From Goodvertising to Meaningful Brands

It’s a fact: people value brands less and less. Ninety-one percent of Spaniards say that they could do without brands altogether. The Meaningful Brands study, conducted since 2008 by the Havas Group, shows that a majority of consumers wouldn’t mind if practically all brands disappeared.

One proposed solution is to create “advertising for people”, as argued by Thomas Kolster, who coined the term goodvertising. This is the concept of sustainable communication, which proposes that advertising should be used to improve the planet and educate society.

Just advertising? Communication as a transformative element, as we saw in the last Super Bowl, where ten spots were clearly oriented toward the social value of brands? Or communication as the tip of the marketing iceberg? Let’s review the question of whether brands need more than advertising. Here are two examples I love (two steps forward):

–          Mattel’s iconic Barbie doll is now available in three more realistic body types – tall, curvy and petite – and seven different skin tones. It’s an attempt to make the doll relevant and beloved again. More dolls, more ways for girls to use their imagination with a Barbie. Doing good and making a positive change in people’s lives.


–          Pontevedra has been recognised by numerous international bodies – the Urban Institute of Beijing, the prestigious Centre for Active Design, the UN Habitat programme, etc. – for a mobility design that increases the livability of this small Spanish city. The main marketing contribution is Metrominuto, a pedestrian map that indicates walking distances, which has now been introduced in more than 30 cities around the world.

In the words of Miguel Anxo Fernández Lores, the mayor of Pontevedra: “Sometimes I feel like a preacher.” Or, as implied by the Soul Marketing concept, when managers embrace their role as citizen-consumers, learn to grasp contradictions and understand the need to enhance positive effects on society, they can create projects that end up generating solutions and advertising that is valuable to people.

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The Sharing Economy: Neoliberalism on Steroids

My latest contribution to the ESADE Economic Report, on the topic of the sharing economy, once again focuses on the dilemma that always arises in relation to this concept: Is it positive or negative for society? Or, as Martin put it in the title of his well-known article: “The sharing economy: a pathway to sustainability or a nightmarish form of neoliberal capitalism?”. The sharing economy has been described as a post-crisis antidote to materialism and the excesses of consumption, but also as “neoliberalism on steroids”.

It’s a model that is perpetually associated with paradoxes. Besides genuinely collaborative, community-based, not-for-profit platforms that offer shared assets in exchange for no money, it also encompasses multinational enterprises that are truly motivated by profits. This paradox is derived from our present-day culture, which is dominated by economic imperatives but also clamours for more cooperative modes of action.

To understand this paradox, we propose using the framework proposed by Tsing. What we’re seeing is not a coherent set of synchronised economic practices, but rather a set of disjointed actions better described as “the continual emergence of new capitalist niches, cultures and forms of agency’ rather than any ‘capitalist monolith”.

According to McKinsey, the sharing economy is a business model that is here to stay. It’s an opportunity for companies that know how to work in this disjointed environment, as the Daimler Group has been trying to do with its Car2Go car-sharing service and its mobility platform Moovel. Or, as Tim O’Reilly wrote in The Economist, “The idea of renting from a person rather than a faceless company will survive, even if the early idealism of the sharing economy does not.” The sharing economy, therefore, is not an alternative with a discernible ideology but a reality validated by consumers who have ultimately decided that they are willing to share in order to consume less.

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Cause Marketing: Love it or Hate it estimates that cause marketing has grown in the past 15 years from $700 million to $2 billion. Cause marketing is growing rapidly and for a good reason: it simply works. It is a business strategy – not just an evolution of philanthropy – that strongly influences purchasing decisions.

It works by providing a growing funding stream for NGOs, reaching $1.9 billion in funds in 2015 in North America and developing a new donor base of millennials who want to support causes through the brands they patronise.

It works, evolves and innovates, as seen in some 2015-2016 cases:

–       Toms Shoes evolved from the “one-for-one concept” to “One Day Without Shoes”: using the Instagram platform where for every photo of bare feet that was tagged they gave a new pair of shoes to a child in need.

–       Doritos with the “It Gets Better” project: For every $10 donated, donors received a bag of rainbow chips. This is a new development called causejacking: when a brand rides the wave of a cause’s popularity.

–       Partnership between Subway and Coca-Cola: For every bottle of Dasani water sold in 2,200 participating US Subways, Coca-Cola donates 30 cents. A total of $125,000 has been donated to World Vision, the NGO that is the largest non-governmental supplier of clean water around the world.

