics in reverse logical order). And no matter your goal (sustainability, profitability, or both), these definitions will serve you well in selling product and perhaps even increasing the visibility of green as a concept. As marketers, we are working with two definitions from two angles. One comes from the materials of marketing (it minimizes the im-
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pact of marketing), and a second from the study of the psychologies of consumption (increased the purchase of green products). There is, of course, a third. Definition No. 3: Marketing that promotes and is also the very act of sustainability and social justice.
This is the way that the most authentic and leading sustainable corporations conduct their promotion. In fact, if you ask Gary Hirshberg9 about More Than Promote as a strategy, don’t expect to be enlightening him on anything new. It doesn’t faze him. And, Stonyfield doesn’t advertise (much). While now owned by Dannon Company, Inc., it still prefers more authentic edu-marketing. Mission, Hirshberg would say, is marketing and marketing is mission. Exactly. Ask Gregg Owsley, Vice President of Branding at New Belgium Brewing Co., about this strategic approach, and he might shrug. It’s nothing new. New Belgium has been doing it for years. In fact, its most popular promotion, the Tour de Fat, was conceived as a cultural project first, civic project second, and only after seeing the success of those two did they recognize that it was also good for the bottom line. Putting culture first has the distinct advantage of authenticity.
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The Tour de Fat is a bike carnival named after New Belgium’s signature beer, Fat Tire Amber Ale. It roams around the countryside gathering beer freaks and bike geeks in an effort to build community interest and citizen activism in support of bike-friendly communities and a culture of fun and action. At each Tour de Fat event one person trades his or her car for a bike. It has the cult following of a Dead show but with much, much better beer. Recently, New Belgium has started utilizing the popular events to assist in opening new distributorships. New Belgium Brewery has created a promotion that (1) supports local community bike efforts, (2) builds a strong culture that aligns with its own culture,10 and (3) is now supporting the corporate financial structure. Those are the three elements of More Than Promote: Corporate Value, Civic Value, and Cultural Value. Let’s look at the definition again because there is a subtlety to it that can go unnoticed. And, let’s drop the whole “green” thing at this point. The goal is not to create a new way to do Green Marketing, but to establish a new way to do marketing. That is our goal. Nothing shorter-sighted. Marketing that promotes and is also the very act
10 Which I can personally attest to, having slid down the slide behind the bar at its Fort Collins, CO headquarters.
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of sustainability and social justice.
It’s a fairly simple subtlety: Rather than promoting what you do as being part of sustainability and/or social justice, be sustainable and socially just as promotion. As marketers, this requires us to approach and architect promotion from a very different place. That place is not behind the desk or at the screen. It’s not in a boardroom. It’s tempting to say that it is from the street, from the punk side of town, where things are done fully and without compromise. But that’s not right either. Place, in this case, is not literal. It is perspective. If we can’t get into this new perspective, it will not work. As much as anything, this book is about that perspective. So let’s look at it another way. When architecting promotion, most marketers first consider the financial return on the promotion’s cost and effort. Some may look to minimize the environmental impact. Smart ones understand the consumer culture. That model fits nicely into the familiar paradigm of what marketing is. We can measure it with the old conventional tools. Here’s the path that traditional marketing takes to capture a new idea, such as sustainability and social justice.
Spot a Trend Already Happening Bottle Some of its Mojo Rub Some Mojo off on a Product Commercialize the Mojo so That it is No Longer Unique Find New Mojo
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Just as business is now focused on a triple bottom line, what if this mindset trickled down into marketing tactics? What if marketing initiatives absorbed the mindsetâ€™s new triple bottom line, too? And what if it could keep momentum (focus?) long enough to measure each of these as if they were equals? It would create a Triple ROI.11 Part of the game here is to entice consumers in a manner that they begin to expect, and then reward us for taking this approach. More Than Promote permits this acceptance and reward. This new model of marketing can be engineered and measured on the following returns:
1. Corporate Return on Investment. 2. Civic Return on Impact. 3. Cultural Return on Intent. CORPORate Return on Investment
11 I hesitate to make this claim, which is why it ends up in a footnote, but this approach might make greenwashing impossible.
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This is the measurement approach that marketers have analyzed and thirsted for forever. We look to engineer promotions that will return more value than they take to implement. This is the legend of John Wanamaker’s quote, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” It’s what makes the traceability of online media so appealing. It’s linear: Number of impressions. Cost per impression. Cost per click. Clicks per conversion. Bean counter marketers love online marketing. Of course, online marketing is effective in an online world and is perhaps measurable on a different scale than pure engagement marketing. And, further, that sentiment begs to define “engagement,” if we are talking about substantive change toward a more sustainable or just society. “Engagement,” in the scope of traditional return on investment, must be monetized. In the short term, we are looking at transactional relationships, such as acquisition and return created by the promotion. In the long term, we may be willing to stretch and measure customer life cycle (loyalty), and even something as seemingly transactionless as brand recall. Much of it depends on the width of your measurement window. How long are you willing to amortize the cost of the promotion? While new marketers might want to, we can’t mess with the concept of Return on Investment. We may want to because we are moving into a posttransactional world. We thirst to introduce the concept of a
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transactionless transaction as having financial value. It’s the virtual over the material. However, we can’t explore this concept yet, because you’ll never sell the approach of More Than Promote without it. So let’s leave it intact and move on. Suffice it to say that it is what many of us strive for to justify our careers—the financial return on a promotion.
CIVIC Return on Impact
For this return let’s now focus on the impact of the promotion on society (hyper-local, tribal, local, or global). What tangible, tactile good did the actual physical promotion do? This is formed out of the interest in architecting promotion that in and of itself has a literal and measurable positive impact on people and/or the planet. This is not a promotion that simply reduces its impact. It has an actual positive impact. Consider it “additionality” to repurpose a contentious term from the carbon offset space. It doesn’t have to do everything, just something. Civic Returns on Impact are measured in real units: tons of garbage, volunteer hours, mouths fed, blocks rehabilitated, lives saved. These units of measure should be based on issues of materiality for your own brands. • Tide’s Loads of Hope campaign cleans clothes for
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people impacted by natural disasters. Tide can measure its Return on Impact in loads of laundry washed, dried, and folded (30,000 or more to date). • Performance sports apparel company Atayne picks up litter along marathon races (measured in pounds of litter accumulated and diverted waste for endurance sporting events). • Timberland promotes its own branded blue-collar job search engine to help launch a new line of work boots (hopefully measured in number of employees placed). • Seventh Generation (profiled in “Tampons and Potholes”) wanted women talking more openly about menstruation as part of the on-boarding process into a new product line, so they gave boxes of tampons to women’s shelters in exchange for consumers starting the dialogue by sending a viral email (measure by 675,000 donations to shelters). Note that these are four very different civic impacts, but they share a commonality. They each solved a physical problem that was relevant to its brand and core customer base. These are examples of additionality through marketing. One subtlety to this return is that it is not about raising money. Money can do great things, and that’s what Cause Marketing does so effectively. Let’s not monkey with that for now. Instead of raising money to fund a community garden, More Than Promote plants the garden. You’ll find that it cre-
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ates more corporate value that way. That’s not to say that you don’t partner with an NGO who has the expertise to build the garden. But it means that you’re not directly asking your customers to fund it through you. Customers prefer you, the brand, do the work and not push it off onto them. They not only prefer it, but also will reward it. Cause Marketers are talking about a shift from “checkbook philanthropy” where corporations are footing the bill for projects completed by NGOs. There is a proposed new level of engagement (perhaps code for loyalty marketing). In many cases, consumers funding NGO projects through corporations have been called rationalized consumption. There is the beginning chatter among consumers that companies are simply sliding the bill for philanthropy over to the consumer side of the table. One example of a shift in this seems to be Pepsi’s Refresh project, which is a corporate-sponsored microfunded philanthropic campaign. In 2009, Pepsi shifted ad dollars away from traditional media to fund, as they say, “people, businesses, and non-profits with ideas that will have a positive impact.” Ending a 23-year run with television commercials during the Super Bowl, Pepsi instead moved its media onto more immediate online marketing and microfunding.12 It is a glimmer of marketing additionally, and marks a detour away from stan-
12 “Pepsi Turns Ad Focus Online.” ESPN. December 17, 2009. Retrieved February 18, 2010, from http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/news/ story?id=4751415,
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dard “portion of the proceeds to go…” to Cause Marketing promotions. Anyway, your customers can’t buy a cup of coffee, open a checking account, or rent a car without saving the world these days. In a sense, it’s effective, but not really working. The problems these types of promotions look to solve still exist. On this issue of engagement, Pepsi spokeswoman Nicole Bradley sums it up, “In 2010, each of our beverage brands has a strategy and marketing platform that will be less about a singular event and more about a movement.”13 Movement over moment is an interesting opportunity for marketers to create sustained, genuine civic impact. It’s true that Pepsi is “just funding” these civic enterprises. But what it has really created is a platform not to enable the consumer funding of civic enterprises, but the civic engagement around these enterprises. Cultural Return on Intent
Marketing can’t be held responsible for being culture change. At the top of our game, on our best day with a tail wind, we can influence culture. In fact, more often than not, marketing chases culture. That’s what demographic research is. That’s what trend spotting is—anticipating culture shifts and acting just before the Gladwellian tipping point. 13 Ibid.
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But let’s look at culture change and see what it requires before we dismiss our ability or responsibility to be involved in it from the point of view of promotion. One culture change we can give credit to promotion for is the weighting of “green” as a product attribute. A culture change was required to encourage consumers to consider sustainability as an evaluation criterion in the first place. Still, many claim that “the environment” is just another—often a representation of the “and”—attribute after all other attributes. So perhaps the culture change hasn’t been that great after all. Most products are functionally the same in the end, and it is the greener brand that creates the desire to purchase (even if that brand is navigated as “a good bargain”). Culture change arises from four conditions: • The belief in the underlying purpose—if people are asked to undertake actions that are inconsistent with their beliefs, they will suffer cognitive dissonance and discomfort. If it is part of their belief, they will happily renegotiate the creation of desire.14 This is the reason that consumer beliefs must be part of the strategic planning process. What do your customers have to believe to take the required action? 14 Let’s be real here for at least a second, I’m not talking about lighting oneself on fire for our beliefs, like Thích Quang Đuc’s selfimmolation. I’m talking about making different purchase choices. It’s a silly conversation at some points.
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• The need for positive reinforcement to be in tune with their behavior—people need some feedback that what they are doing is worthwhile and working. • The need to know what they can actually do—if people can’t translate the overall objectives into actions, then they won’t take the action. While true, this one is a slippery slope for marketers. It enables the “shop for a cause” mentality that perpetuates the ideology of consumerism as salvation. • Evidence and role models—people need to see that the people and/or organizations they respect take actions that are consistent with their objectives. Applying anything less than all four of these principles would be ineffective if culture change is a goal. This thing of culture change is particularly problematic for marketing. Advertising in particular, in its current form, is bad for culture and good for the economy. Advertising, in its essence is about generating desire. CocaCola wants us to “open a bottle of happiness.”15 Axe Body spray implies women will chase us, presumably in sexual conquest, when we smell better. Sunglasses make us popular. More than having a directive to sell product, advertising 15 This is interesting. Coca-Cola seems to be daring us to call the company out on this campaign to reveal that consumption of a caramel-flavored beverage does not, in fact, make us happy people.
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wants to create the desire. And, this is why we will never be happy. Let’s deconstruct Consumption, and in doing so, understand why “consumer” has become a bad word. More Than Promote turns consumerism into citizenship. Like culture change, consumption is also made up of four conditions: • Desire. The first step in consumption (and being a good consumer) is to have a desire for the product or service. This is the function of advertising— create the desire. In The Perverts’ Guide to Cinema, Slovenian philosopher Slovoj Zizek16 says that there is nothing natural or even spontaneous about desire. All desires are artificial. Promotion creates desire. More Than Promote attempts to break this paradigm by creating value. • Rationalization. The second step is rationalization; this is where we convince ourselves that we need the thing. It’s rationalization for a commodity that we play out equally for a bottle of designer water and for new cars. New cars are nearly always rationalized based on desire and not necessity. Let’s bring it home with an example from Ford Motor Company. Promoting its hybrid, Ford hired Kermit the Frog 16 Zizek uses examples from popular culture to explain the theories of Jacques Lacan. He uses Lacanian psychoanalysis, Hegelian philosophy, and Marxist economic criticism to interpret social phenomena like politics, revolution, and film. Don’t look to Zizek for answers; instead use him to frame a critique. www.thepervertsguide.com/
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to remind us that it is easy being green, by driving a car that gets 36 city miles per gallon. This is a ruse of course: teeing up a self-negotiation that allows us to rationalize the purchase with our neighbors and ourselves. That said, not all rationalizations are false. Sometimes we do need things. But rationalization almost always relies on a sense of conditionality, and marketing is great at distracting us into its own condition. Unfortunately, we try to fit everything into conditionality, so it almost always works.
• Opportunity. Next we need to create the opportunity for a transaction. The opportunity needs to continue the ploy of desire and enable the rationalization. That’s why shelf space, end-caps, signage, and point of purchase displays are critical. They keep the illusion of desire front and center. Opportunity leads to the transaction. • Satisfaction. Only once the transaction is complete—an exchange for value(s)—can we evaluate the trade. Did I get happiness from drinking Coke? If so, I will do it again. If not, I go back to Step 1. Imagine having to think through this intuitively as a marketer. If your product does not provide satisfaction (the promise, sometimes the brand) after the transaction, both now you and the consumer need to
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start all over again.17 Economists, specifically during the economic weirdturn, were looking for ways to strengthen the economy. They were hired to find the financial weak spots and shore them up as quickly as possible. Speed was an objective. The reality is that the business of creating desire is the single most important cultural aspect of our economy. When it is gone, economically we will fall mightily. A culture shift can mitigate this. But the point is that More Than Promote marketers as exemplified by companies like Stonyfield, Atayne, and New Belgium Brewing Company want to improve culture through promotion. This begs the question, How do we measure cultural improvement? Language is a great indicator of culture change…but let’s not get too ambitious. Let’s focus instead on measuring culture shifts. Change will come with cultural integrity. If our promotion can change the language of the culture, then (1) we can measure it, and (2) we can influence personal behaviors through certain language adoption principles. Madman Adman David Ogilvy understood that to convince a consumer segment to purchase something (even an idea), you needed to speak its language. “I don’t know the rules of grammar.... If you’re trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language, the language they use every day, the language 17
How does Taco Bell do it?
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in which they think. We try to write in the vernacular.”18 This is equally true if you want to change what they do. Give them new language. Let them own it. So when corporations look to measure Cultural Return on Intention, they use language modeling and usage trends. These can be reviewed and valued through traditional public relations measurement. Are the media and your customers adopting your language? So why is this stuff of cultural value relevant? Communication has always been used to inspire social change, to influence behavior. This is nothing new. But what we should be most concerned with is the language that is being shifted, not merely the immediate behavior. Behavior can change (and change back), but unless the language (the outer’s manifestation of the inner) also changes, we risk losing the behavior (more on this in the next chapter.) But there’s more to this cultural piece and looking at language. There’s a bonus. When done well, More Than Promote campaigns are on-brand. And when they are on-brand, they integrate “your” language. Imagine the power of culture shift occurring with the use of your brand’s own language? That is the stuff that transitions your brand into becoming cultural fabric over a cultural swatch, which, like paisley, can go out of fashion. It is heroic marketing. It’s been said that “No one who ‘Googles’ uses Yahoo.” 18 “David Ogilvy’s Timeless Rules for Advertising and Marketing,” Big How News. March 26, 2010. http://bighow.com/news/davidogilvys-timeless-rules-for-advertising-and-marketing
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THE PROMOTIONAL UTTERANCE AS ACTIVISM
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“The Spectacle is the ruling order’s non-stop discourse about itself. It’s a never ending monologue of self-praise.” —Guy Debord
Language is the physical overlapping of social change and marketing. It is the intersection, the lever, and the thing itself. In order to influence social change through marketing, we need to both look at and measure linguistic relevancy and shifts. Language is more relevant to substantive culture change than is color or iconography.1 Colors are important for surface-level inspiration, but actual transformation of cultural values is triggered (and can be monitored) through language. We can change the color of sustainability from green to blue if we want, and we may need to due to green fatigue among the mainstream, but a color change is a temporary marketing trick, not the true inherent change that is required. In short: People behave differently because of the language sets that they use. Much like language can be used as a divisive polemic, we can use this knowledge to influence culture change toward a deeper engagement with social justice or sustainability. We can also use this concept to inspire deeper cultural engagement with our brands. Ideally, for the company whose mission 1 It’s one reason that I prefer the term “citizen” to “consumer.” It is active, not passive. Consumers are cows; citizens are wolves. One example is the word “conservation,” which has been stripped from our language set and replaced by “efficiency” because it was a more positive expression of the concept. But, culturally, isn’t conservation what is needed? Conservation has become the new C-Word.
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involves the former, this strategic underpinning makes perfect a common synergy of linguistic strategy. Let’s look at Linguistic Relativity to gain a platform for this understanding. Linguistic Relativity (aka the SapirWhorf Hypothesis, named after two Yale anthropologists investigating languages’ influence on shaping the social reality of speakers) states that varying cultural concepts inherent in different languages affect the cognitive classification of the experienced world in such a way that speakers of different languages think and behave differently because of it. Or, fictionally, consider H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Unnamable,” which explores the idea of whether someone can conceptualize something that cannot be described (think the desire of an unknown taste). In the story, without the language to define the horror they have seen, the two characters resort to utterances: “It was everywhere—a gelatin—a slime—yet it had shapes, a thousand shapes of horror beyond all memory. There were eyes—and a blemish. It was the pit— the maelstrom—the ultimate abomination. Carter, it was the unnamable!”2 These utterances of a man gone mad remind me of modern advertising copy; vague, unstrung, and gasping. We will return to this again in The Cultural Necessity of Authenticity, but it warrants a quick look in this context as well. Are ads literal texts or textual literacy? Will a cereal 2 Joshi, S. T., H.P. Lovecraft: The Fiction (New York: Barnes & Noble, 2008), pp. 256–261.
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make me smarter? Will a phone service make me a better son? Ads use metaphor to create desire. This is why the concept of authentic advertising is such a riddle, if not an outright joke. And, conversely, it is also a great opportunity to inspire social change and brand loyalty through language. Whorf ’s theories are not without controversy. The interplay between physics and language not withstanding, on the note of language creating social context, I tend to agree. Language, he argued, “is not merely a reproducing instrument for voicing ideas, but rather, is itself the shaper of ideas.…” Copywriters can stop jumping up and down now. We’re not talking about ad copy. We’re talking about using the embodied energy of promotion to shift the cultural language toward deeper involvement in sustainability and social justice. What we have seen thus far in the history of marketing, promotion, and advertising is that these cultural inventions are at best a lubricant for business to happen; pig grease on the wheels of capitalism. Like much language, promotion is merely phatic anyway—it serves a social purpose but has no intrinsic value. When we greet our co-workers in the hallway and say, “Hi, how are you?” and they pass by and nod “Whasup?” we are engaging in phatic communication; completing a social contract and not transferring information in any meaningful value. “Thank you” and “You’re Welcome” unfortunately often fall into this category as well. They are obligatory, like half of Wannamaker’s marketing.
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Branding ads are typically very phatic. These are ads that are popularized and effective because of their creativity. They rarely have a call to action, but instead may be used to distract attention away from another campaign and toward another brand. Oftentimes, they limit copy or do not use copy at all. They may just show a logo as a sort of message sponsorship, as opposed to advertising a specific product.3 Phatic language, or for our purposes phatic marketing, requires minimal response. At best, we hope to create a memory to move the brand closer to transaction: certainly not an exchange of cultural value. It is a broken narrative. It busts and ignores the importance of call and response. And, as discussed, branding today is most effective when it is a dialogue between company and customer. Ultimately, developing a More Than Promote approach is a brand issue. At the apex, for our business value, it is meaning management. Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure represented meaning as an abstract mental concept that is expressed in material form through a “sound-image” (i.e., an utterance, a written word). Or, as “an outer expression of the inner.” Promotion, it seems, follows the same principle, creating a dance between the presentation of a Concept and the Signifier (that which 3 Branding ads serve a cross purpose of spinning David Ogilvy in his grave due to the lack of seasoned copy. This is the man who said, “There is no need for advertisements to look like advertisements. If you make them look like editorial pages, you will attract about 50 percent more readers.” Good luck with that in the land of 140-character attention spans.
