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Advertising Pays 8 essay: Paul Kemp-Robertson

/ February 18th 2020
Ad Pays

The following piece is taken from our report – Advertising Pays 8: UK Advertising’s Social Contribution – and is written by Paul Kemp-Robertson, Co-Founder, Contagious and Co-Author, The Contagious Commandments: Ten Steps To Brand Bravery (Penguin Business, 2018), on how advertising might deliver even more around social contribution in the years ahead.

For his Buyology project in 2008, branding expert Martin Lindstrom conducted a neuroscience experiment that found a correlation between religion and brands. He discovered that the brain activation evident in devout Christians when exposed to faith-related triggers was also evident in fans of ‘emotionally powerful brands’ such as Apple and Harley-Davidson when familiar iconography from these companies was displayed.

So if faith can move mountains, I think the nation’s most popular brands should put in a decent shove and make a tangible contribution to society.

In fact, I would go even further. I would argue that brands have the wherewithal to inspire and engineer social and political change. Why? Because they have the fame, the funds, the media muscle and the creative firepower to genuinely influence people. Indeed, in the ‘Be Generous’ chapter of our Contagious Commandments book we advise brands ‘to function, where relevant, as quasi-NGOs to solve some of the vital challenges facing society.’

This could range from the noble – such as IKEA pledging to give 2,500 refugees job training in 300 of its stores by 2022 – to the tactical, like the Paving For Pizza campaign whereby Domino’s repaired potholes in every American state to improve local roads for its delivery vehicles. Or the brave; like Coca-Cola confronting a Brazilian homophobic slur (‘Essa Coca é Fanta’ – i.e. a gay man is not a real man) by putting Fanta into Coke cans and changing the labelling to read: ‘This Coke is a Fanta. So what?’

It helps if your brand is underpinned by what Contagious defines as an Organising Principle. Alternative terms may include Brand Purpose or North Star, but we feel that Organising Principle goes much deeper: it is the thesis around which your brand can radiate and rally – a central belief that drives everything, from internal policies to external communications.

The obvious example is Patagonia: We are in business to save our home planet. This explains why the company sponsored two Democratic candidates in states where national parks are under threat from commercial gas and oil exploration, after a loosening of legislation by the Trump administration. It also explains why Patagonia has invested in what it dubs the most sustainable beer on the planet – Long Root Ale, made using Kernza, a grain which does not require pesticides, uses less water than wheat and acts like a sponge for carbon. The outdoor clothing brand justifies this foray into an adjacent product category by stating: ‘We believe the future of farming – and our planet – lies in organic regenerative agriculture.’ In other words: the beer industry isn’t playing its part, so we need to nudge them along.

Between Typhoon Trump, the Brexit maelstrom, and the antagonism of Twitter trolls it feels like we’re living in a toxic, polarised society. Trust in governments and institutions is exceptionally low. I’m not saying trust in advertisers is massively higher, but it is higher, according to a recent Ipsos MORI poll – and in that gap there is not only an opportunity, but also, I would argue, a responsibility.


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