–       Nivea India’s “Mom’s Touch” partnered with Aseema Charitable Trust, an organisation dedicated to providing quality education to children from marginalised communities.

–       Budweiser’s “Give a Damn”, broadcasted during the 2016 Super Bowl. Helen Mirren addressed drunk driving in a wonderfully witty spot in which the only commercial reference was a bottle and a mention of its cold temperature.

Meanwhile, tons of difficulties have been foretold from the NGO sector. A false solidarity in which the real winner is the for-profit company. An unhealthy lifelong dependence for these campaigns. A consumer who likes to maintain this altruistic vein through consumption practices. Consumers’ scepticism towards these campaigns. And thousands of ethical and mental barriers.

Now that Marmite suffers the consequences of the Brexit, let’s benchmark their claim. Cause marketing: do you love it or hate it?


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Purpose brands: standing for something

In subjects like Business in Society, we think about what the truth is and the interrelationships between – and the future of – concepts such as CSR and social marketing. The eternal debate about the virtue of sales gains from CSR. Until once again managers find an alternative route to avoid arguing about organisations with a soul (it’s marketing that has a soul!). Let’s give the consumer a more credible value: brands have a soul; brands are becoming purpose-oriented.

When many companies have to fight to turn a profit while competing in price, new leaders emerge, such as Indra Nooyi of PepsiCo, the guest speaker at the recent ESADE Alumni Annual Conference. When digital media generate real-time conversations about companies’ activities and new ways for consumers to access information, consumers expect transparency, authenticity and higher standards of ethical conduct.

Philips has its own index to measure the number of lives the company improves each year, calculated using an algorithm that looks at demand for products directly related to health and how many people those products have affected. Today, Philips is a purpose brand: this KPI explains who they are as a company, their courage to stand for something. This is the only benefit they bring to the world, beyond the proposal of Milton Friedman. And like Philips, there are also the companies ranked by Radley Yeldar, for example.

These are brands that, without being perfect, bring out the enthusiasm in consumers and the talent of the millennial generation that they want to attract. Brands that offer to become part of the solution. When we talk about brands in the non-profit sector, we talk about advocacy or relief brands. But profit-oriented companies are starting to talk about creating movement brands.

Do they work? Take a look at the three following purposes. If you can identify the brands that have these purposes, you’ll know it works.

  • To empower creative exploration and self-expression.
  • To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world (everybody is an athlete).
  • To help women reconsider and redefine what beauty is.

Want more? Attend the ESADE Alumni conference on purpose brands in early 2017.

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A little bit of content

“A Little Bit of Soul” was the title of a talk I gave at RCD Espanyol when the club was looking for Asian investors, with the subtitle “Football as a Business Platform for Asian Companies”. Here’s a reflection on the sport’s marketing appeal: professional football is the world’s most popular sport. Sixty percent of fans see football as a religion, 67% have cried at a football stadium, and 78% often bring family members to matches with them. Venues such as the new RCD Espanyol Stadium, which won the Venue of the Year Award at the 2010 Stadium Business Awards, are pure emotional retail.

My conclusion was that working in professional football entails an evolution from simple sponsorship to emotional content: rituals in the stands such as Borussia Dortmund’s Südtribüne and Iceland’s ‘Viking thunderclap’ celebration at the recent Eurocup. Pure branding – seared into the skin!

But if marketing evolves from “offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large” – according to the AMA 2007 definition of marketing – today football is a marketing asset directed towards other stakeholders. If we analyse Chinese entrepreneurs’ incursions into European football, we notice the professionalisation of the process:

–          From the passion of the benevolent leader to the passion of the new megamillionaires. A lifelong football fan, President Xi Jinping hopes the sport will provide new challenges for China’s 1.4 billion citizens. Three of the country’s ten largest fortunes have already invested in football. Business, relationships and egos. Millionaires such as Jack Ma (Alibaba), Jia Yueting (LeEco) and Wang Jianlin (Wanda) have invested in shares of Atlético de Madrid and Manchester City, as well as Chinese teams such as the top club Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao.

–          Expanding the list of stakeholders: They buy the television rights agency Infront, headed by the nephew of Sepp Blatter; they buy shares in Jorge Mendes’s Gestifute, the largest football agency service; and they buy the television rights to the China Super League – a five-year contract worth $1.3 billion.