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portrays the Concept). The two dance partners are spot-welded together, each evoking the recollection of the other, back and forth, back and forth. Meaning, then, is understood in the process of this dance. Or, it is not. More Than Promote is the dance, or at least the music to dance to. This dance requires multiple partners and trust. Russian theorist, Mikhail Bakhtin, introduces us to the concept of “heteroglossia”—a concept that refers to the fact that language represents socio-ideological conflicts. The heteroglossia is a combination of different “languages” (styles, voices) that are in constant interaction among themselves and in the larger framework of society. In a very tangible sense, modern promotion is a type of heteroglossia that explains modern culture. It is not, as Bakhtin used it, the discourse of the novel, but instead, the discourse of our times: many different “languages” discoursing over different time frames and on different platforms. In a sense, promotional messages are how we communicate. They are crafted, tested, retooled, and launched as a type of discourse. Brands are signs that signify an intended “us.” The advent of social networking has provided for a response to the call for transparency from our corporations. Political talking points and linguistic re-engineering are both common and anticipated these days. Frank Luntz and his company, Word Doctors, are the best known at crafting political messages. And the opposition cries fowl, but still can’t control the
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message. This is politics. This is promotion. Promotion offers the same tension; tensions between the truth, the message, the meaning, and the audience. As deplorable, obvious, and common as political messaging is, some people still swallow it whole. They may close their eyes and wince a bit, but they still swallow. Promotion is worse. It tastes good. There’s no wince. It supports our desire to consume—or perhaps our desire to be a consumer. It is an enabler of consumption. This is meaning making. Consumption becomes part of the meaning of our lives. Why else drive a Hummer? It gives you meaning. In fact, consumption gives you significance, it would appear. Bakhtin deconstructed significance, language, and meaning like this: …the linguistic significance of a given utterance is understood against the background of language, while its actual meaning is understood against the background of other concrete utterances on the same theme, a background made up of contradictory opinions, points of view, and value judgments—that is, precisely that background that, as we see, complicates the path of any word toward its object.4
The meaning of an utterance is confined by its lan-
4 Bakhtin, M. M. The Dialogic Imagination (Austin: Univiersity of Texas Press, 1981), p. 281.
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guage. The meaning is also navigated through contrasting and comparing the utterance to its proximity and distance to like utterances. Background, it can be read, complicates or reinforces the utterance. Promotion has become a background conversation, reinforcing a struggling culture. In promoting, this can be looked at as the very materiality of creativity. Often, “creative promotion” is a unique blend of divergence and relevance.5 It needs to be contextually relevant (to the receiver, or reader of the text of promotion) and at the same time divergent (from other messages or utterances) in order to stand out. This is a familiar point. Creative promotion needs to be both new and recognizable at the same time. Death to the cliché, for it has served its purpose. There is familiarity, but little progressive significance to the cliché (unless used as farce—more on this later). Significance, Bakhtin implied, is inert, sitting comfortable in abstract language. Meaning, however, is transitory and open to individual modification. This is the basis of reader response theory, and a marketer’s worst enemy. Our job as marketers is to dissolve reader response, to permit only one reading of a promotional text. And, of course, this is where we can succeed or fail. Meaning, he argued, cannot be apprehended as fully as
5 See a study on these concepts: Smith, Robert E., Chen, Jiemiao, & Yang, Xiaojing, “The Impact of Advertising Creativity on the Hierarchy of Effects.” Journal of Advertising, December 22, 2008.
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it can in an inter-communicative context. The promotional utterance has to create emotion (desire) in order for meaning to transcend the reader’s own context. The consumer receives meaning and understands it in whatever way his or her consciousness will allow. The argument: If marketing is to be more effective than ever before and create indelible meaning for consumers, for corporations, for civilization, it must make use of multiple interacting voices. This is a long way to get to the argument of the importance of dialogue in our marketing. Robert Plant said it quicker, “ ‘cause you know sometimes words have two meanings.” Here we need to raise the question of voice. What’s the voice of marketing? Who is speaking? The company? The company mimicking the consumer (as Ogilvy would have it)? The culture? Marketing, in this sense is a struggle for power— a failed dialogue even before it begins. The company is exerting this power to create desire. As it stands today, promotion does not really invite a return; save a transactional one. The consumer is attempting to control this transaction (reframing it into his or her own set of hierarchical needs). Consumers, specifically LOHAS ones, do not like being marketed to (so they claim). And stakeholders are constantly working to shape corporate governances in their own form. Look at recent re-
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jection of Starbucks recycling program.6 Who is controlling the dialogue? Whose voice do we hear through promotion? It is hard to know and good to understand. It can be argued that in the majority of traditional promotion, an authentic voice is impossible. Ad copy, visual clues, and iconography are not much more than promotional utterances—as they are currently used today. These utterances are present only in the sense that they present to themselves. They are their own context, and you are invited (required) to engage that presence on its terms. The voice of a brand in these utterances is the source of meaning (its own), and advertising is at best a debased signifier of democratic meaning. Advertising is not real dialogue, nor do conventional advertisers want it to be. There is no invitation to respond, in any other way than that which supports the corporate paradigm of “call to action.” Advertising, as a text to be read, constitutes an inner negotiation of meaning, but has no meaning unto itself.
6 Allison, Melissa. “Starbucks Shareholders Reject Recycling Initiative; Company Declares First Dividend.” The Seattle Times. March 25, 2010. http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/businesstechnology/2011432501_starbucks25.html?syndication=rss
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Jacques Derrida7 goes as far as to claim that all writing must imply the absence of a speaking voice. Not of voice— of speaking voice. That assertion conditionally precludes dialogue by any other means than a very transitory and detached call and response. On this stuff of dialogue versus monologue, Roland Barthe’s8 makes the theory clear. “One might call idyllic the communication which unites two partners sheltered from any ‘noise’. . . linked by a simple destination, a single thread. Narrative communication is not idyllic; its lines of destination are multiple, so that any message in it can be properly defined only if it is specified whence it comes and where it is going.”9 Narrative marketing is not idyllic. Meaning can be tortuously (re)constructed in seemingly infinite ways, depending on the medium it comes in. McLuhan understood this and went further; “the medium IS the message.” 7 A French cultural theorist, best known for his concept of Deconstruction. Deconstruction generally tries to demonstrate that any text is not a discrete whole but contains several irreconcilable and contradictory meanings; that any text therefore has more than one interpretation; that the text itself links these interpretations inextricably; that the incompatibility of these interpretations is irreducible; and thus that an interpretative reading cannot go beyond a certain point. 8 Yet another French theorist, perhaps best known for his essay “The Death of the Author,” which is credited with advancing structuralist thought. 9 Roland Barthes, S/Z, Hill and Wang, New York, 1970, p. 131.
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Advertising (print, TV, radio) is a medium of monologue. No civic response is expected or required (indeed, response is often frowned upon: It’s called consumer feedback). In fact, the chosen medium prohibits dialogue. It is a failed paradigm, but only if the intent behind it aligns with modern branding strategies including a slightly more Marxist approach to brand ownership. The average promotion narrates a crisis: spilt milk, lust, smelly clothes, gas-guzzling cars. The crisis is solvable by taking action and making choices. But only one action or choice is provided: The product is the answer. Ads express utopia through the presentation of the negative, a simple (simplistic) equation to solve the problem. It, seemingly, gives the consumer the power to solve his or her own problems. This is how climate crisis is presented today. We can solve it through consumption. Of course, as the various broadcast mediums weaken, so too does the above strategy. But what’s driving what? If IBM is right, it is the end of the medium, advertising, as we know it. (“as we know it” opens the door for More Than Promote). In its research of more than 2,400 consumers and feedback from 80 advertising executives worldwide, collected in conjunction with Bonn University’s Center for Evaluation and Methods, IBM predicted four shifts related to control over
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messaging.10 Control over the meaning of its message. Attention: Consumers are increasingly exercising control of how they view, interact with, and filter advertising in a multichannel world as they continue to shift their attention away from linear TV and adopt ad-skipping, ad-sharing, and ad-rating tools. The IBM survey suggests personal PC time now rivals TV time, with 71 percent of respondents using the Internet more than two hours per day for personal use, versus just 48 percent spending equivalent time watching television. Among the heaviest users, 19 percent spend six hours or more a day on the PC, versus just 9 percent who watch a similar amount of TV. More contextually, as @AlexSteed tweeted, “The reason Conan has less ratings than support is that his youth base doesn’t watch television ON television.” Creativity: Thanks to technology, the rising popularity of user-generated and peer-delivered content, and new ad revenue-sharing models, amateurs and semi- professionals are now creating lower-cost advertising content that is appealing to consumers. The same IBM survey suggests this trend will continue—user-generated content (UGC) sites were the top destination for viewing online video content, attracting 39 percent of respondents. Further, established players, like magazine publishers and broadcasters, are partnering with ad10 Battino, Bill, Berman, Saul J., et al. “The End of Advertising As We Know It” IBM Institute for Business Value Study. March 6, 2009.
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vertisers to develop strategic marketing campaigns taking on traditional agency functions and broadening creative roles. If true (and I don’t think it is), this is very bad news for traditional ad agencies. IBM argues that this UGC is as appealing to consumers as versions created by agencies. What does this mean for meaning management? A complete surrender to the consumer on behalf of the brand? In a sense, it is a Bhaktinian Carnivalesque mocking of the king as played by the fool. But, as IBM says, it is arguable. UGC cannot replace call-to-action promotion. But it certainly puts mainstream marketers’ and agency executives’ jobs at risk. Again, the door is left open for More Than Promote. But we have to be careful here too, because More Than Promote can’t become a hybridized compromise. On some level it must be teasingly tempting for agencies to create content that appears to be fan generated. This is an attempt to create both content and context. And it is a mistake. Using transparent promotion that does more than promote is the best strategy for that. Imagine the wildfire as news gets out that a company has positioned its own content as being generated by its customers. This is as applicable to YouTube fan videos as it is to Tweets. As sites and applications like Yelp, FindGreen, and 3rdWhale become the norm for getting found, it is only natural that a late-night marketing manager might post a few positive reviews. There’s legal precedence for this as well, as companies who have been caught
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are being hit with fines for false advertising. Lifestyle Lift, a cosmetic company, was fined $300,000 for posting false customer comments. New York’s Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said in a statement that Lifestyle Lift’s “attempt to generate business by duping consumers was cynical, manipulative and illegal.” Of course, it could have just been an overexcited late-night marketing manager, had it not been for the discovery of an email, telling employees to “devote the day to doing more postings on the Web as a satisfied client.”11 Travel sites are frequently called out on this tactic as hotel employees masquerade virtually has happy customers. What tools do industry experts offer to consumers to help navigate the land mines of false UGC? Arthur Frommer, founder of Frommer’s travel guides, suggests finding writeups by professionals whose judgments you trust and rely on that. He goes on to say that he would never rely on the judgment of amateurs. But in our culture of the amateur professional (blogger as reporter) this seems strikingly oversimplistic. It makes tautological sense coming from an expert, but it’s not much help in a marketing environment where, as a recent Nielsen report stated, over 70 percent of web users trust online reviews.12 This is reminiscent of the celebrity getting bad service 11 Miller, Claire Cain. “Company Settles Case of Reviews It Faked.” New York Times, July 14, 2009. 12 “Global Advertising: Consumers Trust Real Friends and Virtual Strangers the Most” Nielsen Wire. July 7, 2009. http://blog.nielsen.com/nielsenwire/consumer/global-advertisingconsumers-trust-real-friends-and-virtual-strangers-the-most/
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who proclaims, “Do you know who I am?” It is a matter of context and not content. And it is precisely that context that marketers are losing control over. Not that they ever owned the context, mind you, but at least it was a monologue. Today, more than ever before, marketers struggle to control the context of the meaning of their messages. And UGC, while a fun diversion, is potentially a poison apple. IBM’s third point of departure from current advertising is Measurement. It predicts that advertisers will become more demanding on individual-specific and involvement-based measurements, putting pressure on the traditional massmarket model. Two-thirds of the advertising executives IBM polled expect 20 percent of advertising revenue to shift from impression-based to impact-based formats within three years. What happens when access to information, transparency, and social media referrals create an atmosphere where impressions are devalued? We lose the impact of the impression. But impressions have always been for the impressionable. That’s the problem, by the way, with most media options: They create more inventories for impressions and cheapens the lot of them. So it becomes about impact, but not in a traditional creative use of the word. Impact: That’s the operative word for More Than Promote. And, while IBM is only focused on corporate sales return impact, we argue that the modern consumer needs to feel some of the love of impact, too. This is a two-way street. Cor-
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porations want promotion that has positive ROI. Consumers want promotion that has civic ROI. We should all aspire for promotion that has cultural ROI. A more interesting framing for this debate might be this: Is this the death of traditional advertising in the wake of new technology or the death of traditional advertising at the bow of an emerging conscious consumer? Either way…. The death of advertising is not a death of meaning— the brand essence that longevity and consistency build. Promotion as a text and as a marketing strategy still has the potential to create meaning. We simply need to consider a new way to architect the very thing of promotion. If we agree to some extent that corporate marketers are no longer brand managers, and that their job is now best accomplished by activating consumers themselves (jury is out on this by the way), then marketing messages become a plurality of voices. And, as Barthes reminds us, “the more plural the text, the less it is written before I read it...”13 Barthes was not talking intentionally about promotion. But he was talking specifically about meaning. And meaning is the holy grail of marketing. Ensure meaning and the brand is secure. Translating Barthes’ literary theorist jargon into marketing jargon, would look something like this: Promotion is the manufacturer of meaning. To engage with promotion from a consumer’s point of view is to find and accept this meaning. The meaning is bent (rationalized) 13
Roland Barthes, S/Z, Hill and Wang, New York, 1970,
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to adapt to beliefs and meanings already ingrained in the consumer’s perspective. It is a process of “coupling and decoupling” meaning. When we are able to add our own voice, we change the manufactured meaning. This cannot happen with traditional media.14 It can, however, happen with a new framework that is the answer to this question: In addition to promote, what more can my promotion do? According to one interpretation of Barthes, the consumer is not working to crack the meaning code of promotion. No, but in the ideal scenario, we work to understand (and shape) a multiplicity of voices, and codes, and possible meanings that are offered as visual and verbal clues to meaning—NOT the meaning itself. Answering the question above becomes an answer to what this or that promotion “means” and becomes a branding exercise as well as a potential solution to a problem. Barthes likened it to authors and readers dissolving as individuals in so much that they strike a partnership in the 14 I include social networks in this cadre of traditional media. The argument is set up in three stages: 1. The digital revolution, as marked by arrival of social media, has been seen as a democratizing tool both in sociopolitical confines, but also when it comes to brand ownership. 2. Sustainability, despite some ecohegemonic trends, will be best served by a democratized relationship (or power structure) between Corporation and Consumer. 3. BUT, social media networks promise only a false dialogic of the democratic. They ultimately may serve to reinforce the power paradigm. It is not new tools that are needed to “democratize” promotion; it is a new definition of the thing itself.
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process of making meaning. When the author (read as brand) provides a network of ideas and possible connections, the reader (read as consumer) must navigate this network and activate those associations best suited to his or her own creative desires. It sounds impossible. But by activating promotions that do more than promote, ones that solve real problems through collaboration and that bolster community dialogue, it is impossible to not create mutual meanings. Notably, in the course of this strategy, we develop a relationship with the consumer that is irrevocable.
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TAMPONS AND POTHOLES
“The sole purpose of business is service. The sole purpose of advertising is explaining the service which business renders.” —Leo Burnett
In some cases More The Promote strategies can work to activate civic and cultural value if they are off-brand. But in order to nail the trifecta (Corporate, Civic, and Cultural Value), making sure that they ooze brand identity is essential. Let’s look at two programs, each that could claim some More Than Promote bragging rights, but one that falls short from a brand perspective: Seventh Generation’s Tampontification campaign compared to KFC’s Refresh campaign.
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In 2006, Seventh Generation launched Tampontification.1 It was a viral marketing campaign/program (one of the interesting aspects of the More Than Promote strategy is that campaigns are hard to define as either campaigns or as programs) that asked consumers to click on a link or forward an email. When that simple act was done, Seventh Generation would donate a box of tampons to a women’s shelter. Apparently, social agencies routinely support shelters with necessities for other bodily functions, but the visit from Aunt Flow is so taboo that we not only fail to support it, but feel compelled to create cute euphemisms for it (see former). Here’s the email that started it all. No html. No heavy handed branding. In fact, the company name is only mentioned once. Subject: Tampontification You may have never thought of this, but women’s shelters in the U.S. go through thousands of tampons and pads monthly. Assistance agencies generally help with expenses of “everyday” necessities such as toilet paper, diapers, and clothing, but one of the most BASIC needs is overlooked—feminine hygiene products. (Who is at the helm of the funding assistance agencies anyway!?)
Seventh Generation, a green paper products and cleaning
products company, has a do-good attitude and will donate a 1
Tampontification.com now redirects to SeventhGeneration.com
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box of sanitary products to a women’s shelter in your chosen state—just for clicking the link. Talk about easy (literally takes less than 5 seconds and they ask nothing of you). And, yes, it is legitimate! http://www.tampontification.com/donate.php Thanks for helping out. Please pass this on.
