Wednesday, 16 April 2008


I am talking at Under the Influence for the second year running tomorrow, hosted once again by the lovely Iris and Contagious magazine - here's what I am going to say (dunno if I will show all the charts, but seemed helpful to spell it out for broader circulation). Hopefully should lead to an interesting debate, there & here for that matter. It's a free event anyway, with nice beer & nice people - do pop down if you are free :J

My slideshow link: at Flickr


peter said...

John - I enjoyed your talk yesterday very much.

I was the mug who asked the question about 'short-termism'. I really wanted to put some frames of reference around what was driving the question, and maybe you might want to respond.

You talked about three things yesterday, and it was the inter-relationship between those three that interested me.

First - the big picture - the external influences on marketing and morality.

Aren't these macro-economic and socio-political issues beyond the influence of marketing? They set the climate within which we all operate. We can influence them to some degree as individuals, by how we vote, what we buy, how we consume, but ultimately it's not the role of marketing to change the world.

Which leads into marketing - the internal influences. Marketing (and particularly advertising) is a shadow or reflector of social norms. We pick-up consumer insights, the zeitgeist, and manipulate it - for good or bad. If the wind is blowing in the direction of ethical and sustainable then companies will recognise that and use it as a marketing angle. Some might say this is too cynical, but I think it's reality. Marketing doesn't 'lead', it 'follows'. Only companies that are founded in ethical truths (like Howies), or that genuinely undertake a programme of fundamental ethical change can be free from the accusations of 'greenwashing'.

Those two together led me to my question - which is really an observation, that if times get tough and people (including clients) become concerned about more basic 'needs' - like having a job and a roof over their heads, then ethics will be relegated pretty quickly for the majority. Clients will focus on short-term issues - sales, sqeezing costs etc. Consumers will buy what they can afford.

Which leads into the final point about our own ethics as companies. I totally agree with having an ethical framework around which you build your business, but don't confuse your own ethics with that of client companies. Your own ethics may well have absolutely tangible benefits for your company - attracting and retaining talented people - and your own sense of well-being, but I don't believe that client companies take your own ethics into account too much when you're tendering for business. Individuals within client companies will empathise with you as fellow good people, but once you're stuck in a procurement meeting and haggling over costs, you'll soon find that clients won't pay for your ethics.

Sorry if this has rambled a bit, but I couldn't have got all that out yesterday.

Patrick Byers said...

Great deck and an interesting comment on something near and dear to me.

I agree with Peter's comment that "clients won't pay for your ethics."

It's true. Not every client will pay. It will take awhile for change to happen.

After all, there will always be companies that lag when it comes to new, sometimes disruptive ideas.

At my firm, one of our values is, "we only work with clients that share our values."

We don't want to lead a horse to water just to watch them die of dehydration as we beg them to do what's necessary.

Happy marketing.

Patrick Byers
The Responsible Marketing Blog

John Grant said...

Hi Peter, I do get where you are coming from, but actually you can take a lead on ethics and you dont have to work with anyone who doesnt measure up to your standards. If you check the ethics statements & policies of many major corporations, you will actually find that in general agencies are decades behind anyway. We actually did very well by this at St Luke's & it's simply a comms industry version of being a method, innocent or howies. Marketing can lead too, because it is simply the process of attaching ideas to companies and those ideas can be as 'out there' as you like. Whether your clients dare lead is another matter but the opportunity is always there. Just my take on things

On Patrick's point I agree - but my ethics aren't for sale, my services are. I do occasionally check out clients with 3rd parties before I agree to meet/work with them, but that's nobody's business but my own. I do encourage clients to look at sustainability as an innovation opportunity but that's just good business, plus we all live on the same planet :J