In China today, football is no longer a useless social hobby or an alternative to sponsoring. It provides dreams of world leadership, a multifaceted business, and content marketing for telling stories to attract and retain both customers and presidents of some republics.


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Anthropocene is coming

“Winter is Coming” is the motto of House Stark, and a current example of metonymy: winter implies a warning, meaning we should all be in a constant mood of vigilance. Marketing uses metonymies, in that these substitute words make it possible to increase the experiential component of our communication.

The term Anthropocene was popularised by the Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen in an article entitled “Geology of mankind” in the journal Nature. The word has taken root, and even jumped to other fields such as management (see “Welcome to the Anthropocene”, The Economist, 2011). As a word, it encapsulates the idea that Holocene – the scientific term referring to the present era – is no longer an adequate description: we now live in an age in which human behaviour has modified the geology of the Earth.

Many climate scientists are reluctant to use the Anthropocene concept, offering various reasons: it has no exact meaning, its scientific validity is under scrutiny, alternative words such as Capitolecene (the geological era from capitalism) are available. But these scientists don’t see the same utility in words that we see in marketing: words are powerful, they change the way people speak and think, and they cause their recipients to reframe their perception of the world. And reframing is a key element in a changing culture. As the American cognitive linguist George Lakoff once said, reframing is social change.

Anthropocene is a word that contributes more emotional experience to our attempts to bring about a behavioural change. The model proposed by the Australian researcher Gillian King exemplifies this social marketing approach: there’s Pain Island – the place where we are now – and Pleasure Island – the wonderful place where there is no pain and all is good. And there’s also the Boat, the mechanism to get there.

Pain Island is the Anthropocene. We have created a word that conveys stories, narratives and images of climate change. And it provides a complementary view of a real alternative for the future, thereby helping people visualise the direction in which we should aim our social change.

“Winter is coming”: we need to be prepared for what’s coming. As in House Stark, it’s not pessimism; it’s pragmatism.

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Little did I know…

The end of the academic year is a good time to look back on the impact we’ve had on our students. How have they experienced the impact of marketing on society? What have they learned? Theories, paradigms,….?

But forget all that! Instead, I’d like to use the STUDENT SERIES format to see what insights the students will share and what our true impact has been. This year, I’ve been truly fascinated by the story of Carmen Friedinger: age 22, coming from the Vienna University of Economics and Business for a semester abroad at ESADE, and seeking a career in marketing. If you can’t enrol in my subject, don’t worry: here’s an exciting trailer, brought to you by another student.

“I could start this blog post by pretending that it was my vast interest in the topic of social marketing that made me choose this class. But I think it will be more interesting to read the truth, so here you go: the main reason I decided to take this class was because of the great reviews some students from my home university in Vienna gave the professor, and the fact that they said how fun and easy it was to come up with a plan for collaboration between an NGO and Spanish companies. Little did I know! Truth be told – it did not actually turn out to be so easy for my group and me. Of course, the professor and the guest speakers were all very helpful and open to answering any of our questions and doubts – of which we had many! However, instead of just “finding a company to collaborate with and making a nice and easy project” we ended up spending hours and hours of discussion and careful consideration together. We found it very hard to come up with a plan for how to tell an NGO that seems so confident in its own appearance that what they need most of all is awareness of the hospital itself before they can properly promote their organisation and raise funds. We used our briefings with the guest speakers and the professor to figure out a way to let the NGO know that their image is not as great as they think it is – but without insulting them, as our goal was to win them over. BUT: instead of getting a clearer view of how to solve this problem, every one of them told us their personal opinion, which differed greatly from each other, making it harder for us to find a way to fulfil all their requirements. This point right here is what made this class a real challenge for us, and I think it is also what helped me most to improve my consulting skills, because in real life you will face similar situations. Moreover, as the class was taught in Spanish and our team was made up of students from all different universities (ESADE, Austin, Indiana, Paris and Vienna) it was very interesting to see how differently we all approached this project. Of course, the language barrier led to a couple funny moments, too. Overall, I think this class taught me a lot about how consulting projects take place in real life and how to overcome the hurdles of being in a very diverse project team.”