The email was picked up on feminist websites like Feministing.com, socially responsible business sites like GOOD.com, social recommendation sites like Yelp.com, activation websites like Care2.com, along with Facebook and other social networks. More importantly, the campaign had so much emotion, importance, and what cultural theorists call “trace,” it spread virally via email. Quickly, smaller “mommy blog” sites connecting women to women around the globe helped spread the idea. If Twitter had been a viable option in 2006, this campaign would likely have had the same results in less than a quarter of the time. The mommy blogger phenomenon was gaining real momentum in 2006. By 2007, these bloggers became an online phenomenon. And by 2009 companies had started to connect tech-savvy writer-moms to female consumers spending $2 trillion a year on their families. According to recent statistics of mommy blogger outlets added to its media database, Ci-
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sion U.S. notes a 50 percent increase of mom blog additions between June 2008 and October 2009.2 Seventh Generation was at the right place at the right time. Providing a foundation for Tampontification’s success was the fact that mommy blogs didn’t only matter to the women who write and read them, but also to new media on a larger scale. Look at the corporate spin offs like NBC’s TODAYSMom.com (now defunct) as an example of mainstream media reaching into the playbook of the niche blogger and pulling content out. These major outlets increasingly look to smaller outlets for trends and authenticity. Rumors started flying that perhaps Tampontification was a hoax. And, culturally, when something reaches “too good to be true” (hoax status), it has arrived. “Too good to be true, but true” should be the goal of all marketers. Urban legend debunker, Snopes.com profiled the campaign and deemed it to be true. In this sense, the campaign itself became part Internet and company lore, challenging women to prove it real. It begged them to believe in itself. Its delivery was a simple viral email campaign. But it was the thematic, mystery, simplicity, and authentic “why” that kept it alive. As grassroots as the campiagn may have appeared, there’s some serious marketing going on here. The program wasn’t mere philanthropy. Look at the delivery of the tampons 2 Marevska, Anna. “The Mommy Blog Phenomenon.” Cision Navigator. October 29, 2009. www.cisiontweets.com/The_Mommy_ Blog_Phenomenon.aspx
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as engineered by Seventh Generation. Seventh Generation’s “Mission Fairies”3 delivered the tampons in a newly graphic wrapped Prius called the Tampon Mobile.4 It is a nice bit of transmedia, experiential brand promotion, and sampling. And it’s ok that it was marketing. In fact, that’s the point. Too often in the sustainability space, marketing and messaging are the problem. But it is not the problem. Nor is it, however, yet, part of the solution. Marketing that does good is good marketing. Measuring this campaign from a corporate perspective, let’s look first to web traffic. From the Seventh Generation Blog: …tampontification.com logged 131,181 visitors in a single day—that’s more visitors in one day than we get in two months on seventhgeneration.com. In one week’s time, hits topped out at 657,213 (compared to 21,409 visitors on seventhgeneration.com during the same time frame). By March 13th, donations had skyrocketed from 30,000 to 675,000--prompting more emails and calls to SVG requesting confirmation that the initiative wasn’t a hoax.5
3 Mission Fairies is a great bit of copywriting. It keeps the intent at the front and adds a bit of mythology to it. It recalls the buzz of the program. Fairies aren’t real, are they? Organic tampons aren’t real, are they? Look, there’s one there standing next to the hybrid. 4 It’s not lost that Tampon Mobiles assume a nicely feminine parallax to the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile. 5 “A Very Intense Period.” 7 Gen Blog. March 27, 2007. www. seventhgeneration.com/learn/blog/a_very_intense_period
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The response was overwhelmingly positive, forcing Seventh Generation to discontinue the program. It is not a social service agency, but it clearly has an ability to make a huge contribution to society, even through mere promotion. Treehugger.com reported on the campaign, focusing on the cultural aspects. It pulled out language from the campaign’s dictionary.6 Look at the language Seventh Generation uses: Let’s not beat around the bush here. People still pussyfoot around the “forbidden” subject of menstruation. Tampons and pads just don’t tend to surface in conversation at cocktail parties or tailgates or even at PTA meetings as often as we hope they might. That can make it really tough to get people talking about choosing safer alternatives to conventional feminine care products. We’d like to change that, so we’ve opted to go beyond the flow…7
They are challenging the conversation that our mothers’ mothers had about menstruation and bringing it to the modernity of cultural intellect; new conversations are arising. The mocking of out-dated dialogue is good for culture and 6 It’s actually unlikely that Tampontification had an actual campaign dictionary. They are rare. 7 Glover, Sami. “Tampontification: Seventh Generation Go ‘Beyond the Flow.’” Treehugger. April 24, 2007. www.treehugger.com/files/2007/04/tampontification.php,
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good for Seventh Generation’s business.8 They know that if you can’t talk about something, then your language is hobbled, and so is the likelihood of attracting a customer from a competitor. Divergence from the norm needs stimulus. In an open, honest discussion about tampons and their impact on health and the environment, the smart money is on Seventh Generation. Through promotion, it has broadened this campaign into this frank dialogue at letstalkperiod.com. And therein is the Cultural Return on Intention. And, while comments on Treehugger.com often touted the benefits of competitive and arguably environmentally better products such as the DivaCup, Mooncup, Keeper, or Luna Pads, there was a general consensus summed up by coraliebbluebus: I too am with the other girls, I use a Diva Cup and cloth pads that my mum made and I would not go back. It is so convenient and it is MUCH CHEAPER!!! I just wash the pads with my son’s cloth nappies.Simple.It’s time for this topic to be talked about, it is something that most women choose to ignore and it is a huge waste issue both with the products and the packaging. It is great that someone is “going beyond the flow” to get this out into the public arena. Well Done.9 8 I think that the mocking of green (parody and mimicry) is good for our culture too. It pushes us beyond the visual stimulation of a feel good color. 9 Grover, Sami, “Tampontification: Seventh Generation Go ‘Beyond the Flow.’” April 24, 2007. www.treehugger.com/files/2007/04/ tampontification.php
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The linguistic strategy that Seventh Generation have adopted is the same that Stephen Colbert employs to poke fun at the right wing. Parody. Playing with a parody of the discomfort of talking about periods; calling it out by exaggerating it, without beating around the bush. While classic parody tends to celebrate the very object that it ridicules, this kind of satire is using the form of the euphemism to exploit that the euphemism exists at all. It is a stunningly sophisticated (and simple) trick to exploit a weakness. And, it is way underutilized in marketing today. Parody is a kind of double-voiced discourse exemplifying the need for more genuine two-perspective dialogue. It provides a safe and hidden “counter”; in this case, about a culture afraid to openly engage in a conversation about menstruation. Tampontification, in short, is promotion that is not only culturally relevant, but culture changing (for the good of the culture and the good of the brand). In a woman-on-the-street video captured as part of the promotion, there is an opening of the dialogue that happens about tampon transparency, health, and feminine hygiene. CEO Jefferey Hollander even has videos on YouTube called Let’s Talk Period where he and his two daughters are discussing the benefits of the new product line. It doesn’t come off as necessarily exploitive either; it’s refreshingly innocent. The cultural elements that are at play (or risk) here for Seventh Generation are Health and Community. Both of
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these are integral to the Seventh Generation brand and are equally integral to the Tampontification promotion. The difference between program and promotion is perfectly bent here by Seventh Generation. Let’s look at another promotion that is clearly just that and not much more. It reeks of promotion because the company stretched its brand so far out of shape to fit it into a good idea for a good cause. That, and the fact that in press releases the company refers to it as part of its “A Pothole-Filling Advertising Legacy.” The Refresh Campaign launched in 2009 was one of KFC’s civil service promotions. It started with a letter to a few strategically selected mayors.
It is estimated that U.S. roads are riddled with more than 350 million potholes nationwide—that’s one for every man, woman and child in America! Because of long, harsh winters and heavy traffic, cities everywhere are left with more potholes than ever. Add in the fact that asphalt is an expensive product, and the cost of those repairs is higher than ever.
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Because of the financially tough times, many cities are delaying construction projects because they need to spend money patching these potholes instead. Some cities are even being forced to cut back on road services and maintenance crews. We at KFC understand that filling every one of these potholes is important and we’re here to help! In honor of our “Fresh Tastes Best” campaign, we want to come and Re-“Fresh” your roads! The Colonel and his crew are on a mission to help out America and sponsor your city’s “Fresh”ly repaired roads. Every patched pothole comes with the Colonel’s very own stamp of approval. KFC has been bringing communities together over buckets of chicken for more than 50 years. We invite you and your city to become a part of a new tradition and accept our offer to Re-“Fresh” your roads. Together, we can give your community a much needed break and help keep America moving. Sincerely, Roger Eaton,President of KFC10
KFC Corporate Press Release, March 25, 2009.
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KFC was looking for mayors to sanction KFC road crews to put their logos on city streets. Where once there was a hole, now there is valuable ad space.11 In return, the mayor got the potholes fixed by a professional crew and an actor dressed as Colonel Sanders. The campaign called “re-‘FRESH’ America’s Pothole Stricken Roadways” was a thinly veiled attempt at subvertising. It used the tool of culture-jamming (stencils and spray paint) in an attempt to appear authentic. Ultimately, it was a form of co-option—using another culture’s language to try to market to them. KFC fixed the potholes and then branded them using a stencil that read “Re-Freshed by KFC.” KFC stretched to connect filling potholes to its brand by stating that, “For more than half a century, KFC has ‘filled up’ its fans with the Colonel’s world famous, freshly prepared fried chicken.” The pun on “filled up” is horrid on so many 11 It’s a campaign eerily reminiscent of the Talking Heads song (nothing but) Flowers: Once there were parking lots Now It’s a peaceful oasis you got it, you got it This was a Pizza Hut Now It’s all covered with daisies you got it, you got it
David Byrne is a prophet.
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levels. Re-“fresh” is even more awkward given its association with re-heating. But the use of quotes around the word “Fresh” is our first clue. Quotes are typically a dead givaway that there is something more going on. Conversationally, the rabbit ears are used to visibly demark exaggeration or parody. Clearly, that is the case here as well. But they also use them to call attention to their operative word in a desperate attempt to connect their “fresh” food with the promotion. Anyway, no one says “re-fresh” a pothole, or even “fill up” a pothole. The phrase normally associated with repair is to “fill in” a pothole. Clearly, this was just a good deed and idea that they tried to shoehorn into an already clumsy brand. It’s so bad in fact they had to explain it step-by-step: “Today, in a marketing first, KFC is celebrating its continued dedication to freshness by launching a pilot infrastructure renewal program, becoming the first-ever corporate sponsor of ‘freshly filled up’ potholes in up to five major cities across the U.S.”12 First ever? Is that a good thing in this case? We shouldn’t ignore KFC’s concept of “infrastructure renewal program” and will return to its frightening implications shortly. KFC’s attempted play on words is specifically curious due to recent controversy in the United Kingdom. A KFC ad created by Bartle Bogle Hegarty implied that they use fresh food that was delivered daily to each franchise. The ad has been taken off-air by the Advertising Standards Authority, the 12
KFC Corporate Press Release, March 25, 2009.
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UK’s independent regulator of advertising to ensure that the ads are legal, decent, honest, and truthful.13 Of course, parody news source The Onion took it to its logical conclusion: “KFC’s claim that its fried offerings have ‘that taste you’ll just love to eat’ is in direct violation of federal regulations,” acting FCC chairman Michael Copps said. “The word ‘eat’ is legally permissible only in reference to substances appropriate for human consumption. Any implication that a consumer could or should ‘enjoy’ a KFC Crispy Strip fails to meet these standards, and presents an unlawful deception to consumers.”14
Javier Benito, Executive Vice President of Marketing and Food Innovation for KFC said that the program is a “perfect example of that rare and optimal occurrence when a company can creatively market itself and help local governments and everyday Americans across the country.”15 Optimal seems like a strong word here. KFC does not shy away or try to hide from the fact that this is marketing, not philanthropy, and while the honesty is, 13 Nymark, Hadassah. “Ad Regulator Bans KFC ‘Fresh Food’ Ad.” Campaign. July 15, 2009. 14 “KFC No Longer Permitted to Use Word ‘Eat’ in Advertisements.” The Onion, May 26, 2009. www.theonion.com/content/news/ kfc_no_longer_permitted_to_use 15 KFC Corporate Press Release, March 25, 2009.
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err…refreshing, it really doesn’t have a choice, so can’t get any credit for it. It’s too transparent to not call it what it is. But to be fair, KFC never claimed that this was anything more than a clever advertising stunt that also had some civic value. “Everyone could use a little help during these tough economic times and this initiative—like our commitment to provide affordable, freshly prepared chicken—is our way of carrying on Colonel Sanders’ legacy.”16 And while KFC works to cement this legacy by petitioning the U.S. Postal Service to create a postage stamp in honor of the Colonel, there is a forced narrative that it creates for itself. For each point KFC makes, it has to return us to the corollary brand attribute it is struggling to allude to. Even KFC’s Fill ‘Er Up For The Fourth promotion had a forced narrative. Look at the parenthetic reminder in the headline from the press release. “KFC Tops Off Gas Tanks (And Stomachs) This Holiday Weekend To Introduce The New KFC® $5 Fill-Up Box”17 Not surprisingly, KFC can’t help but plug a new product along the way. Its strategy is to do good and through the public attention given to the deed, use that created space to launch a product. Compare this to Tampontification’s barely there reference to Seventh Generation. Seventh Generation knows that it is better to be caught doing good than to broadcast it. 16 Ibid. 17 KFC Corporate Press Release, July 1, 2009.
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Continuing to look at language, more trouble arises for the Fill ‘er Up campaign, including filling up customers’ stomachs and “getting gas.” But this is not carried out tongue in cheek. Not even a wink. They try to pull it off straight-faced and it fails. It allows us to find the irony too easily. But of course, we are reminded in the press release, “Colonel Sanders was no stranger to the gas pump.” Benito points out that the Colonel perfected his secret blend of 11 herbs and spices, “in the small front room of a gas station.” Nothing says freshness like the front room of a gas station. The jokes come easily, but the point is that KFC struggles with promotion that is cause-related and well branded.18 Some mayors jumped at the offer to have their potholes filled. “Budgets are tight for cities across the country, and finding funding for needed road repairs is a continuing challenge,” said Louisville’s Mayor, Jerry Abramson. “It’s great to have a concerned corporation like KFC create innovative private/ public partnerships like this pothole refresh program.” Of course, KFC the Corporation has a deeper philanthropic side that this campaign belies. The critique is of the campaign, not the company. The Colonel Harland Sanders Trust and Colonel Harland Sanders Charitable Organization 18 KFC tries again with the Bucket for a Cure campaign (bucketforacure.com) as it raises money to help fight cancer, one giant bucket of chicken at a time. KFC seems to forget that obesity and cancer have been linked. The splash page even promotes its controversial Double Down product.
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continue to support charities and fund scholarships. Parent company Yum! Brands (parent of KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell) launched its World Hunger Relief campaign to help stop world hunger. According to Yum!, World Hunger Relief is the world’s largest private sector hunger relief effort, spanning 110 countries, 36,000 restaurants, and over one million employees, to raise awareness, volunteerism, and funds for the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and other hunger relief agencies. The effort that has raised $36 million for the World Food Programme and other hunger relief organizations is helping to provide approximately 160 million meals and save the lives of about four million people in remote corners of the world. Yum! and its brands have been fighting hunger for more than a decade by donating over $46 million of prepared food annually to the underprivileged in the United States. Since the company went public in 1997, it has donated more than $550 million of food to hunger relief agencies in the United States. Yum!’s civic philanthropy promotion brings its own materiality to the forefront in the 2009 Day of Closing Campaign (at noon, during the lunch rush) where KFC properties converted restaurants to “World Hunger Relief Kitchens” to raise money and awareness for the issue of global hunger. During the closure, employees of each closed store helped serve free Kentucky Grilled Chicken™ meals to hundreds of residents from area shelters.
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“While KFC feeds the hungry every day, closing restaurants is a bold step in helping to raise money and awareness of world hunger,” explained KFC President, Roger Eaton. Socioeconomic demographics aside, literally, yes, KFC feeds “the hungry” every day. But that really isn’t the implication of the statement. The “hungry” in Eaton’s statement implies a more marginalized “other” as opposed to hungry customers with some money looking to purchase a high-calorie, low-cost product. “From employees to customers, KFC is passionate about motivating and educating everyone who is in a position to help the more than one billion undernourished people in the world today.”19 In the end, the campaigning is the common occurrence of bad promotion as corporate philanthropy, or vice versa. No matter. There are a few hours of civic value and almost no cultural value. A more authentic promotion would have been to take on one of Yum!’s operational materiality points—packaging waste. Turn it into a promotional, civic, and cultural moment. A lot of the fast-food industry’s marketing impressions come from litter. Yum! was listed as one of the “Eleven Fast Food Junkies” by the Dogwood Alliance. A well-engineered promotion around its iconic bucket (although they are playing with “think beyond the bucket” concept for new packaging) could have a significant Triple ROI if framed wisely. 19 “Feeding hungry people everyday” reminds me of Soylent Green.
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KFC’s encore to the pothole promotion is reported to include a more permanent fixture: replacing fire hydrants and hoses for city fire departments. Of course, the KFC logo will appear on the hydrants themselves. It’s cleverly on-brand this time, however, as the ads will be bringing attention to KFC’s new Fiery Chicken Wings. Still, I imagine the language to be no less clichéd, but infinitely less forced. True to form, KFC misses some of the subtle opportunities by still framing it as promotion. From the corporate press release, To help cities pay for needed fire safety repairs and improvements during difficult economic times, KFC unveiled an advertising campaign to bring the brand’s iconic logo to neighborhood fire hydrants and fire extinguishers in public buildings. Designed to launch KFC’s new Fiery Grilled Wings, this first-of-its-kind advertising program supports the important issue of fire prevention and safety.” “With January being the peak month for residential fires, KFC wanted to raise awareness about this important issue and launch our new KFC Fiery Grilled Wings by supporting local fire departments nationwide,” said Javier Benito, Executive Vice President of Marketing and Food Innovation for KFC. “This unique marketing concept will help pay for new fire extinguishers and fire hydrants in
cities in exchange for branding the equipment with Fiery
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Grilled Wings logos.”20
There’s no arguing the civic value. The pilot campaign in Brazil, Indiana, included repairs to 85 fire hydrants that the city couldn’t afford due to budget constraints. Newly fixed hydrants branded with the KFC and Fiery Grilled Wings logos started dotting the city. From the corporate press release again about the civic/ corporate partnership with our nation’s fire departments: “We are always looking for outside-the-bucket marketing ideas,” Benito added. “Much like our “re-Freshed by KFC” pothole repair program that promoted our fresh chicken, this partnership was tailor-made for our new Fiery Grilled Wings.” “New Fiery Grilled Wing lovers take note: If you play with fire then KFC’s new Fiery Grilled Wings are for you! These wings are slow grilled to seal in the juicy, fiery heat and marinated in a unique blend of chili peppers and covered in flavorful spices for a delicious, one-of-a-kind flavor. This meaty, bone-in wing will make you ‘UnThink’ the way you think about wings.”
I wonder how the nation’s fire departments feel about promotional copy alluding to fire bugs who like playing with 20
KFC Corporate Press Release, January 6, 2010.
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fire? KFC’s approach to civic engagement through promotion is both painful and fun to watch. In effect, this kind of promotion is tantamount to sponsoring venues, like Gillette Stadium, Applebee’s Park, Coors Field, or PetCo Park. These perform some social context value (the sponsoring and therefore enabling of space), but are clearly corporate purchases to secure impressions. Some of these examples are providing services that the government might normally be responsible for (hygiene products to women’s shelters, filling of potholes, feeding the hungry, working municipal safety equipment). It’s kind of like Marxism without the middleman of the government redistributing corporate wealth to social services, a voluntary capitalistic socialism, if you will. But this doesn’t address the issue of the “sponsored lives” concept that can be troublesome. How far do we want civic sponsoring to go? Our football stadiums are fine. But what about our high schools? Of course, Nike and Gatorade and snacks are already sponsoring our school system. What if Target sponsored social studies texts? How about a Fuji municipal water system? Within the spectacle, there is no such thing as a public option. Public options are just opportunities for sponsorship that have not been monetized yet. Of course, this is already happening. Let’s face it. We are all corporate-sponsored creatures.
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From birth, our lives are “brought to you by” something. Ian MacKaye, frontman for the punk band Fugazzi, sums it up. “I am, of course, disgusted by mass marketing to children. You can imagine my horror when I discovered that it’s virtually impossible to buy a diaper—which is essentially a shit bag— without a goddamn corporate cartoon figure on it. It’s deeply disturbing.”21 Clothes, cars, computers, they are all extensions of our personal brands; a slippery slope to some odd breed of corporate sponsored socialism. As defined by Marx and Engles, socialism was where everyone would share on the benefits of an industrialized society. KFC provides road crew maintenance; Seventh Generation provides tampons. They are distributing social services, much like a political socialist system would. Let’s return to KFC’s concept of its advertising being, “an infrastructure renewal program.” It sounds remarkably like a government program that Fox News would call part of a socialist agenda. Perhaps this offers us a distinction. Which is better, government-run socialism or corporate-run socialism? A single system of power (the government or the corporation) providing social services is a close definition of communism. So the impact of some Cause-Related Marketing pro-
21 Dapier, Jarrett & Gantz, Jeremy. “The Margin Walker.” In These Times, December 5, 2008. http://inthesetimes.com/article/4073/ the_margin_walker
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viding social services where the current system fails us culturally is both a bountiful thing and a cultural moment of a ruling class trying to maintain its hegemony. Neither, it seems, is a model system. What happens, for instance, when next year the fire department does not include hydrant maintenance in the budget because KFC has it covered? And then, when KFC changes its marketing strategy? Speaking of a model system to provide more services to more people, Zizek claims we need to invent some totally new form of collective activity that will be neither market nor state bureaucracy. Cultural hegemony, the concept originated by Italian political theorist Antonio Gramsci, states that a culturally diverse society can be ruled or dominated by one of its social classes. This is the way our current culture is. The ideas of the ruling class are seen to become the norm, with a set of seemingly universal ideologies driving the culture. There is an inherent political argument in the concept, but for our purposes, we will stay focused on the cultural aspect manifested through marketing. In the hegemony, these universal ideologies are perceived to benefit everyone while only really benefiting the ruling class. In many cases, our cultural hegemony is driven by the spectacle portrayed by Hollywood. Using pop culture (and popular sub-cultures) as a lens to study, say, sustainability, is a
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very effective analysis tool.22 A culture’s ideologies and direction are clearly revealed in the manufactured realities of films and advertising (micro-films). Consider the Corporation as a kind of Celebrity. Never mind the charismatic CEOs as the corporate rock stars these days. This is about the entirety of the company. People emulate companies, dress like them, and listen to them. Having a Mac is like having a piece of that celebrity. Of course, celebrities are also corporations spinning off perfumes, sneakers, and consumables. And, moreover, they are engaging in Cause Marketing. We see that the distinctions between Corporation and Celebrity are really very few from a marketing perspective. As Bob Sugar said in Jerry Maguire, “It’s not show friends, it’s show business.” Studying culture through entertainment lenses reveals an interesting perspective on a kind of ecohegemony23 that is “happening to” our culture. In the Ecohegemon, we begin to see a perverted view of ecology and justice. The ideology of the ruling class here is part of the “go green, make green” narrative. It permits the “alternative energy as a business opportunity” dialogue. It supports the spectacle of going green without culture change. I contend this is impossible.
