Let’s suppose you are running an advertising agency in the late 1990s. The agency has a bank as a client and the client has asked you to help them develop some new products. After some heavy brainstorming with your team of talented, innovative young people, you go back to the client with a brilliant idea: a banking product for women.
It would be branded appropriately and have all the extra benefits that busy women appreciate. You provide the research to demonstrate that women are a growing and valuable market segment, you point out that no one else on the market has anything like this, and you wait for the client to congratulate you on your brilliance.
Instead, the client leans back and says, “Ah! Tozonzi bank revakadzi?” (People will label us a bank for women) and dismisses your idea with contempt. Try as you might, you cannot get your client to see the benefits of taking this small risk in order to position themselves as a market leader.
You also wonder what could be so bad about being called “a bank for women”; and you quickly recognise the ugly face of patriarchy.
The story doesn’t end there. A year or so later, an insurance product called “First for Women” is launched. The same client hears about it and challenges you, “Why can’t you guys come up with creative ideas like this?” At this point you have the choice to either:
remind the client of your fruitless efforts to “come up with creative ideas like this”
swallow hard and accept that the client has a short memory and a tall ego
back away slowly before you say something you will regret forever
I will let you decide how the story ends, but I think you get my point: if you want to be a leader in the market you have to be brave with your brand.
In fact, if you want to be a leader you have to be brave with your life!
I recently cut my hair rather radically, and I have been surprised by how often the word “brave” comes up when people comment. You wouldn’t have thought that removing hair which will grow again in a matter of months should not appear on the list of acts of courage, but somehow it has. What does this say about our risk appetite, and our craving for compliance.
I know a woman who finds it very difficult to make decisions. As a result, many aspects of her life are left hanging, and she leaves a trail of frustration in her wake. What she doesn’t realise is that the choices she agonises over are not actually that important, and that in fact there are very few right or wrong choices.
Every choice has good and bad consequences at some level, and it is the way we process those consequences that really matters most.
When it comes to brands being brave, there is enormous fear about “playing” with other people’s money. Many managers fear for their jobs, and also that they will not succeed in their attempts to be original or innovative.
Admittedly the prospect can be frightening, but as with any risk assessment, you must also take into consideration the prospect of what might happen if you don’t take the risk.
One of the most courageous demonstrations of values-based advertising I have ever seen is the 2011 ad from sportswear manufacturer Patagonis, with a headline “Dont buy this jacket”. Patagonia is heavily committed to environmental protection and with this campaign, decided to put its money where its mouth is.
It demonstrated not only tremendous courage, but also a deep and insightful understanding of who their customers are and what those customers care about. The ad read:
“The environmental cost of everything we make is astonishing. Consider the R2 Jacket shown, one of our best sellers. To make it required 135 litres of water, enough to meet the daily needs (three glasses a day) of 45 people. Its journey from its origin as 60% recycled polyester to our Reno warehouse generated nearly 20 pounds of carbon dioxide, 24 times the weight of the finished product. This jacket left behind, on its way to Reno, two-thirds its weight in waste.
“And this is a 60% recycled polyester jacket, knit and sewn to a high standard; it is exceptionally durable, so you won’t have to replace it as often. And when it comes to the end of its useful life we’ll take it back to recycle into a product of equal value. But, as is true of all the things we can make and you can buy, this jacket comes with an environmental cost higher than its price.”
The ad concluded: “There is much to be done and plenty for us all to do. Don’t buy what you don’t need. Think twice before you buy anything. Go to patagonia.com/CommonThreads, take the Common Threads Initiative pledge and join us in the fifth R, to reimagine a world where we take only what nature can replace.”
Patagonia, a highly-profitable business, making more than $400 million a year, is wholly-owned by Yvon Chouinard and his wife. In 2013, two years after the ad ran, he told the Wall Street Journal: “I never even wanted to be in business. But I hang onto Patagonia because it’s my resource to do something good. It’s a way to demonstrate that corporations can lead examined lives.” How’s that for walking the talk!
Thembe Khumalo is a brand builder, storyteller and certified life coach