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Big food is the new bad underdog

I was invited by Fira de Barcelona to speak at the presentation of Alimentaria 2016 to the international media. In my talk, I described the consumers and the society that the food industry will be facing in the coming years. It’s no trivial matter: Europe has the world’s most highly developed food and agriculture industry. The nine largest companies in the sector move €227 billion each year and employ 750,000 workers.

These are great times to be in the food business, as the general manager of one such company told us at Desayunos ESADE. The future will be built on three main market segments:

–          Emerging countries, which are eager to consume calorie- and protein-rich diets

–          Aging baby boomers, who are looking for healthy foods associated with major changes in the way we produce food and beverages

–          Millennials, the new commanders of food, eager to discover new things

In all three cases, however, there’s a “big chill”: the unstoppable shift to fresh and refrigerated foods. Studies by Technomics and MSI have found that 87% of adults feel that fresh foods are healthier, 80% believe they are tastier, and 78% are making a strong effort to eat more fresh versus processed foods.

Fresh products versus processed food: that’s the challenge for big food producers in marketing terms. “How can we remake ourselves?” (Smuckers CEO); “Big has become bad” (ConAgra CEO); “We understand that increasing numbers of consumers are seeking authentic, genuine food experiences, and they are sceptical of the ability of large food companies to deliver them” (Campbell Soup CEO).

The idea of “processing” – from techniques of curing and salting to the modern arsenal of preservatives — arose to make sure the food we ate didn’t make us sick. Today, society fears that processed food itself is making us unhealthy.

This is a marketing challenge – “the most dynamic, disruptive and transformational time that I’ve seen in my career”, in the words of one marketing professional. Right in front of us.


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Social marketing craftsmen: 2015 ESADE vintage

This year, I am once again proud to present two projects that our students are developing alongside faculty members according to the problem-based service learning methodology. Year after year, this is one of our best teaching experiences –the sort of project that, in the words of the professors, “gives meaning to our work, experience and dedication”.

–          The ACIDH group is working with an NGO focused on persons with limited intelligence (PLI) with the marketing objective of increasing their online presence.

–          The blood bank group is once again fighting to increase blood donations on our campus, in terms of both total donations and first-time donors. Great claim (“product costs nothing, but worth everything”), great video

Both projects are developed in a way that allows students to reach their own conclusions about whether marketing is a way to address social problems. And they decide what kind of impact they want to have in their professional career (to quote Seth Godin, “the impact comes from the craftsman, not the tool”).

So far, they have convinced various marketing professors to join the cause – which is easier than an ice bucket challenge.

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Bacon is the new black

The epidemiologist Kurt Straif has published his latest study for the World Health Organization (WHO): about 34,000 cancer deaths per year worldwide can be attributed to diets high in processed meat. The study includes two key takeaways for social marketing:

–         No safe level of consumption has been identified.

–         Let the public decide who to trust, the industry or the study.

The processed meat industry is a transparent player. With global revenues of about $200 billion, it generates trust: ‘cancer is a complex disease not caused by single foods’, ‘the WHO report is biased and misleading’, ‘they tortured the data to ensure a specific outcome’, and ‘that’s a small fraction of the 8.2 million deaths caused by cancer every year’ (The North American Meat Institute).

Retailers are more subtle: ‘If anything causes cancer, it’s up to people to listen to what science says and decide on their own. We aren’t going to force anybody to eat bacon (…) but I would die if I couldn’t eat bacon. It’s so delicious!” (Chris Chriswell, owner of Swine, a NYC restaurant whose motto is ‘Bacon is the new black’).

Consumers have reacted surprisingly, in a way that is incomprehensible for Straif: ‘Nutritional McCarthyism’ (quip from a paleo-diet fan); ‘this study sucks’ (in-depth analysis from a troll); ‘Meat has been determined to cause cancer in Europe… I’m glad I’m in Kansas!’ (cute tweet from another critic).

Marketing uses psychology to explain why the WHO has lost: cognitive dissonance, the mental discomfort experienced by consumers who hold two or more contradictory beliefs or are confronted by new information that sets their taste for hotdogs and sausages against an 18% increase in their probability of cancer.

And when consumers experience inconsistency, it is psychologically uncomfortable. They are motivated to reduce this dissonance and avoid information that is likely to increase it. Straif should have used a social marketing strategy: increase the value of his belief and information. Because, to quote a recent dining companion at my favourite restaurant, ‘This time, they’ve crossed the line.”

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