22 See studies using lenses ranging from zombies, fashion, punk rock, super heroes, Zen, and other cultural creations at www.thesoapgroup.com 23 Read more on this concept at www.ecohegemony.com
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But this is the way it is, not the way it is going to be. In the next stage of the Ecohegemon, the ruling class dynamics will shift. Consumption will no longer be the preferred way to go green or be socially responsible. Once the savings from lighting retrofits and the 10-year payback on solar arrays have come and gone, for sustainability to be sustainable, we will need to strip the ideological power away from the current purveyors and claim a new ideology, not of anti-consumption, mind you, but of a kind of consumption that is in line with a new approach to living an authentic life. Zizek challenges Debord and puts our current state like this, “ecology is a new opium for the masses.”24 The opportunity is to view promotion as the linchpin in fostering the new ecohegemony. We can be the point on the fulcrum that enables a continued control of promoting consumption as the solution to climate change, a way of life, and the way to happiness—or we can use it to assist sustainability in becoming the cultural norm.
24 Zizek, Slavoj. “Censorship Today: Violence, or Ecology as a New Opium for the Masses” www.lacan.com/zizecology1.htm
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STANDING ON THE SHOULDERS OF GIANTS
“There was once a town in the heart of America where all life seemed to live in harmony with its surroundings.” —Rachel Carson in Silent Spring
More Than Promote is a blend of marketing and the act of sustainability or social justice. It is neither and both: a Minotaur of marketing. Yet it has very American roots. The United States is in its third century of discovery when it comes to integrating a lust for unbridled growth with the physical relativities of the same. Since 1776, we have been expanding. We are an ongoing experiment in the downsides of capitalism in real-time. The popular green spark for the debate over this side of capitalism was Carson’s Silent Spring, that manuscript that, if
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absolutely nothing else, drew our attention to the realities of capitalism and growth unchecked. Throughout the decades that followed that rally cry, corporations have started at varying degrees (and to varying degrees of success) with responsible corporate citizenship. Leaders claimed their positions—Patagonia, Ben and Jerry’s, Whole Foods, Stonyfield, Clif Bar, Interface, Inc., and Seventh Generation have become cultural icons of blending business with a focus on minimizing the negative civic and environmental impact. Lately, Nike is changing its reputation for labor practices and environmental degradation. Walmart is another leopard changing its spots and, as CEO Lee Scott said, “what started as a PR campaign has become religion.”1 Ultimately, very few companies have successfully integrated marketing and sustainability, but a lot are trying. Marketing and sustainability are still often contradictory attitudes. As the tactical elements of promotion begin to change and morph, marketers can now take a look at the opportunity to also change the intention behind promotion and bring these two oppositional forces together. As they grow closer, exciting things start to happen. As part of the convergence, look at the “Design for Good” movement. It uses product design (better, smarter, 1 According to Gandhi, “God has no religion,” and to some Walmart is the prototype of hubris.
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greener) as a tool to save lives and improve life. Project H Design is a product and idea design studio that “connects the power of design to the people who need it most, and the places where it can make a real and lasting difference.”2 Founder Emily Pilloton has congealed a wise collection of designers, architects, and builders who are focused on developing localized partnerships to design products that solve problems. And most importantly, they share a common belief: Design can change the world. They build projects around a five-tenet design process:
1. 2. 3. 4. 5.
There is no design without action. Design WITH, not FOR. Document, share, and measure. Start locally and scale globally. Design systems, not stuff.
Here’s the cool part. Project H makes sure what it does provides simple and effective design solutions for those without access to creative capital—without creative capital. That is a design constraint for the twenty-first century. Also uniquely modern is its willingness to share its experiences in an open community. And, it is churning out both physical and social design by, as they say, engineering the 2
www.projecthdesign.org, April 10, 2010.
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product out of product design. This approach comes on at the bleeding edge of a culture starting to play with the concept of ownership and the verge of printable products. Author Seth Godin puts it this way in his new e-book Ideavirus, “We don’t make things anymore, we make ideas.” In their book Cradle to Cradle, architects William McDonough and Michael Braungart paint a picture where consumers no longer buy washing machines, but instead purchase thousands of rinse cycles. When the product breaks down, it returns to the manufacturer (ultimately, this is a return to our discussion of “who is responsible?”). Under that paradigm, two things are likely to happen: Items will last longer, and they may reach the goal of being infinitely recyclable. Nothing will go to waste. Right now, manufacturers are putting a lot of pressure on their customers to do the sustainable thing. That is the structured power of the relationship. It’s akin to the “you touched it last” argument of an 8-year-old, a dangerous game of hot potato. Some companies are establishing processes to take back, but because of the transactional paradigm, the responsibility is still on the consumer. This does let the consumer off the hook. It is just an observation of the current system that we as marketers should be willing to rethink. Look at how eBay has framed the expectation of their customers. Consumers are prompted to “choose to reuse and we will pro-
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tect an acre of forest (plus be entered to win $10,000).”1 What if we don’t? What will eBay do? Nothing. The pressure is, once again, on the consumer. Project H is pioneering design from more than a consumer-centric methodology. It is looking at community needs throughout the process. A rubric can be created for marketing to begin to think in this way also. This shift is interesting as we start to look at marketing from multiple directions at once. From a community needs perspective, we may see that our target audience (some call it tribal, but it is really just community) has a need, and we can fill that need at the same time we bring them out media messages. Ultimately for the Design for Good movement and Project H, it’s a shift from form following function to impact following beliefs. Much like More Than Promote, it is not just taking old tools (design in this case) and appropriating them for good. That is not the solution, but that’s 90 percent of what passes for innovation these days. Project H and others are making new rules and tools. They are deconstructing intent. Let’s look at an abbreviated version of the (anti)manifesto that Pilloton published in 2007.2
1 www.ebaygreenteam.com, April 10, 2010. 2 To invest in Project H, go to: http://projecthdesign.org/donate. html also read Pilloton’s book, Design Revolution: 100 Products that Empower People. It’s a compendium of and call-to-action for product design for social impact.
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Taking the “product” out of product design. We need to stop making things and start making impact.
Project H is playing with the concept of not only design, but in designing the consumption of ideas, values, and impact. Learning from Appro-Tech. When we rely on on-site, local assembly and materials, the design that goes into it is less material-driven and more results-driven.
Local is the becoming the new green in energy, food and design. When this fully happens our cities will need to be redesigned and “community” will mean something very nonvirtual. The who of it. Design, it has been argued, is only as good as its clients. By shifting the client, they’ve been able to shift the nature of design. “Let’s design for every person we’d never expect to have as a client at our drawing table–squatters living on $2 a day, the growing number of millions of people suffering from HIV/AIDS, post-disaster victims, the homeless, the handicapped, inner city children, prisoners, and more.
Here Pilloton is also playing with the concept of client.
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“Let’s recognize that clients do not mean ‘the people who are paying us,’ but rather ‘the people whom we are serving.’” That single point gets to the heart of the concept of a transactionless transaction. Getting over going green. Designing things to be environmentally friendly is progress, but not the destination. It’s still just designing stuff. The (anti)manifesto calls for the term “green design” to be vanquished in 5 years (2012)—not because design will no longer be green, but because it won’t need to be called out as a value add or as a particular distinction; all design will be green design.
The power of ubiquity to change markets and create change has never been clearer. We should operate with “green marketing” using the same expiration date. Design as the new microloan. The success of the microloan is compelling: by bridging first- and third- world economies, a $100 investment changes a life. That $100 might be a night out on the town to a New Yorker, but to a farmer in central Uganda, it’s a life-changing business loan. What the microloan really provides is the capital to enable future prosperity and self-sufficiency. Design can provide that same capital–in the form of tools that bring efficiency, productivity, and yes, even wealth. If we as designers make wealth our end goal (not our own wealth, but the
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wealth of our clients and users), we become designers of capital instead of designers of things.
Conceptually, Yahoo’s “You In?” campaign where it gave 300 people $100 to “do good with” is kind of an example. Pepsi’s Refresh Project, an online cause marketing campaign that allows Pepsi customers to vote on how the beverage giant should allocate its grant monies, is another example of how corporate America puts this concept to action. Still, they both seem to miss the bigger point that companies can do more than redirect funds toward good ideas. They can change the way they do things to begin with. Activism over academics. Let’s teach passion and collaboration instead of fashion and egocentric indulgence. Let’s make activism a design asset, putting aesthetics in the back seat for a while.
It’s this kind of statement that got Pilloton listed on sustainabilitypunks.com. Individual value shifts. We each have to make the decision to reevaluate our priorities, and to wake up to the social impact of our design choices. This means considering clients wisely, communicating the societal ramifications of design to them when they become our clients, and sometimes sacrificing profits to increase social well-being.
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Considering clients wisely is an interesting concept, and an important one. Unfortunately, there will always be academic designers working for passions less than ideal. But they and their clients will get what they deserve—nonsubstantial design.3 Putting the “H” in design. The H in Project H Design refers to “Product design initiatives for Humanity, Habitats, Health, and Happiness.” But you’ll notice that Humanity comes first.
Shelter, water, health, transportation, education, energy. These are the concerns of the modern-day product designer. In the past, it was about consumptive convenience and profit—how else to explain “disposable” as a positive adjective in marketing’s historic lexicon? Not surprisingly, these words are the primary issues of materiality for sustainability reporting too. Look at the work of Dr. Paul Pollack, the driving force behind Design for the Other 90%, a nonprofit design collaborative working to shift the balance of power offered by the design community toward a more equal distribution. As Dr. Pollack says, “The majority of the world’s designers focus all their efforts on developing products and services exclusively
3 I’m defining “substantial” not on the quality of the design itself, but on the impact on corporate, civic, and cultural realities.
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for the richest 10% of the world’s customers. Nothing less than a revolution in design is needed to reach the other 90%.”4 Kathleen Hanna, lead singer of the punk band Bikini Kill, sees the value in revolution as a very normal part of the process in giant social progress. “I’m more into revolution and radicalism and changing the whole structure. What I’m into is making the world different for me to live in.” For Pollack, Hanna, and Pilloton, it is very personal. And it is a wholesale approach to using the tool, whether that tool is Human Centric Design, a ‘zine, or a hippo-roller to carry water. Pollack has marginalized 10 percent by designing for the majority. This “Other” gets sustainably harvested bamboo floors, net zero passive solar design houses, folding bicycles, fair trade chocolate, Green MBAs, algae jet fuel, and vegan couture. And, if unhappyhipsters.com5 and the Four Nobel Truths are to believe, they also get sadder in their consumption of modernity. None of the advantages presented by the design of more sustainable goods are bad, but they do not solve problems. In fact, one could argue that they perpetuate the problem of consumption as a way of life. But we can’t tackle that just yet. And yes, some technologies are being spun out of product innovation and open sourced for others to use. But what we need is the intention to solve problems, 4 http://other90.cooperhewitt.org/ February 18, 2010. 5 Hipsters making fun of hipsters is a new cultural occupation— but that’s what hipsters do best, so eventually they had to turn on themselves.
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not the happy coincidence.6 This isn’t just for NGOs, like Project H or Pollack’s International Development Enterprise (IDE). For example, IDEO, a global for-profit design consultancy, is perhaps the most popular example of reframing tools for the betterment of society. Its Human Centered Design Tool Kit (HCD) was funded by IDE as part of a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and in collaboration with nonprofit groups ICRW and Heifer International.7 The product design community argues that there is a role for technology (and product design) to help solve poverty. Why is this not also true for marketing itself ? If its tool is innovative product design, ours is promotion not of the idea, but the ideas as promotion. Let’s inch closer to it. What if it wasn’t technology that was going to save us? What if it was just an idea that we had to rely on? What if that idea was a delicious pie? Jon Bielenberg’s ProjectM:ThinkWrong is a loose group of designers, writers, photographers, and videographers8 brought together from around the world to challenge the conventions of design and think wrong about how their talents 6 I sound like an anti-capitalist. But I love the promotion of positive products; I just happen to think there is a better way. And, of course, there are many truths. 7 I like the concept of NGOs and grant-funded for-profit models for the shear novelty of it. 8 www.GoodFocus.net
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can be used for the greater good. ProjectM has engaged in projects all over the world, from Maine to Costa Rica, and Alabama to Iceland, most recently in Detroit. When ProjectM wants to do engage in community development in the rural south, it doesnâ€™t take a traditional path. It does it with pie. Strikingly simple in concept and beautiful in execution, ProjectMâ€™s mathematical proof went something like this: PIE + CONVERSATION = IDEAS IDEAS + DESIGN = POSITIVE CHANGE. The anticipated results of PieLab are small business development, community revitalization, and continued civic engagement. Through PieLab, a small business incubator, ProjectM will train potential and local entrepreneurs, while a community design center will provide design services for local small businesses and individuals who otherwise would not have access. Initially, PieLab results will be measured in pie sales and PieLab product development, sold both online and instore. This assessment will eventually expand to include the number of businesses opened and developed, along with profitability statistics through each.9 While this is not a More Than Promote because there 9 To invest in PieLab, go to www.kickstarter.com/projects/795396878/pielab or send to PieLab c/o HERO, 1120 Main Street, Greensboro, AL 36744.
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is no brand or product being marketed, it hits the Civic and Cultural criteria square in the nose. When ProjectM wants to confront a more urban community, it brings horseshoes. Not for good luck, but to build community. Within two weeks, the ProjectM crew surveyed and built a permanent horseshoe pit—a place, again, for the community to gather. Some have argued, quite humorously, that Detroit “doesn’t need any more designers and creatives to ‘swoop in on bicycles’ and save Detroit from it’s ‘post-industrial predicament.’”10 Two weeks, they argue, is not enough time to understand the complexities of urban living. And, to some extent they are right, and this points to some of the internal complexities of pulling off a More Than Promote for any company or organization. This is subtle science. It’s a new set of both lenses and muscles that need to be exercised to get it done. Whether it was Martin Mull or Elvis Costello who said, “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture,” the parallels in that popular quote are seen between marketing and sustainability as well. When architecting these promotions,11 the intrusionfactor of a corporation can be very real if poorly conceived, like designers on bikes saving Detroit. The corporation risks 10 http://spirit3design.com/pixelgawker/2009/10/05/not-fromhere/ 11 It’s noted that ProjectM is not a promotion, but more of a very creative community engagement platform, which may be more important in the long run.
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the perception of hubris. More Than Promotes are infinitely more effective when they are completed with humility. As the ProjectM website claims, “We are part of a design movement. We believe that ability equals responsibility. And we are not the only ones. So, we built a lab where designers like you can make a difference. We are building the tools that will build the future.” Saul Griffith, a scientist, product designer, and data geek, talks about “heirloom design” as a critical part of sustainability. He claims that when his son is old enough, he will bequeath him a Montblanc pen and a Rolex watch. He will then tell him that this will be the only pen and watch he will ever need.12 Imagine for a moment, creating heirloom marketing. Marketing that lasts forever, is perpetual, and has deep meaningful value for the consumer. Some may argue that that’s what a brand is. But a brand is not the act sustainability or social justice. Back to language. “Disposable” was once the money shot of marketing and product design language. Not as popular as “free” but it was a powerful word. Razors, Dixie cups, diapers, utensils, batteries, Ziplock® baggies… “disposable” was touted as a technologic invention of luxury convenience.13 What Griffith is talking about in the concept of heirloom design is 12 Compostmodern presentation, February 21, 2009. 13 Contextually, it begs us to ask the question “What was disposable displacing?” Durability? It marks the most depressing moment in marketing history.
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enduring intrinsic value for the consumer—about designing things that last. What do these “things,” these designed commodities, have in common, and which of those commonalities can we transplant into marketing? Much of what passes for marketing today is the equivalent of factory-farmed cow. Ideas, like beef, taste better and have more value than force-fed marketing by-products like so many stock photos, trite headlines, and exhausted metaphors. Heirlooms increase in value over time. And, also like feedlot cattle, speed and size, increasing at the same rate, is rarely a methodology for sustainable anything. Slow Food. Slow Money. Now, perhaps, Slow Marketing. Young and Rubicam’s Chief Insights Officer, John Gerzema, writes on his blog, “The Brand Bubble,” about this phenomenon: “Marketing is particularly at risk of falling prey to the cult of speed. Let’s adopt this technology, let’s change this message, let’s hit the quarterly numbers with a massive ad spend.”14 He refers to it as Tactical Attention Deficit Disorder. Here’s his rubric for Slow Marketing.
14 John Gerzema, “Slow Marketing,” November 3, 2009. Thebrandbubble.com/blog
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Return to the beginning: Return to your roots and remind yourself of what the original problem was that started you down the path of creating this product or service. Americans are entrepreneurs in mind if not always in action. The story of how a product is created and the problem it set out to solve matters and resonates. Tell that story. Feedback is everything: Success is a matter of pattern recognition. If your business is selling to a customer, seeing their [sic] participation behavior is essential to building and supporting your relationship with that consumer. You cannot internalize your marketing, in fact you must externalize everything. Embed feedback in your product, your marketing and your management organization so that you have the richest stream of customer data. While it may seem like we’re in a fast moving constantly changing world, if you can see the deeper, slower moving underlying trends and position against those, your probabilities of long-term success are much greater. Value and Values: In pursuit of the material at core, consumers see through pretense to the performance. Things have to work. Emotion attracts, rationality sells. Call it “defending your life,” but purchases need reasons or you’re not seen as a smart consumer. Déclassé Consumption: The appearance of spending recklessly is passé. Pretense is out, prudence is in: It’s stylish to exercise restraint and even to bargain in order to appear as a smart consumer.
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Flea market capitalism: A capitalism based on personality, uniqueness, provenance and storytelling, where the product is connected to the producer/seller and the transaction forms a relationship. Increasingly this manifests in a local manner, where artisanal products are valued for being local and steeped in narrative, building value into their meaning. Moving from consumer to customer is at the heart of Flea Market Capitalism.
But does this concept of Slow Marketing reflect the new marketing paradigms? Perhaps authentic marketing is a bit slower than inauthentic marketing (recall Debord’s Spectacle and commodity fetish). In comparison, look at the Principles of Slow Money15 as defined by the Slow Money Alliance. 1. We must bring money back down to earth. 2. There is such a thing as money that is too fast, companies that are too big, finance that is too complex. 3. The 20th Century Economy was an economy of buy low/sell high and wealth now/philanthropy later. 4. We must learn to invest as if food, farms and fertility mattered. 5. Let us celebrate a new generation of entrepreneurs, consumers and investors who are showing a way from “making a killing” to “making a living.” 15 “Slow Money Principles” May 10, 2010. http://org2.democracyinaction.org/o/6351/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=1637
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If you want, you can re-read the principles substituting “promote” for the operative financial terms. It should by now feel pretty familiar. This idea of playing with time in marketing is underserved as well. Zizek reminds activists that one of revolutionist’s roles should not be to push history in the right direction, but to disrupt it. Instead of a new movement that supports a current trajectory, perhaps we need to be building promotion that interrupts the “present predominant movement.”16 Furthermore, Zizek points out that accomplishing a revolution involves a switch in perspective, in this case of time. Instead of trying to influence the future by acting in the present, he argues that we should start from the assumption that the dreaded catastrophic event—such as sudden climate catastrophe, has already happened and then work backwards to figure out what we should have done. With the right client, this is an interesting approach to campaign development. It’s the ultimate leap-frog strategy. Micah White, a contributing editor at Adbusters, places Zizek’s comments on activism into the framing of culture jamming, and thus promotion of The Other. Activism now faces the dilemma of how to walk the line between false hope and pessimistic resignation. It is no 16 Zizek, Slavoj, First as Tragedy, Then as Farce London/New York Verso, 2009.
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longer tenable to hold the nostalgic belief that educating the population, recycling and composting and advocating for “green capitalism” will save us from the brink. Likewise, it is difficult to muster the courage to act when the collapse of civilization seems unavoidable, imminent and, in our most misanthropic moments, potentially desirable. Zizek’s shift in temporality offers us a way to balance the paralyzing realization that our demise is inevitable with the motivating belief that we can change our destiny. By accepting that we are doomed, we free ourselves to break from normalcy and act with the revolutionary fervor needed to achieve the impossible.17
Slow Marketing is a great concept and it is linked to More Than Promote in several ways that create both consumer content and cultural context for a promotion to exist. In a sense, the space that More Than Promote requires to exist in is the very space it creates. This is meaning management. If we grow our own marketing in the rich, healthy soil of community, then two things are guaranteed:
1. The promotion creates meaning for the customer. 2. The promotion itself becomes a badge.
Another big agency voice, Rory Sutherland, Vice
17 Revolutionary Time Averting disaster means accepting its inevitability. January 28, 2010. www.adbusters.org/blogs/blackspot-blog/ revolutionary-time.htm
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Chairman of Ogilvy Group, is witty, personable, and perhaps correct when he points out that, “Advertising adds value to a product by changing our perception, rather than the product itself.”18 Sutherland makes the daring assertion that a change in perceived value can be just as satisfying as what we consider “real” value—and his conclusion has interesting consequences for how we look at life. This idea is among the most dangerous ever presented for sustainability, culture, and the future of marketing. This single concept could cripple our culture. But he’s right. When marketers stop at adding only perceived value to products, we may succeed at marketing, but we are failures of sustainability. For some that will be ok. However, through the very act of promotion (advertising in Sutherland’s case), we can actually create real value—not product value, likely brand value, but definitely not cultural value through the act of promotion. From an agency perspective, Sutherland’s point is pure gold because consumers will always catch on that their perceptions have been manipulated. So, according to Sutherland, the agency (not the company, mind you, or the product or meaningful cultural values) must invent some new value to stick on (or cling to). Authors Dan and Chip Heath put it like this, “The com-
18 Sutherland, Rory, TED Conference October, 2009. www.ted. com/talks/lang/eng/rory_sutherland_life_lessons_from_an_ad_man. html
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panies who mean it are building assets that can’t be easily replicated. Meanwhile, other brands may rack up quick wins with clever stick-on ad campaigns. But, inevitably, that moustache will peel off.” The Heath brothers, however, are part of the “triple bottom line” mindset evolution, moving us from, “companies that do good to do better financially” to “companies that do good and mean it do better financially.” As marketers, we have an opportunity to fall in line. In many cases you may even be responsible for leading.19 While Sutherland’s biography claims that he develops campaigns that blur the line between ad and entertainment, a more modern challenge is that all marketers can do the same; except that it will be through blurring the line between ad and sustainability. But let’s face it: Most advertising is designed to “give permission” to the consumer to buy it—that’s the perception Sutherland creates more or better permissions for the consumption. It is also the major fault that is found in a lot of so-called green marketing. It still supports the “consumption as a way of life” and “shop our way out of trouble” paradigms that prop up much of capitalism today. As we have witnessed over the past few years, this old model of competition is broken. We used to be able to com19 Heath, Dan and Chip, “Why Market Your Company with StickOn Emotion, When You Can Tap the Real Thing” October, 2009. www.fastcompany.com/magazine/139/made-to-stick-an-arms-raceof-goodness.html
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pete on oneupmanship: Fast vs. Faster. Fruity vs. Fruitier. Red vs. Redder. This model does not work on a linear line; it is unsustainable—like annual growth of 15 percent forever as if we were operating on an edgeless, frictionless plane. So, as a result, companies invent new attributes. In a sense, this is what is going on with green marketing. It has become a game of green vs. greener. Which is not a bad thing, mind you, until it ends. So what if authenticity was a value to be communicated? No one can be more me than me. Here’s where it gets unapologetically political: Capitalism, unchecked, succeeds only at the game of capitalism. What if we created new promotions that consumers requested, even bid for the opportunity to partake in? What if the promotion was as valuable, or even more so than the product itself ? Carry it to the extreme and the product becomes a souvenir of the promotion. Let’s take a cue from these entrepreneurial programs like Project H, ProjectM, and IDEO and apply the same principles to marketing. They are using design to create enduring civic and cultural value. We can use marketing and promotion to do the same. It has been argued that some brands have enduring value. But this enduring value comes at a tremendous marketing expense designed to remind us, sometimes hourly, of this value. A lot of branding, it seems, is like a kid in the corner screaming, “Remember me! Remember me!” With the average
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American exposed to 3,000 marketing messages a day, marketers have few options to break through the clutter and clamor or caterwaul. Here are the options:
• We can become louder (create a greater sense of disruption, advertise more with more money). • We can find new markets (diversify by creating new products or flavors of the same product). • We can advertise to more people and play the transactions game. • We can go deeper, quieter, and create real meaning for our customers. When the latter is accomplished, we will advertise less, save money, find new markets, inspire voluntary loyalty (as opposed to Pavlovian rewards), and attract more customers. It starts (and maybe ends) with creating more specific meaning through our promotions for our core customers. Marketing, for our purposes, needs to become a more social act of cumulative value, piling on top of existing value en masse. One current prerequisite for branding enduring value of commodity products (nearly the entire Consumer Packaged Goods portfolio) is a war chest of money. But successful branding can be the result of two strategies. It can be purchased or earned. Both work. One takes money; the other takes time and commitment. “Remember me” is as expensive as it
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is annoying. Some brands have been successful by not marketing their value, but by having value as their marketing—intrinsic value. Tom’s Shoes for example. But enduring? It has yet to prove to be enduring. Still, at the core Tom’s Shoes is a social cause to sell shoes. The mission is embedded. For every pair of shoes consumers buy, a pair is given to someone in a developing nation that doesn’t have shoes. The business model becomes the action and the marketing. Intrinsic value baked into the DNA of the product.20 This DNA is so valuable in fact that brands spending their way to become enduring, such as AT&T, are willing to spotlight them in commercials. In this case, it was AT&T’s ad agency (hired to keep shouting “Remember me!”) that brought Tom’s to AT&T. The documentary style spot is authentic and true to both brands. It is great marketing on both companies’ behalf. AT&T grabbed some halo as being a tool that enables Tom’s successful fulfillment of its mission. But it’s Tom’s Shoes internal value in the business model that makes it possible. Every time Tom’s does a shoe-drop, it is activating its brand, the business model, and improving the world. But that it is not marketing. It’s just business. So how does marketing for a company that is perhaps not as awesome or seemingly pure as Tom’s Shoes fit into this paradigm? 20
Fighting (and losing) the urge to make the soul/sole pun.
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Well, one graphic designer stands out as a provocateur that has inspired much of the approach to this strategy: Tibor Kalman. Kalman provides a unique opportunity for us to look at creative approaches to creating cultural dialogue via marketing and communication. When Kalman was running the creative show at clothing manufacturer and retailer United Colors of Benetton, he wasn’t interested in selling rugby shirts to shirtless people who don’t play rugby anyway. Benetton’s print ad campaigns were a classic example of promotion that culturally did more than promote. The main strategy was controversy. But not necessarily “look at me” controversy,21 it was controversy to make you think.22 One Benetton ad had an African American woman in a beautiful purple sweater. Her face had been made up to look like she had been beaten, with the purple shade of her bruises matching perfectly with the accessorizing sweater. The campaign was raising awareness of domestic violence. These shock ads became signature conversation starter for Kalman and Benetton. Another ad shows three human hearts set against a white antiseptic background. Labels read White, Black, Yellow. The United Colors of Benetton, indeed. Founder of United Colors of Benetton, Luciano Benetton has said of the controversial advertisements that “The 21 22
Like Lady Gaga’s wardrobe. Like Rage Against the Machine lyrics.
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purpose of advertising is not to sell more. It’s to do with institutional publicity, whose aim is to communicate the company’s values.…We need to convey a single strong image, which can be shared anywhere in the world.” Co-founder Oliviero Toscani, claimed, “I am not here to sell pullovers, but to promote an image.” These are progressive comments on advertising. An advertisement’s job, as being responsible for communicating a company’s value, begs for a solution like More Than Promote—for those whose brand is not built on shock and awe. Moreover, Kalman was one of the first designers to engage other designers in a dialogue about environmental responsibility. In 1989, at the American Institute of Graphic Artists “Dangerous Ideas” conference in San Antonio, he urged designers to question the effects of their work on the environment and refuse to accept any client’s product at face value. Tibor was a vocal critic of promotion that sold out to corporate capitalism. His ad work for Benetton would have gotten him fired by 99 percent of the clients out there. Perhaps his dismissal would have been justified for “not selling enough product,” but according to his bosses, that was not the design challenge. According to Steven Heller, Art Director at The New York Times, “Tibor saw himself as a social activist for whom graphic design was a means of achieving two ends: good design and social responsibility. Good design, which he defined as ‘unexpected and untried’ added more interest, and was thus
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a benefit, to everyday life. Second, since graphic design is mass communication, Tibor believed it should be used to increase public awareness of a variety of social issues.”23 In the 1980s Kenneth Cole and Ben & Jerry’s devoted advertising and packaging space to promote social and environmental causes. They were followed by Stonyfield yogurt lids and then the (Red) campaign. Benetton’s high-concept advertising ultimately became the magazine Colors, for which Tibor became Editor-In-Chief where he continued to reject fashion magazine clichés in favor of sociopolitical issues. But before joining the magazine, Kalman ran the show at M&Co, one of the most well-respected creative agencies in the world. Look at how M&Co handled its own self-promotion. One Christmas it sent their clients a cardboard box filled with a sandwich, crackers, and a candy bar. Kalman called his clients’ attention to the fact that this was the fare at most homeless shelters and offered to match any donations that the recipients made to an organization for the homeless. The following year he sent a book peppered with facts about poverty along with $20 and a stamped envelope addressed to another charity. Mostly, modern companies take a different approach. They sell products to support a social cause—this often falls 23 Heller, Steven, “Tibor Kalman, ‘Bad Boy’ of Graphic Design, 49, Dies.” New York Times, May 5, 1999. www.nytimes.com/1999/05/05/ arts/tibor-kalman-bad-boy-of-graphic-design-49-dies.html
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under the conventional model of Cause Marketing. The difference in these strategies is subtle and important. Cause Marketing: Marketing that sponsors the doing of good things. More Than Promote: Doing good things that promote.
Subtle and important. And the positive deviants profiled here (as people and business models) are cutting a path that inspires More Than Promote. Cause Marketing is also a point of inspiration and a stepping-stone that enables More Than Promote. In today’s big brand marketing plans, you’re dammed if you don’t have a Cause Marketing alliance figured out. Sometimes you’re damned if you do. Sometimes, these Cause Marketing opportunities are created by external and sudden factors. American corporations and consumers donated more than $560 million to 40 U.S. nonprofit groups in the 17 days following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy.24 Seventeen days. That’s more than BoxTops For Education 24 Preston, Caroline and Wallace, Nicole, “Donations to Help Haiti Exceed $560-Million as of January 29 “ The Chronicle of Philanthropy, January 29, 2010. http://philanthropy.com/article/Donations-toHelp-Haiti-Exceed/63824/
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has risen for U.S. schools in ten years. The outpouring from companies and consumers, arguably not in a charitable mood during the economic slump, was immense and unplanned. It could hardly be called Cause Marketing. It was more like sudden philanthropy. Again, recalling Zizek, we react to irrefutable crisis. In a cold analysis, perhaps it was a case of crisis as therapy, a common catalyst these days for getting things done at all. Crisis is an all-too-popular text in today’s culture. Zombie movies are always referential to the apocalypse or post-apocalypse. From Mad Max to Water World to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, the promise of the apocalypse—the crisis—moves us to action. And each time we flirt with it, getting closer and closer, playing chicken with it. Crisis relief is why we do things. Or, as Tibetan monk Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo said, “suffering pulls people up.” But whether the Haiti issue was Cause Marketing or Crisis Relief, maybe the result was the same. Corporations sent out press releases announcing their good deeds, some altered print, radio, and TV spots to shine a light on their charitable side. Perhaps, ultimately, it was Cause Marketing after all, just not as proactive as one might prefer. Important and impressive nonetheless. What’s interesting is that the promotion of the philanthropy ended up being the promotion of the crisis, creating more relief. Dan Pallotta, author of Uncharitable: How Restraints on
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Nonprofits Undermine Their Potential, said that the U.S. reaction to the earthquake in Haiti was a lesson in marketing. Therein lies its relationship to More Than Promote. The reason we gave so much was that we were hearing about it.25 That and micro donations via texting gave teenagers the ability to tack $10 onto their parentsâ€™ phone bill. But visibility was counted at the top for why money raised for Haiti was raised so quickly. And the corporate and consumer outpouring of sympathy and goods and cash was a huge part of that noise. These actions continued to feed the media machine, holding our attention for one more day of giving. And one more day of giving introduced a new news item. The money, Pallotta, argues, funded the media. Ordinarily, we would never let a humanitarian organization spend that much on media. What an interesting spin on the old problem of not knowing there is a problem. The solution (financial aid) was the marketing itself (media attention). Why canâ€™t we do the same with an ecologic or social justice issue on a daily basis? Because we are given to give in the face of emergency. Giving is important. Cause Marketing is important. We need it. We need strong corporate and nonprofit partnerships. But Cause Marketing and the newly claimed space of Cause
25 Pallotta, Dan, Harvard Business Review blog, February 3, 2010. http://blogs.hbr.org/pallotta/2010/02/haiti-is-a-marketing-lesson. html
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Branding are not sustainability. They can fund sustainability, but they are not sustainability. That is a delicate but important distinction in this book: Funding sustainability is important, but it is not sustainability. Angela M. Eikenberry, Assistant Professor at the School of Public Administration, University of Nebraska at Omaha, in her article “The Hidden Cost of Cause Marketing,” observes some of the downsides of Cause Marketing. Calling it Consumption Philanthropy, Eikenberry and colleagues argue some of the negative effects of Cause Marketing. It presents only a short-term fix, they claim. But that, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. Of course, we need solutions for today and tomorrow. Downcycling is a short-term fix to the problem of over consumption. Upcycling is a mid-term solution. Culture change toward less consumption en masse is a long-term solution. So short-term solutions are important. Let’s look at the impact, as defined by Eikenberry et al.:
• Corporations enjoy higher sales and wider publicity for their products and services, improve their image with consumers, expand their markets, and boost employee morale. • Charities gain legitimacy in the marketplace, generate revenues, attract volunteers, raise awareness of their cause, and receive extensive publicity. • Consumers benefit by getting additional information about a charity or cause, as well as a
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convenient way to spend their disposable income on charitable causes. What’s not to love about all of that? Nothing, if the problem you are trying to solve is underconsumption. Eikenberry reminds us that “relying on consumers to right the world’s wrongs fails because most consumers are not very interested in or capable of righting the world’s wrongs.”26 Most Cause Marketing takes place during individual transactions, and Eikeberry claims that this distracts its participants from real problems and solution. Not coincidentally, this also serves the corporate purpose of permitting the transaction. Corporations have defined Cause Marketing, made it in its own image as it were. But what if individual transactions are the most that consumers are willing to do? Without the culture change, perhaps transactional progress is the most we can expect. Eikenberry’s argument seems to be that we need the right action now, today, without delay. Transactions may be revealed as poor substitute for actions. There is a dominant line of thought shared by the business community— the power and stability of the economic market as evidenced by sales will right the ship (economies and ecologies). That, it seems, is the problem. This is Bush43 26 Eikenberry, Angela M., “The Hidden Cost of Cause Marketing.” Stanford Social Innovation Review, Summer 2009.
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at his finest hour—Keep Calm and Carry On Shopping. Capitalism got us into this mess; it can get us out. Seems like there’s an Einstein quote floating around the Internet about solving problems with the same thinking that got us into it that contradicts this line of thinking. Shopping reinforces the structure that capitalism requires to exist. Oscar Wilde was known for his distaste and distrust of philanthropy in obtuse ways. But his underlying argument was that philanthropy recreates again and again the very problem it tries to solve. He didn’t buy into philanthropic capitalism. They don’t mix, he argued. The transaction, as an act of advocacy or activism, Cause Marketing promises (although not out loud) apparently can end recessions, climate crisis, poverty and AIDS.27 It provides just the exact solutions we want. That, after all, is how we “solve” many problems. By consuming. Any Buddhist or psychologist will tell you, it’s not that easy. We want it to be. But it is not. This is what fundraising experts Kay Sprinkel Grace and Alan Wendroff are talking about when they suggest that nonprofit fundraisers move away from a transactional model of giving and toward a transformational model of giving, whose “focus is on the impact of the gift and the renewing relationship, not just on the transaction.”28 27 Corporations often may claims that their campaign can end cancer, but Cause Marketing as a strategy does not make that claim. 28 Grace, Kay Sprinkel, & Wendroff, Alan, High Impact Philanthropy. John Wiley & Sons, 2000.
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But then again, this transactional model did pretty well for Haiti. Hard questions are important. Perhaps at one end of the Hegelian pendulum, Cause Marketing is a ruse—Gauze Marketing used to distract consumers from a negative impact. At the other, it is the answer to many problems. Referring to Samantha King’s book Pink Ribbons, Inc., Eikenberry describes the paradox of some (few) pink ribbon products. In short, she claims that cancer-causing products are being marketed with cancer-ending cause campaigns. For example: the $6 SpongeBob Pink Pants toy logo’d to help fight cancer that likely creates the toxins and other environmental hazards that are linked to causing cancer. Or, more recently, look at KFC’s Pink Bucket campaign raising money for the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation. It tends to neglect the fact that obesity and cancer have been linked. And, while these are just a few examples to prove a strawman’s point, there is a real sense that the transactional moment of Cause Marketing is a poor replacement for love of humankind. It sets up a sense of false accomplishment. It’s hard to claim that consumption is the problem when you are presenting consumption as the solution. That is the Cause Marketer’s dilemma. This is not to suggest the destruction of Capitalism or Cause Marketing. Far from it. Capitalism and Causes should be equals. So why not a form of promotion that can provide some additional qualities while we go through our times of
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culture change to not less but more meaningful consumption? Walmart’s efforts, for example, are some of the most noteworthy actions toward sustainability today.29 But if it wanted to really have an impact, it might stop convincing people they need more to be happy. That Key Performance Indicator never shows up in its Sustainability Report. Since Walmart keeps a low advertising profile for its sustainability initiatives, keeping on brand with “Save Money. Live Better.,” its core demographic likely doesn’t know and maybe doesn’t care what it does as long as it keeps rolling back those prices. That said, Walmart still seems to have a tough time shaking the bad mojo of “sprawlmart” and “Low Wages, Always” with the Lifestyles of Health and Sustainably crowd; even knowing all of the amazing things that Walmart is accomplishing… but. But let’s be honest, Cause Marketing is more than transactions, not trans-transactions, but it’s not just transactions. It educates, encourages participation, shines a light, and provides many other tangible and intangible benefits. But the chosen vehicle is monetary transactions. And it is the vehicle of promotion that More Than Promote is concerned with. That’s a key distinction. And from a marketing strategy standpoint, the problem with any campaign is that it can be bested. Why not put that 29 There’s almost always a “but” in this argument. It must drive Walmart crazy given all it has accomplished.
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competition to work for humanity? As an example, any Cause Branding effort can be thwarted by better Cause Branding. Buy Less Crap (www.buylesscrap) is a clever play on the (Red) campaign. This brand claims to be the world’s first open-source brand. But then, all brands may currently be opened-sourced. Looking to buy a car, Google it and see what thousands of other people think about that car. Maybe brands are more crowd-sourced than open-sourced. But, for Buy Less Crap, when you put the (<) mark on something you already own, you commit to three principles:
1. Exploring the beauty of less in your own life. 2. Doing more for others. 3. No money changing hands around the use of the (<) mark. They aspire to have (<) become an internationally recognizable symbol, like a peace sign, but for a new generation grappling with sustainability. This is a fringe anti-shopping movement at best. And, perhaps, so is/was green. Clever, but you’ll never see <Walmart, at least in the context described above. It is anti-capitalistic, and that doesn’t fly during times of economic distress. Which, perhaps, leads us into the sticky argument of this kind of “Marxist Marketing” (Marxeting if you will) as it has been called. The tradi-
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tional Marxist distaste for commerce appears to have some value here. But isn’t that what Word-of-Mouth Marketing is? Social media? Aren’t technology and Twitter the great democratizers, ironically created by commerce itself, and being utilized (if not marketed) as a platform so that all voices are (theoretically, but not literally) equal? Aren’t these platforms putting power into the hands of the citizens? Just like socialism—great in theory, hard to practice at scale. Collectivism or communitarianism in all of its forms is part of the new consumer world view. “Our” needs over “my” needs may be a frightening concept to Americans as many currently struggle to brand liberalism as socialism as evil; but consumers are starting to get it. While badge creation (invisible and visible) are the go-to trick for most brand strategists, badges start to become less important in new consumerism. Consumers are looking for their favorite brands to do something for their community, not just themselves. It’s the start of the “What’s in it for We” generation. In 1899, sociologist and economist Thorstein Veblen introduced the idea of “conspicuous consumption” in The Theory of the Leisure Class. Veblen pointed to the trend of visibly showing off your wealth through labels and obvious leisure items. In times of economic distress, this becomes less popular; consumers instead are hiding their consumption. More recently, Robert Walker in The Invisible Badge: Moving Past Conscious Consumption saw this trend, too, but wonders if
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it holds true for eco-consumption. The Prius outsold the Insight because it looked like a hybrid, so the argument goes. The consumer segmentation called Drifters, as defined by the Natural Marketing Institute, have been described as “wanting to be seen shopping at Whole Foods.” Walker introduces the Invisible Badge. He argues that what is more important than displaying yourself to your neighbors through your purchase is the “story that you are telling to yourself.”30 It is a clever psychological profile of the modern consumer. These tribes of one create lonely crowds, cells of affinity purchasers. They want to engage with their brands, but not be marketed to. They want to partner and do something together, as equals. The common dialogue of branding does argue that consumers own the brand. But this just isn’t true. Brand ownership is a marriage; and divorces happen. And, for most companies, the concept of consumers and brand managers working in concert together is a bit like kissing your sister. In trend terms, the migratory path looks something like this:
30 Walker, Robert, The Invisible Badge: Moving Past Conscious Consumption , June 4, 2008.
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Conspicuous Consumption (badges) Conspicuous Green Consumption (eco-badge) Inconspicuous Consumption (invisible badge) Inconspicuous Consumption with Ownership (tribal bragging badge)
Ownership becomes a slippery slope when it comes to discussing promotion and again calls into to question of voice in marketing. Traditional marketing has been about a monologue—a detached voice of the brand speaking to a segmented audience. Debord would call this voice a monologue of self-praise. Even when it is self-deprecating, it is self-congratulatory. Its job is to convince and cajole. To make you feel good. Or hungry. Or inferior. Its job is to create desire where before there was none. Desire, we learn as we grow older, is the cause of all suffering. And that is the job of traditional marketing. Create and “cure” suffering. Although, fortunately for corporations, the cure wears off when the new color iPods are launched. The cycle continues. More Than Promote offers a new kind of cure, and when married with conscious consumerism—let’s go ahead and call it citizenship—it creates a powerful weapon for branding, sales, healing a wounded culture, and happiness.
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This is done, not by bringing the power to the people through your promotion, but by acknowledging the power inherent in the populace. Marxist? Yes, but that’s too polemic to catch on. Maybe Populist Marketing is a better term. My $10 purchase has the same voting rights as your $10 purchase. It is the vote that counts. But, in Cause Marketing, what are you voting for? The cause? The product? The brand’s support of the cause? Or are you just looking to rationalize another purchase? Much of this book has seemed critical, perhaps too, of corporations. But this is where the responsibility falls to the consumer. After all, it is a partnership. Let’s be clear. Strategic and financial alliances with NPOs are important. From a marketing perspective, you should find the right brand alignment, determine the financial value, compensate that NPO as you would (actually better) a media outlet and hire the right people to help you find, manage, and measure these relationships. It works and is wanted, at least according to the research. Among corporate sponsors, Cause Marketing expenditures went from almost zero in 1983 to an estimated $1.3 billion in 2006, according to IEG Inc.31 At the same time, consumers increasingly demanded that companies practice philanthropy and social responsibility. According to Cone, Inc., 86 percent of American respondents were, “very or 31 IEG Sponsorship Report. Sponsorship Spending on Causes To Total $1.55 Billion This Year, July 27, 2009
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somewhat likely to switch from one brand to another that is about the same in price and quality, if the other brand is associated with a cause.” That’s great. But it’s not sustainability. And, to be fair, Cause Marketing doesn’t claim that it is sustainability, so it’s not an either/or argument. Cause Marketing, it turns out, is not a competitive strategy to More Than Promote, but instead it is one possible strategy within the strategy. Cause Marketing is not a substitute for More Than Promote but instead, More Than Promote could be a tool for Cause Marketing. Let’s look at some amazing Cause Marketing campaigns as a way to further explore the alignments. According to David Hessekiel, the founder and president of the Cause Marketing Forum (a business dedicated to helping companies and causes succeed together), the nine most influential Cause Marketing campaigns are:32 1. American Express Statue of Liberty Restoration (1983): During a three-month period, American Express offered to contribute 1 cent for each card transaction and $1.00 for each new card issued and backed the offer with a substantial media campaign. The effort raised $1.7 million to restore the statue and Ellis Island, moved the needle for Amex’s business, and gave birth to the field of Cause Marketing. 32 Hessekiel, David, ”The Most Influential Cause Marketing Campaigns.” Advertising Age, February 10, 2010.
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2. Yoplait Save Lids to Save Lives (1999 to present): America’s best-known breast cancer campaign. The fact that consumers save and mail in millions of sticky lids to raise 10 cents to support Susan G. Komen for the Cure is testimony to Cause Marketing’s motivational power. Yoplait does a masterful job of integrating this transactional program with its sponsorship of Komen’s Race for the Cure, continually refines the initiative and supports it with paid and earned media. To date it has raised over $26 million. 3. Dove Campaign for Real Beauty (2004 to present): Unilever didn’t adopt a cause, it created one with breakthrough creative that sparked an international discussion of beauty stereotypes. It developed the Dove Self Esteem Fund and hopes to reach 5 million young women with information on positive body image by the end of 2010.
[Note: Unilever, Dove’s parent, also markets Axe Body Spray, often criticized by groups concerned with positive portrayals of women in advertising. It was enough to provoke a spoof ad warning parents to talk to their daughters before Unilever does. I point this out as a way to call the question of authenticity—tackled later in this book— to the front.] 4. 1000 Playgrounds in 1000 Days (2005 to 2008): The Home Depot and KaBOOM! took employee volunteerism to new heights with this national three-year program to
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build great places to play within walking distance of kids. 5. The Members Project (2007 to 2008): Now promotions that ask consumers to direct corporate giving are growing common, but American Express pioneered the use of social media and buttressed brand appreciation with this effort. Over the span of two-years, it gave away $4.5 million to non-profits including top winners, the Alzheimerâ€™s Association and U.S. Fund for UNICEF. 6. Whirlpool and Habitat for Humanity (2004 to 2007): The appliance maker transformed its previously little-known commitment to provide a range and refrigerator for each Habitat home built in the United States into a major driver of brand loyalty with a multimedia campaign featuring Reba McEntire. Whatâ€™s more, it did all cause marketers a favor by measuring and sharing the impressive results. 7. Lee National Denim Day (1996 to the present): A traditionally male brand, Lee made huge inroads with women by embracing the breast cancer cause in a unique way: It empowered consumers to organize workplace drives at which employees contributed $5 for the right to wear jeans to work. Over 13 years, the program has raised nearly $75 million for breast cancer research and advocacy. 8. Product (RED) (2006 to the present): Founders Bono and Bobby Shriver boldly threw out the Cause Marketing Forum rule book to create (RED). Their privately held company created and licensed a hot brand to The Gap, Apple, Armani, and other marketers and
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staged an unprecedented launch. Although often criticized for a lack of transparency, (RED) has raised more than $140 million for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and continues to attract new corporate licensees such as Nike and Starbucks. 9. Live Strong Bracelet (2004 to present): When the group of Nike and Lance Armstrong Foundation came up with this idea to raise funds and awareness for the super cyclist’s cancer charity, none dreamed it would become a worldwide fashion item worn by presidential candidates, movie stars, kids, and grandmothers. To date, more than 70 million of the glorified yellow rubber bands have been sold for $1 each.33
With few exceptions, money is often a primary measure of the success of Cause Marketing. And that’s wonderful, amazing, and important. The Cone, Inc. report, Past. Present. Future. The 25th Anniversary of Cause Marketing 2009, notes that donating a portion of a product profit to a cause is still the “leading way in which consumers want to be engaged by companies, particularly among women.”34 Culturally, one of the interesting aspects of Cause Marketing is its enabling of the Other. This Other is any marginalized group or idea that the non-other can “save” through 33 “The Most Influential Cause Marketing Campaigns of All Time” January 6, 2010. http://bestcm.posterous.com/the-10-mostinfluential-cause-marketing-campa 34 Cone, Inc. Past. Present. Future. The 25th Anniversary of Cause Marketing 2009 report.
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normal everyday actions. The creation of the Other allows us to be pedestrian heroes; that is the function of creating them. Of course, they already exist. And of course, they are not Other. They are us, and promotions continue to marginalize them-us for corporate gain. This is perhaps the most pessimistic possible view of Cause Marketing possible. According to the Cause Marketing Forum, Inc. there are three core tactics utilized for Cause marketing: Transactional: Programs that elicit participation with an offer to make a contribution to a designated cause based on consumer activity such as buying a specific product, redeeming a coupon, registering at a website or shopping at a particular retail chain. Message Promotion: Joint campaigns that raise awareness of a cause’s message (e.g., fight skin cancer) or participation in its programs (e.g., join us in a coastal cleanup) while building a positive association with the corporate sponsor or its brands. Licensing: Independent Sector defines cause marketing licensing as “An agreement in which the nonprofit allows its information or knowledge to be used for a fee or an agreement in which a nonprofit’s name is attached to a product. Typically, a nonprofit licenses a company to develop, produce, market and/or distribute a mission-related product that is promoted either with the organization’s brand name or co-branded with both the company’s and nonprofit’s names.”
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In developing More Than Promote, itâ€™s realized that we are at risk of cannibalizing on this important strategy, and that oftentimes (if fact, sometimes by design), these strategies overlap and complement each other. As in everything, there are grey areas. As a general rule, however, raising money is not an intrinsic part of a More Than Promote campaign or strategy. (We need to differentiate between the two, because campaigns typically can be best marked by duration, which is easy for measurement, but strategy can imply a more deeprooted commitment.).
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PAY TO PLAY: A TALE OF TWO RUNNERS
“I try to do the right thing at the right time. They may just be little things, but usually they make the difference between winning and losing.” —Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Sometimes the little subtleties between More Than Promote, Philanthropy, General Do-Gooder-ness, and Cause Marketing are difficult to recognize and articulate. Often it can come down to the final few steps of a promotion. Sometimes it is answered by the following question: Did the company do it or buy it? Let’s follow two sport-based companies that, at least in a few product lines, compete with one another. Each is passionate about the environment. Neither is necessarily a better steward. Both are models of quality and sustainability in the athletic kingdom. In fact, one of the company’s CEOs admits to wearing the other’s shoes. But they have different economic realities. One must earn promotion; the other has the advantage of purchasing it. The civic impact created by these two campaigns is eerily similar. Let’s look at New Balance® and Atayne®.
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During the 2009-2010 winter season, Boston-based sneaker company New Balance partnered with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (MDCR). The partnership was to ensure that runners, joggers, and walkers would have clear running paths along the Charles River, a beautiful and favorite path for outdoor sport enthusiasts. If New Balance wanted Bostonians to keep wearing out their shoes, keep their New Year’s resolutions to start running, and continue loving their brand, they had to find a way to keep them running through the long New England winters. The MDCR’s budget was cut by 20 percent and therefore it was planning on letting the pathway go unplowed. New Balance had a chance to step in and save the day. It became a runner’s hero. As part of the partnership, New Balance provided funding to support snow removal efforts along the 17-plus-mile river path. This is part of that new trend of municipalities outsourcing taxpayer paid services to corporate bidders. And it was smart. In one way, New Balance was simply taking care of its customers. Creating the opportunity for them to continue to use their product where before they would not have been able. Weather, snow in this case, was an obstacle to product use. Move it. Or, in this case, fund the moving of it. The public opinion of trail users was generally very thankful of New Balance and its generous offer. According to the January 8, 2010, minutes of a meeting
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of the MDCR Stewardship Council, New Balance agreed to provide a minimum of $10,000 per plowing, in exchange for signs along the path advertising New Balance’s involvement in the effort. The signs would stand for no more than three days after a snowstorm. And, in a nice bit of cultural value, additionally, New Balance CEO Rob DeMartini announced in a press release that “Outdoor recreation is vital this time of year with so many athletes training for the Boston Marathon.” DeMartini knows well the cultural value of the Boston Marathon with its Heartbreak Hill to Bostonians. On face value, the sponsorship resulted in great civic value and improved New Balance’s already strong brand image (it is the only athletic shoe company in America who still manufacture its shoes in America). New Balance is also very active in Cause Marketing, supporting the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation, Souls4Souls, Girls on the Run, and most recently joining The First Lady Michelle Obama in her efforts to end childhood obesity. When it comes to corporate citizenship and community support, you won’t find a better steward. Their customers and potential customers agree. As kencheeseman wrote on a blog post on Boston.com, “Many thanks to New Balance. I’m a cyclist but my next pair of sneakers will definitely be a pair of NB’s.” Or as crimson22 wrote: “Thank you New Balance, I love your outlet, and thanks for
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filling what was a massive recreational and environmental void in this wonderful city!”35 An environmental void? That’s some solid language to be associated with these days for sure. More Than Promote? Before we decide, let’s look at another sports company’s approach to a similar, although not identical, problem. Atayne is a sports apparel company that turns trash into high-performance sports gear. Its flagship product is a line of performance running tops. Tops are emblazoned with a number of smart graphics showing the wearer’s commitment to the environment. “Lead with the mission,” Founder and Chief Pace Setter, Jeremy Litchfield says, “full on with brand.” The story of Atayne goes back to a hot day in Washington, DC, where Litchfield was running in a brand new red shirt. By the time he finished his run, the lower half of his body was covered in red dye. The event set up a question: What chemicals were being absorbed into his body as he was trying to make himself healthier by running? His research led him to start Atayne. So this becomes a story about authenticity. An authentic sports enthusiast finds an authentic problem and creates an authentic solution—turn plastic bottles into fashionable, com-
35 Globe Staff, “New Balance Will Clean Charles River Pathways” December 22, 2009. www.boston.com/business/ticker/2009/12/new_ balance_wil.html
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fortable, and high-performing sports gear. But what about marketing? How authentic could Atayne make the physical act of marketing? As it turns out, very authentic. With a limited budget Litchfield conceived of “Trashruns.” The concept is simple: Run behind marathons picking up trash. Along race routes, some racers can trash peoples’ yards, so homeowners are thrilled to see the Atayne baby-jogger coming down the road with Atayne volunteers (customers) picking up trash. As they sport their product, the fans are thanking them. How many brands get thanked while they are promoting? Even from a sociolinguistic perspective, Atayne is engaging in advanced marketing, far more advanced than its humble founder lets on. The tribe of loyal customers that make up the Trashrun teams (all volunteers) have developed their own language. Let’s look at their brand dictionary.36 GU-dar: A trash runner’s internal beacon for finding GU packets. Buckner or Bucknered: When you reach for a piece of trash while running and miss it. Sloppy Seconds: This is when someone misses a 36
Every campaign and brand needs a dictionary.
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piece of trash and you pick it up. Nasty, but necessary. Trashlek: Much like its “cleaner” cousin the Fartlek, the Trashlek is a great aerobic training technique. It involves a light jog to a piece of trash and then a hard-paced sprint to put the trash in the appropriate receptacle. Dumpster Break: A bathroom break while trash running. Getting Trashed: Any injury that occurs while trash running, especially one that involves hand, arm, or knee contact with the ground. A very common one is clipping your foot on a guardrail and taking a digger while returning to the road or path after going deep for a piece of trash. Going Mechanic: Hard core trash runners go mechanic and crawl under the vehicle. Trash-cavating: Some pieces of trash have been on the ground for years, and they often become part of the landscape. Time to get dirty and do some trashcavating by digging deep into the ground. Butt Stroll: When you intend to go for a vigorous trash run, but find yourself in a stroll due to an over abundance of littered cigarette butts! And, of course, Trashole: Formerly known as a litterbug, a trashole is
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someone who throws his or her trash on the ground for the rest of us to see and ultimately pick up.
Note the distinction between these two approaches. One is smart, authentic promotion that builds a tribe. The other is smart, authentic philanthropy.
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THE CULTURAL NECESSITY OF AUTHENTICITY “If fakery is what people want…give them fakery.” —Jonas Ridderstråle and Kjell A Nordström from their book Karaoke Capitalism
The latest trend in green marketing seems to be a shift away from “green” itself and that is a good thing. One reason for the shift seems clear: Green fatigue. Even environmentalists are tired of hearing about it. Green has become the backing track (not the soundtrack, mind you1) of most modern marketing. It is the editorial du jour of magazines (even Sports Illustrated had a “green issue” [March 12, 2007]), it’s the punch line for every sitcom during Universal NBC’s Green Week, and it is the newest old competitive advantage. It’s really become quite an inescapable pest. And it has, for the most part, been poorly executed in advertising. Water, trees, forests, animals, anthropomorphism, melting ice, polar bears…it’s easy to short cut your way to a green ad. Denise Waggoner, VP of Creative Research at Getty Services, looked specifically at the (over)use of green and green images. She noted that it’s not just the overuse of, say, an 1 The soundtrack would be a compilation album with Ska-P’s “Consumo Gusto,” RX Bandits’ “Sell You Beautiful,” Citizen Fish’s “Panic in the Supermarket,” Anti-Flag’s “The Consumer Song,” Oi Polloi’s “Whale Song,” Conflict’s “This is the ALF,” and Bad Religion’s “Kyoto Now.”
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image of a forest that is problematic. But when that image of the forest is used in a public service campaign to promote an environmental nonprofit, and is also used to advertise storm windows or space heaters, a visual confusion comes in for the consumer.2 Confusion is quickly followed by malaise, which leads to avoidance. The same course is true of language as it moves from the authentic origination to mainstream corporate speak. Rock and Roll went from Elvis Hips to Mop Tops to Bell Bottoms to Alice Cooper to David Lee Roth to socks on penises and Red Hot Chili Peppers, and finally today with date rape lyrics. With each generation, Gen-whatever had to push the language and iconographies further and further away from the mainstream cooptation. Once the skinny white kid is using your street language, you don’t want anything to do with it. This is the co-optation of language that is unavoidable. As things become mainstream, they become boring to the fringe, which needs to reinvent the language. Millennials must laugh at their parents’ generation of music lyrics talking about “smoking in the boys room”3 and “hey, teach-
2 “Envisioning Green: Getty Images and the Pictures and Colors That Sell.” Interview with Getty Image VP of Creative Research Denise Waggoner by Joel Makower, January 30, 2008. 3
Smokin’ In the Boys Room by Brownsville Station
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ers, leave them kids alone.”4 Little Richard became Tiny Tim, who became Alice Cooper, then Marylyn Manson and finally Adam Lambert. Today, they jump right to “Born is sworn to put a bullet in your derriere”5 The previous generation always look like baboons pretending to make progress. Same will go for green. When Nike, trying to penetrate the skate culture market, blatantly “borrowed” some language and iconography from punk band Minor Threat’s album (they reshot the album cover, putting Nikes on the disaffected bald guy), it created a beast and an angry icon—(lead singer), Ian MacKay. MacKay clearly had more authentic influence over the culture than Nike could buy. It pulled the campaign. Or look at fashion. Bell bottoms become mini skirts, became multiple piercings, became 00 gauge earplugs, and now soccer mom tattoos. Teenage scarification is next. This is a good thing, for it is how progress is portrayed. Each generation must push things deeper. As Millennials rebel against our zombie consumerism and take sustainability further, progress will be made. Our green marketing will look childish. Roland Barthes reminds us that “hedonism ultimately becomes melancholy.” Or, as Axl Rose sang, “I used to do a little but a little didn’t do it, so the little go more
Another Brick in The Wall (Part 2) by Pink Floyd Graveyard by Insane Clown Posse and Project Born.
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and mo-ah.”6 The rhetoric and narrative of much modern advertising is to present the consumer life as melancholy and the actors as fantastically hedonistic, speeding through “professional drivers on closed course” streets, always relaxing with two beers at sunset, eating food from farmers they know, or going easily green. It’s all exaggerated metaphor, and it is that exaggeration that will date it as juvenile for the next generation of marketers.7 Darwin has been misquoted for centuries as claiming that it was survival of the fittest that made evolution possible. In reality, he was talking about survival of the most adaptable. Our marketing needs to adapt to the conditions of the new consumer. But, if it is quick progress we need to make—and we do—it is not a Darwinian adaptation that will get us there. We need to create a new marketing paradigm in the face of crisis and fatigue with the old ways. Green has become cliché, hence the fatigue. As Waggoner points out, “When those (images) are used over and over again there becomes indifference because the consumer can’t tell. And so when we talk about the environment and breaking through the clutter that consumers experience all the time, the over use of the forest or the overuse of the polar bear, in either car insurance or as the symbol of a melting polar ice 6 Mr. Brownstone by Guns N’ Roses. 7 But this is an interesting moment for green fatigue. As soon as we were are successful at making green ubiquitous, green marketers lose a competitive advantage.
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cap, that consumers begin not to respond at all because it’s just kind of, ‘Well, yeah. I saw it yesterday and I don’t know if it was a car insurance ad or if it was for the World Wildlife Federation.’”8 In imagery and language, the green pastiche is just that. A second reason that agencies and drifting from green is the popularization of the concept of transparency. The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)9 has helped to popularize this concept. Companies are using the framework to report to most engaged stakeholders on their environmental and social footprint. This is becoming a prerequisite for publically traded companies, although it’s not clear mainstream consumers are doing the pre-requiring. In 2007, about 650 companies reported using this transparency framework. In 2008, there were over 1,000. This only includes registered GRI reports. There are likely thousands of other companies who are following the framework or some homespun version of what passes for a transparency report. Transparency has become a new business asset. Or perhaps it has become a new marketing asset. And because of that, we are seeing a lot more if it. This transparency has not only “forced” companies to go public and report on their 8 Envisioning Green: Getty Images and the Pictures and Colors That Sell Interview with Getty Image VP of Creative Research Denise Waggoner by Joel Makower, January 30, 2008 9 www.globalreporting.org
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green progress, but it has introduced us to new impacts of business in addition to green. Human rights, Supply Chain, Community Impacts, Human Resources, and other factors are gaining traction also as issues of materiality for sustainability. In short, it’s not just about green anymore. Of course, what we call transparency, or mistake for transparency (carbon footprint, HR statistics, energy reduction), is really just translucency; it diffuses information, spreading it around, breaking it into a tangled web of reductionism. Translucency allows us to see the parts of the machine, but not the machine itself. The complexity of our system of moving targets, third-world supply chains, and shifting and differing shareholder values makes transparency impossible. What passes for it now creates a false sense of security set up to appease a minority movement. And, it is working. Transparency becomes a channel for communication, like loyalty or price. A third reason green is a waning trend is the distrust of corporations in general. Last decade was the decade of the corporate criminal. Enron Corp.’s Jeffrey Skilling, ImClone’s Samuel Waksal, John Rigas of Adelphia Communications, Tyco International Ltd’s. Kozlowski, HealthSouth’s Richard Scrushy, WorldCom’s Bernard Ebbers, Martha Stewart, and Goldman Sacks. We’ve been inundated with corruption. Pile on top Wall Street, Too Big to Fail Banks, governmental intervention of CEO bonuses, and it’s no wonder that we
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don’t trust them. The corruption by obfuscation is a breeding ground for disbelief.1 On the one hand, some consumers seem to insist on transparency, which includes joining the social conversation; on the other hand, consumers don’t trust what companies say. A 2008 Forrester Research Study found that only 16 percent of consumers believe what they read on corporate blogs. Welcome to the dialogue with new rules: Tell me stuff to not believe. But the bigger question might be, “Do corporations trust consumers?” Arguably, no. If, in fact, as brand strategists claim, the consumer now owns the brand (the ultimate brand manager trust issue), this relationship (or the cultivation of it) should be stronger. Instead, what you get is a loose sense of consumers commenting on a brand. In Brand Hijack: Marketing Without Marketing, marketing expert Alex Wipperfurth describes a process to ensure brand theft as a sound brand strategy.2 Wipperfurth argues that brand images should be left in the hands of their hijackers—drawing on a 2001 conversation started by French academic Bernard Cova. Cova argued that modern consumers have become less interested in the physical objects of consumption than in the social content and credit created with those objects. Ac-
1 Does anybody really believe that Olympians eat at McDonald’s? 2 I certainly appreciate his case study reviewing the skyrocketing popularity of Pabst Blue Ribbon, whose original brand image was “hijacked” by hipsters and given it a new spin as a model for this strategy.
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cording to Cova, consumers are forming tribal communities around selected consumer brands. And, they want to own the brand.3 Unlike traditional tribes, modern brand tribes do not occupy fixed physical space. And these loose modern tribal associations are in a constant state of flux, with members free to belong to as many tribes as they like. As a result, the tribes remain largely invisible to those who do not belong to them. The death of advertising, indeed. Consumers can be looked at as terrorist cells haunting our brands or secret agents protecting them. Conventional brand strategy permits that if someone tries to co-opt your brand, you take it back. But Wipperfurth advises that brand managers embrace the brand enthusiast, then let the brand evolve on its own. Create and release. We don’t trust the things that control us. Especially when we are told that we are in control. That’s the stuff of classic conflict creation. Fourth, green has jumped the proverbial shark anyway. When the largest polluters in the world spend the most on marketing to proclaim their greenness, what possible advantage could it provide? But back to popular culture, Disney’s movie Shrek was marketed with the catch phrase “Get Green.” This relegates the phrase to paronomasia. It is a deliberate ambiguity of 3 Wipperfurth, Alex, Brand Hijack: Marketing Without Marketing (New York: Penguin, 2005).
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a phrase. But puns only work if both meanings are known. The same logic applies to the painfully trite “Go green. Make green.” mantra of the new capital paradigm. Ideologies built on a foundation of alliteration rarely last. It’s not a new way to make money. It is a culturally permissible way to make money. Moreover, Green has become the butt of jokes. When Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, and Adam “Ghost Panther” McKay launched “Enviro-Tips: The Green Team” on the comedy site FunnyorDie.com, it was all over. In the video the three comedians harass people into going green and spew green tips. The tips get progressively raunchier starting with unplugging your cell phone when you’re not using it and ending with what to do with a fetus when you’re done with it.4 But they had us (environmentalists) nailed. It was perfect parody of the types of tips we can see on any of the 231,000,000+ Google search returns for “green tips.” Even EarthFirst.com is on the bland green tip bandwagon, prominently showing a video that shows visitors how to turn a 2-liter bottle into a bird feeder. Really? Aren’t we beyond that by now? Is that the content that consumers want, let alone need? As soon as Ghost Panther and Co. got hold of us, we were done for and so was green. It boggles the mind how business can still have groups dedicated to sustainability called Green Teams. The act of naming (like a themed Prom) it 4 www.funnyordie.com/videos/fa1420df1f/green-team-fromwill-ferrell-adam-ghost-panther-mckay-and-john-c-reilly
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means that it is not integrated with the core operations. It is not confidence inspiring that the trend will be discontinued. Green has become a joke. But the joke is on us, because the concept is being hijacked. Perhaps Wipperfurth’s theory is right, and we need to let it go and be co-opted. In fact, that’s a pretty good strategy. That has been the pattern of the misfit forever. The fringe pushes culture, the mainstream co-opts it, the fringe reinvents it again and again and again. So marketing is looking for a new strategic framework. It looks as if it is bypassing Blue, jettisoning social responsibility, and heading right toward authenticity. And marketing will need an extreme makeover to pull authenticity off. Linguists know that language is not the real thing. But the trick is not to understand “the real” behind “the illusion” but instead to understand the reality in illusion itself. The war of sustainability and political regulations and marketing are battled using the weapon of language. It is a horrible substitute for action. We need reason, not language. But marketing is not reason. It is language. And language changes quickly (especially marketing language that is used to position A against B). Language shapes the way we think and determines what we can think about,” said linguist Benjamin Whorf. Since advertising is the most read text in our culture, the role that advertising’s language plays in shaping thinking about sustainability should not be ignored.
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To look at this issue in a bit more depth, in 2009 The SOAP Group surveyed 100 green print advertisements from both mainstream and green-minded publications. The ads were for a variety of goods and services, including building products, food and beverage, automobiles, airlines, investing, electronics, detergents, pet food, and cosmetics, among others. Understanding the most commonly used green words of today reveals insight into the communications trends of tomorrow. As marketers, understanding ubiquity and saturation is one of the first steps in identifying what’s next. It is then important to recognize that the pulse of modern language provides the market advantage of differentiation. The advertising survey bisected operative words (headlines and positioning content in copy), and word families (e.g., carbon, CO2, and carbon offset were grouped as one set) into Emotive (“change,” “progress,” “clean”) and Scientific (“bio,” ”planet,” ”hybrid”) categories. Hyphenated words, like “ecofriendly,” were considered emotive. The hyphen is a combining of two items, one always modifying the other toward itself, in this case an emotional association with a “better choice.” We also looked at language intent: Was the phrase intended to be emotional or scientific? For example, in all cases “green” was used emotionally or aspirationally, not scientifically. At this primary grouping, science-derived words were used 168 times as opposed to emotional words at 116. This represents marketers’ awareness that prevailing consumers
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are looking for factual data when making purchases in green contexts. That said, most of the science was fairly vapid, relying more on the language of science than on science itself. This means that science, as a brand differentiator, still has unclaimed potential. More interesting, however, is the emotive side of the ledger. “Green” was toppled as the leading operative word in its own category of goods and services. “Less” is today’s operative. “Less” represented the most common linguistic turnof-phrase, showing up 28 times in 100 ads (“green” appeared 23 times). The phrase “go green” was all but absent. “Green” and its variations are telltales of greenwashing. Still, it seems that it has been relegated to serving as a shortcut to define the category, but doesn’t offer much depth beyond that.
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MOST COMMON EMOTIONAL WORDS/WORD VARIATIONS
LESS GREEN CLEAN WORD VARIATIONS
EARTH-FRIENDLY 8 SIMPLE IMPACT 6 RESPONSIBLE 5 PROTECT 3
MOST COMMON SCIENTIFIC WORDS/WORD VARIATIONS
ENVIRONMENT ENERGY RECYCLE CARBON EARTH EFFICIENCY NATURAL SUSTAINABILITY OCCURENCES
13 13 11 9 9 9 8
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Is “Less” the new “Green”? Maybe. Green marketing often takes the shape of its current cultural condition. When energy prices were painfully inflated, marketing language turned to saving money and automobile distance efficiency. Way back in 2007, one could be green and indulge at the same time, as long as he or she drove a hybrid to get there. Today, energy prices have fallen, but less immediately controllable economic hardships have replaced them. The current condition is one of anti-overindulgence, simplicity (noted eight times, it is a form of “less,” but not classified as such in the survey), and doing more with… well… less. This is a cultural condition of the economic turn. “Less” is on the lips of CEOs, school administrators, advertising sales teams, governors, and kitchen-table budgeters. And, apparently, marketers have picked up on this fact. No surprise there. But, “less” in these ads is a factor of economics, not life philosophy. This is the case with “green” too, where it was arguably more about social status and trend than a shift in values. It’s odd how a phrase intrinsically linked to anti-consumption can become the most popular word in marketing goods and services. Like “green,” this is the co-opting of the environmental language by the mainstream all over again. But advertising has never been accused of being “accurate” language, so in a sense what’s odd is that we expect authenticity to play a role in it at all.
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Most advertising is based on use of the superlatives. “Very” lost its meaning through overuse, so we installed “very, very” into the language set. “Yes” has had to become “absolutely.” “Green” is currently interviewing for hyper-replacements, both in terms of movement and language. This is evolutionary language theory at its quickest. It will be interesting to watch “less” become a superlative. And, of course, we await lesswashing—where the consumption of less is a contrived illusion. Encouraging consumers to consume less is an emerging marketing strategy. Engineering ways for them to have the same reward that consumption offers has become a sustainability strategy. Author Edward Abbey said, “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.” In more theoretic terms, according to ecopedagogy, sustainability is not being realized because it represents the antithesis to the political, economic, and cultural status quo of the powerful forces needed to fuel growth. The “less” backlash is a response to this and marks a real milestone along the pathway to culture change and environmental or authentic ubiquity. Of course, the use of the word “less” in marketing is tempered with the concept of “less being more.” Advertising tends to signify cultural trends. It enforces classic structures of economy and politics. But it can also subvert the same. More Than Promote advocates for marketers
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to push harder now than ever to promote their goods and services through the principles and ideals of an ideal modern marketplace, not just the associated signs and signifiers. In 1968, when Garrett Hardin wrote “The Tragedy of the Commons,” he was describing a particular dilemma in which individuals acting independently in their own selfinterest ultimately destroy a shared resource—even where it’s clear that it is not in anyone’s long-term interest for this to happen. Today’s green ads may be serving the interest in meeting a company’s quarterly bottom line, but few are acting in the interest of communal sustainability. Unfortunately, advertising also shapes culture. It shapes our image of ourselves. But it is through deconstructing the codes of advertising that we can begin to learn the tolerable limits of these codes. And in turn improve the odds of sustainability, social equity, and enduring value. To talk of the cultural necessity of authenticity is to deconstruct the basis of sign and signifier, the basic principles of symbolism. It’s wonky, but important to marketing. The word “tree” is not a tree. In fact, the beauty (or curse depending on your motivation) is that when marketers say “save the trees” we’re not thinking about the same trees. Marketing (as a form of language and a text unto itself) is often simply a stringing together of linguistic and cultural tokens. It should be noted that in marketing strategy circles, these concepts have been charged as being too metaphysical
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before, but the ultimate nature of reality really should be the science of marketing. Unfortunately, marketing is more often the ultimate nature of manufactured reality: Debord’s Spectacle. The More Than Promote strategy is happily the inverse. Let’s stop manufacturing reality and start exploring what we have to work with more in depth. In a sense, leveraging it for marketing. Perhaps, recalling Zizek, understanding the reality of the spectacle is one step in the right direction. Let’s dissect this frog. In order to tell if someone understands a word or phrase, one looks to behavior. If consumptive messages are understood, one consumes. Easy math. If cause messages are understood, one volunteers or donates. On paper, these are a given in a one-step proof. Similarly, if More Than Promote is understood, one shops, acts, and shares new language. One are three. Three are one. No less is acceptable to make marketing and sustainability a blurry oneness. But it is not blurry because of squinting; it is blurry because these parts refuse to be reduced. The frog fights back. To do this, we must exploit a weakness in modern marketing theory. Wittgenstein argued that for some term or utterance to have a sense, it must be conceivable that it be doubted. Doubted. In order to believe or comply, doubt is also conceivable. Maybe that’s why marketing does not always work. The pre-
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condition of “understood” language as being doubtful is what gives green marketing its fatigue and distrust and label of greenwashing. Too much of a good thing, perhaps. Actions, however, are less easy to distrust. Not impossible, mind you, just less easy. This is a manifestation of the basic conflict between theory and practice. A message can be authentic. By current definition, it is impossible for the marketing of the message to be authentic. Unless we adopt a philosophy where communication is accomplished by doing over saying. Like most marketing, “Green” marketing is more about the image of Green, as opposed to Green. But this is the paradigm that marketing is stuck in anyway. Food advocate and author Michael Pollan puts this in the context of nonfat sour cream. There is no cream in it; therefore, it should not be called cream. “Cream” should not be on the packaging. What we are buying is the idea of “sour cream,” the concept of “sour cream.”5 Green is like that cream today. We are in love with the idea of Green, not Green itself. In In Defense of Food,6 Pollan argues that we are forgetting so many of the values of real food. It is not just about nutrients, but also about pleasure and sensation and community. 5 In the 1938 repeal of the FDA’s “Imitation Rule,” which stated that if a food product was substantially different than the product for which is named, it had to be called imitation product. 6 Pollan, Michael, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. 2008 (New York, Penguin)
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Modern marketing is not just about driving sales, the nutrient of business. But it too can be about important and (re)emerging values like community. In the spectacle of promotion, illusion is sacred. This is the Facebooking of our culture where real connections are replaced with the appearance of connections. But Facebook isn’t to blame. It is just providing a well-used tool. Ultimately, the culture needs to take responsibility itself and reclaim its connections. What’s promotion to do? It will survive for a while by offering more genuine messages. Bit the legitimacy of nearly all marketing is what is at risk. The creation of fake desire is killing the planet and its inhabitants. Diet pills and machines admittedly (in mouse type) show abnormal results and promise almost no required effort. Investment firms show a clear path to retirement, and yet are careful not to promise anything. Perfume always leads to elevator sex, and driving a certain car makes you a better parent. This is the brand as life. There are hundreds of definitions of what “brand” is. It’s a great word, summing up so many abstract concepts. As marketers, we try to define it, and for the most part the definitions are just multiple linguistic exercises in trying to pin it all down. • The emotional and psychological relationship you have with your customers.
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• How your company is perceived by customers. • A collection of perceptions in the mind of the consumer. • The fulfilled promise to your customer. These are all equally acceptable. But in a business climate where authenticity is rapidly becoming the latest buzzword in branding, what does this do for our definition of brand? Surely, we can no longer leave it up to the consumer to “perceive” authenticity. Authenticity is not a negotiation on a set of perceptions. It is what it is. We can perceive it incorrectly, but that’s our fault. This presents a beautiful conundrum for marketers. Authentic marketing can’t rest its laurels on hyperbole. It can’t allude to an exaggerated moment of the truth about the product. A brand, in a world flirting with authenticity, is simply who you are. Here’s the marketers’ conundrum when it comes to the dichotomy of greenwashing and authenticity. 1. Some consumers believe most of what they see and hear (or rationalize the belief). This permits greenwashing as a very effective strategy. Greenwashing is an easy way to let consumers off the hook; they get to have it both ways (convenient, cheap, abundant, and sustainable). It is very effective as mass marketing. It is not so effective within certain audiences.
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2. Some consumers believe nothing they see or hear and do not want to be marketed to. This creates a false high bar (perfection?) that can scare some companies away from making any claims at all. Authenticwashing watch happen.
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OF DIRTY LAUNDRY AND LANGUAGE
There is a pay-it-forward mentality for More Than Promote. Participating in the promotion itself becomes a kind of reward for the consumer. Tiger Beaudoin, Founder & VP Marketing at EcoBonusâ€” a division of BI Worldwide, has a unique perspective on the concept of reward when it comes to promotion. Founded in 1950, BI Worldwide is one of the originators of the concept of loyalty and coalition marketing. The emergence of a new coalition of green consumers has prompted the launch of EcoBonus, an innovative coalition loyalty program that supports consumer choices and rewards the smarter ones for select manufacturers. What is interesting about coalitions these days is that they are everywhere. What is most new about the concept is
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not that tribes of commonalities (or communalities) exist— marketers have been segmenting people into groups for centuries—but that we are realizing that we move from tribe to tribe throughout our days. And, that we have a greater influence over our fellow tribe members than any promotion could ever design. That’s where word-of-mouth marketing comes from. Your Facebook status could help a friend’s friend stay on a diet. That is the influence that new social-structural spaces enable. Speaking of More Than Promote, Beaudoin says that what he saw in it was that it was a “beyond the tactical approach to marketing—it was a reimagining of the very concept of promotion itself.” The EcoBonus program is building what he calls “a coalition of the willing.” These are consumers who want to be more involved, but are in different stages of conscious consumerism. They share a few common threads—they want to shop smarter and they want to reward good companies. This is an example of overlapping “tribal” communities. Apart from tailoring messages, a traditional promotional approach doesn’t quite know what to do with these tribal overlays. Beaudoin recognizes that marketers are in a rut. “There is a need to break up thinking beyond the immediate tactics.” In introducing More Than Promote principles, there is often a disconnect of distinctions. Beaudoin puts it like this,
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“There’s what I know and there’s what I know I don’t know. When you have a discovery of what I do not know I don’t know it creates a distinction for you. More Than Promote happens this way. Once you are introduced to it, it becomes part of how you think about all promotion going forward. Once you see it, you see it missing from all other promotions. If the More Than Promote component isn’t there—it is glaring. What an opportunity missed! Instead of reframing the concept, people look for breakthrough creative.”
More Than Promote is a loyalty issue, and here is where another distinction comes in. Loyalty is a holistic experience. Corporations invest resources into so-called loyalty programs because they think it’s going to be a customer acquisition strategy, according to Beaudoin. But loyalty, he reminds us, is a communication channel. Airlines used to market heavily through large branding channels in print and television—Fly the Friendly Skies, We Love To Fly and It Shows. Now they use the channel of loyalty. They reward the transactional relationships of their most valuable customers, they have developed a communications vehicle to communicate this in “The Statement,” and they created a new promotional currency (miles, hotel nights, free cocktails). We need to stop thinking about marketing as transactional—or as Beaudoin calls it, marketing promiscuously— and start looking at a new way to approach our customer relationships. Do we want to be promiscuous, hopping from
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transaction to transaction? Before you answer, remember the prediction about the sustainability of growth and the trends of consumer values. Or, instead, would we prefer to support our consumer communities with product and promotion? Interactions are binary. They are on or off. Happening or not happening. Connected and disconnected. So there is something about More Than Promote that takes advantage of the “minitribe” and splintering of media, but adds a communal aspect that is a countervailing force to the way the Internet performs. The notion is that due to the fragmentation of media, the worldview is increasingly shaped by narrower and narrower inputs. (Conservatives get their Beck, Progressives their Madow). New marketing, as defined in More Than Promote, adds a communal contribution in a way that we’ve lost. Let’s look at some clever promotions/programs that support communities. The Chitimacha tribe was in full swing in modern-day Louisiana around 500 CE. Then came the French, the Spanish, and the newly minted Americans. Today, only about 950 tribal members remain, none of them native speakers of the original language. The last native speaker died in 1940. Their language is “asleep” as linguists say. Kimberly Walden, the Cultural Director of Chitimacha, said in an interview with National Public Radio, “[A native language] helps preserve cultural identity, and it really is like a missing piece. Those of us who grew up without a
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language, it was something we always dreamed of.” Enter a language-learning software company, Rosetta Stone. Amazingly on-brand, Rosetta Stone has set out to help preserve the vanishing Chitimacha language, and in turn, save the culture. This is a perfect backdrop to look at the intersection of language, marketing, and sustainability. In a sense, the culture of sustainability is asleep as well. Or, more appropriately, it is awakening. Like everything else in modernity, the linguistic shifts of this cultural movement had been rapid. Speed, it seems, is a culture-driver.7 This speed is no doubt in reaction to access to the speed of technology (even Moore’s Law is too slow to describe it), enabling immediate access to information that enables us to be more efficient and produce more. In a decade, we have seen an almost wholesale replacement of the language of sustainability. As the mainstream has adopted “green,” the fringe has replaced it with more substantive (if not challenging) “sustainable.” Now, mainstream is starting to gather around this new word, as green becomes trite from overuse. We have replaced words of sacrifice (conserve) with words of empowerment (efficient). We have moved from hubristic words that impose our will and ability to “save” the
7 Even zombies have migrated from slow, foot-dragging beasts to super-dexterous speed daemons. Google “Zombies and Sustainability” to see more similarities.
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planet to language that plays a semiotic and symbiotic role in the planet’s demise. Instead of being responsible for “saving the whales” and “protecting mother earth,” we are to blame. And, while Stuart Brand (editor of The Whole Earth Catalogue) and others argue that we can engineer our way out of climate crisis, the common language seems to be pointing to a more rational response. But it is not just the common language of sustainability that matters. As we often see in shifting cultures, the language of a subculture creates context that interacts with other subcultures. The language creates the context, a linguistic pull and push, and it can create powerful cultural shift. Context, it seems, is created by content and vice versa. Language is both communicative and culturally semiotic (can something be literally semiotic?)—it represents the thing. But the thing is not just the desire of communication, it is the culture from which that communication stems. The transmedia platforms exist for marketers to insert new language into the common vernacular, pushing concepts deeper into certain cultural sets quickly and with fairly good accuracy. This is a powerful position to be in. While advertising in American culture has always been an influencing factor, we are in a footrace with the consumer right now. Mass marketers are racing uphill to create campaigns to influence the masses before they catch on. Consumers are running downhill with a gradual culture shift away from consumption as a way
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of life and into more meaningful trans-transactional experiences. Whichever gets there first will shape the culture—we will continue along the path of capitalistic consumerism or become a nation of conscious consumers. Optimistically, I think consumers are in the lead. And, if they are, promotional strategies had better be in line. Lowest price aggregators will become specialty stores for a select few. Promiscuous commodities will become negative badges. And language will be the measure. According to Hobeken cultural anthropologist A.L. Kroeber, “Culture, then, began when speech was present; and from then on, the enrichment of either means the further development of the other.” So Rosetta Stone has set out on a mission to help awaken the language of the Chitimacha tribe. Tribe members are helping them design software so that younger tribe members can become excited about learning this sleeping native tongue. “Their language has been a sleeping language for about 60 years,” said Marion Bittinger, manager of the endangered language program at Rosetta Stone. Walden describes language as “a missing piece. Those of us who grew up without a language, it was something we always dreamed of.”1 But what is this? Clearly, this is not a profit center for Rosetta Stone—giving away free software to save the language
1 Abramsen, Larry “Software Company Helps Revive ‘Sleeping’ Language,” February, 2010. www.npr.org/templates/story/story. php?storyId=123220585&ft=1&f=2
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of under 1,000 people is a bad business model. It has no business obligation (apart from R and D) to spend its stakeholders’ profit on this kind of exercise. Is it promotion? Philanthropy? Social cause? Pet project? Genius branding? Yes. From the sound of it, Rosetta Stone has several more projects in the works, including Navajo. This case study also illustrates another dead horse to continue to flog—the importance of language in protecting and shifting culture. If your promotional campaign continues to use the same tired dialogue, then culture will not change. It will stagnate around your brand. Pushing language and culture and your brand becomes a driving force and part of the authentic culture of a community. In terms of a commodity product that is using these theories, let’s look at Tide®. Imagine you have been up all night filling sand bags in the rain. Your home is destroyed. You’re hungry, tired, and wet. Then come bright orange tractor-trailers emblazoned with the Tide bulls-eye pulling into town. It’s a curiosity at first, a circus come to town. But then… Some clean clothes would be nice. And after the promotion, forever, anytime you need clean clothes, you will think of Tide laundry detergent. Thank you, Tide’s Loads of Hope. To date, the program has done nearly 30,000 loads of laundry. Tide employees (perhaps volunteers and/or paid event
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staff) wash, dry, and fold laundry for communities that have been hit hard. As Tide says on its website (tideloadsofhope. com), “In times of disaster people turn to the most basic of human needs—and one of those is clean clothes.” Tide started drifting deeper into traditional Cause Marketing territory with the Loads of Hope program through the raising of money for disaster relief through the sales of specialty marked product and vintage t-shirts. Tugging on the nostalgia stings, the vintage t-shirts bring us back to a simpler time, our childhood. “Johnny, would you run over to the Sutherlands and borrow a cup of detergent?” Tide might have missed a cultural (and branding) moment here to bring our language back to the importance of being neighbors. They have a perfect opportunity to do so:
• Neighbors in need. • A cultural resonance to “borrowing and sharing.” • Vintage tees as a visual cue. Instead, Tide tends to rely on the language of the commons with “little things can make a big difference,” a fairly clichéd sentiment of social causes. Developing a campaign language dictionary to create an emotional connection to the relief it is inspiring may be an opportunity for Tide to push this program to the next level. Moreover, inspiring a viral ac-
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tion could be important as well. Why stop at doing laundry for people in mass quantities? Why not provide them with neighbor kits so that they can become brand evangelists and activate their own loads of hope campaigns in their, perhaps less devastating community disastersâ€”local fires, smaller floods, etc.? Know a family whose house burned down? Tell us about them and we will send you detergent to do their laundry for them. Thank you for being a good neighbor. We need more like you.
As of publication date, having completed six on the ground Loads of Hope events (Fargo, ND; Galveston, TX; San Diego, CA; Baton Rouge, LA; New Orleans, LA) over time, the program has shifted more toward fundraising and fund donating. And this is an important point: More Than Promotes are not measured on product donation or funds raised. They are measured by activation and impact. One example (Rosetta Stone) demonstrates the value of language preserving culture, and the other (Tide) presents a marketing opportunity where language could have been used to further a cultureâ€™s view of community.
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“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” —Anne Frank
It started in 2003 when we launched Rooks Communications, one of a few preceding names for The SOAP Group. The language surrounding what we did was at best un-evolved. Our tagline was “marketing for environmental and natural resources.” There was a simplicity in not having the modern language of “green” and “sustainability” that was nice, almost pastoral. We always struggled with the language of what we did, and so assumed some clients out there must be struggling, too. But it really started in 2008 when employees decided to start a public bike-sharing program for fun. As homage to the granddaddy of bike programs in Amsterdam from the 1960s,
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we called the program White Bike. A similar program called Yellow Bikes had failed in our founding city and state of Portland, Maine, before. It seems that all of these programs eventually fail, so that relieved some pressure. Theft and vandalism are the most common citations for failure. Our solution was to lock all of the bikes and post a universal lock code at www.whitebike.org. We wanted to deter the late Saturday night/early Sunday morning zombies looking to throw a bike off the million-dollar bridge for kicks. For the most part that simple strategy worked. We called friends who had spray booths, cashed in favors from bike shops, and dumpster-dove around town for parts. Within a month we had 10 “road-safe”2 bikes painted white and ready to unleash on the public. One day, we all chose our favorites and rode them into the center of town, like some hippy ghost parade, and locked them in a central location. Two newspapers and a National Public Radio reporter showed up. We waited, almost literally hiding in the bushes. A young couple walked by, read the signs on the bike that the lock combination3 was online and disappeared. But only for 10 minutes before they came back and started unlocking two bikes. Like Allen Funt, we sprang from the bushes, flashes and microphones at the ready. As it turns out, they were new to town, didn’t have a car, 2 barely 3 2453 – “bike” in numerals
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but needed to get to the grocery store. They had walked to the public library and looked up the lock combination on the Internet. What a success! Twenty percent of our fleet was in use within 35 minutes of launching the program. We launched the program because we had a strong bike culture in the company, and we wanted to create dialogue about the importance of supporting a bike-friendly city. As we openly and publicly called it, it was a stunt. We wanted the city planners, businesses, and citizens to think and talk more about bikes. Within weeks, we had an outpouring of donated bikes from citizens. We eventually had to stop taking the bikes because there were so many. Someone on the city council offered to champion our cause within city hall to get designated space for the bikes (ultimately it was a real estate deal) and businesses called wanting to have bike stops in front of their retail locations, â€œadoptâ€? bikes, and even advertise on them.4 A police dispatcher who was a fan of the stunt would periodically call my cell phone and let me know when bikes strayed too far or stayed in one location for longer than they should. The Boy Scouts called wanting to collect, paint, and maintain more bikes. The dialogue had begun. The stunt worked. 4 We rejected requests to advertise on the bike, wanting it to be somehow pure. In hindsight, it seems that the successful bike sharing programs need some sort of corporate sponsorship to keep them running.
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When winter came, we pulled the remaining, beaten five bikes back to the office5 and deconstructed the program. It was that moment where we first started to articulate how promotion could have value beyond the traditional measures of marketing. White bikes had civic value. They had cultural value. And, through sheer happenstance, it created a sense of corporate value for The SOAP Group. The promotion was an articulation of sustainability. It isn’t brain surgery, but there is a little neuroscience in it. We do need to rewire a few synapses, the ones that fire how to conceive of marketing. We’ve been successful at wasting our resources over the past 300 years, and whether you believe the climate change data or not, the mathematics of infinite supply for free forever never worked anyway. Obviously, there is some poly-sci in More Than Promote. And, there is a little religion in it, too. Not faith, but zealousness. As a brand strategy, no math is required. More Than Promote provides additionally on top of what marketers are already used to doing and measuring. But the fervor at which we market can change. We can love it. But there is also a sense of horse whispering, too. We need to get inside the head of promotion and cajole it to do things it doesn’t think it wants to do. 5 White bikes don’t stand a chance in Maine going up against a Nor’easter followed by a good plowing.
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Businesses around the world are realizing that in order to survive, they must begin to create social value. Marketing should, too.
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PRAXIS “You cannot eat a recipe.” —Shogaku Shunryu, Roshi Praxis is the process by which a theory is enacted or practiced. It is a practical and applied knowledge to one’s actions. In Theses on Feuerbach, Karl Marx wrote that “philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.” Marx argued that philosophy’s validity was in how it informed action. All the theory, consensus building, and analysis culminate here (perhaps this is our moment of transaction). Now that we have examined some of the cultural and business conditions that permit More Than Promote, let’s look at the framework required to engineer More Than Promote. Brazilian educator and critical pedagogy theorist Paulo Freire defined praxis in Pedagogy of the Oppressed as “reflection
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and action upon the world in order to transform it.” Through praxis, oppressed people can acquire a critical awareness of their own condition, and, with their allies, struggle for liberation. Freire comes to pedagogy from an unlikely path when he taught 300 sugarcane workers to read and write so they could vote. In 1964, a military coup put an end to that, and Freire was imprisoned as a traitor. The title of his first book, Education as the Practice of Freedom, puts much of his thought process in context. There’s a strong undertow of the subversive in Freire, so using his pedagogy as a guide to translate concept into action feels just right. The following steps us through developing promotion that has corporate, civic, and cultural value. What you will see here is not a step-by-step account of engineering a campaign. It’s more checklist than map. It is the beginning of the process. Step One: Brand Alignment
Consider your brand. • What are the environmental and social issues of materiality for your brand? • What problem does your product or service solve? (If it does not solve one, you have a bigger problem than developing modern promotion.)
Example from the text: Tide cleans clothes. It found a need
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in towns hit by natural disasters. It filled that need with not only its product, but with its brand. Questions for consideration: • What is your brand known for? • What are your top three brand attributes? • Apart from its normal use, can your product be used in other ways? (i.e., Dawn dish detergent used to remove oil from bird feathers) • Does your product include a unique logistical solution that could be useful? (for example: Walmart’s logistical prowess getting water to New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina) Make a list of your brand assets: 1. __________________________________________ 2. __________________________________________ 3. __________________________________________ 4. __________________________________________ 5. __________________________________________ This is evergreen content as you develop More Than Promote. Stay true to this list. This line of thinking may in fact help you create more value for your brand though design innovation.
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Step Two: Corporate Goals
What company goals should be tied to this specific promotion? Reputation, visibility, sales? Be specific and make them as quantifiable as possible (or as quantifiable as you need to get them approved). Example from text: New Belgium Brewing uses Tour de Fat to launch its amazing beer when it is opening up new distribution territories. Questions for consideration: â€˘ Are you looking to improve your reputation within a specific community/demographic? â€˘ Is this a new product launch to a new audience? â€˘ How many widgets do you need to sell to justify this campaign? These goals can be pulled directly from your traditional marketing plan. The point is not to engineer goals for this promotion, but to design the promotion to reach the goals. 1. __________________________________________ 2. __________________________________________ 3. __________________________________________ 4. __________________________________________ 5. __________________________________________
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How to measure: Measurement of corporate goals is typically similar to any traditional marketing program. • Impressions • Sales • Household penetration • Web traffic • Press • Reputation • Market share Step Three: Civic Goals
Refer back at your brand assets. Pull from these to help design goals for civic impact. Doing this will ensure that the promotion is more than “on-brand” but will also, in fact, further your brand. On-brand is status quo; we need to reach further. Set goals (one is enough if it is enough) for your impact against these goals. This is the civic impact you strive for. Example from text: Seventh Generation’s Tampontification saw a need in women’s shelters: not enough tampons. They set out a promotion to change this and gave over 675,000 tampon donations to women’s shelters. Questions for consideration:
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• What civic action could your customers take with your product? • What problem does your product solve? • What is your company passionate about fixing? • What civic problem could ruin your business? (Think about the ski industry’s actions to fight climate change. If the earth warms, they are out of business.) __________________________________________ __________________________________________ __________________________________________ __________________________________________ __________________________________________
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. How to measure: Here we look for the physical manifestation of your Civic goals. • Lives improved. • Meals delivered. • CO2 avoided. • Pounds lost.
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Step Four: Cultural Goals
This is the most difficult part of More Than Promote. Well done, it not only secures your brand’s language and identity as part of the solution, but it progresses cultural language toward a more sustainable and socially just culture. Example from text: Rosetta Stone was looking to literally save an entire culture by protecting its sleeping language. A monolinguistic shift in the world is bad for Rosetta Stone’s business. Questions for consideration: • What direction does culture need to move to incite long-term sustainable action in order to continue working toward this goal? • What language should people begin to use to create that substantive culture change? 1. __________________________________________ 2. __________________________________________ 3. __________________________________________ 4. __________________________________________ 5. __________________________________________ How to measure: The most effective way to measure this impact in the short term is to look at the media’s use of your own language when
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describing the program. Are they adopting your progressive on-brand language or have they reverted back to common language? Keep in mind that language is one measure and driver of culture change. This is where a campaign dictionary comes in handy. Develop a brand or campaign dictionary to use as a reference tool. Keep an eye out for your key phrases being used; set up Google Alerts on these phrases. These are not taglines, they are subtle shifts in language that are stemming from your brand and More Than Promote.
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