If we want a better world, we need to tell a better story. Of all advertising out there, 99{f94e4705dd4b92c5eea9efac2f517841c0e94ef186bd3a34efec40b3a1787622} says consume the world: buy this car and you’ll be sexier, or buy this toy and your kid will have more friends at school.

Is it really a surprise, then, that when we talk about changing people’s behaviour and mindset in a sustainable direction, it seems like a herculean task? If you’re told something enough times you believe it – as advertising professionals, we know this. A miniscule 1{f94e4705dd4b92c5eea9efac2f517841c0e94ef186bd3a34efec40b3a1787622} of brands and organisations in the communication landscape speaking up for change seems like a drop in the ocean, but that drop is beginning to develop into waves of pressure on the usual sales pitch.

As an advertising industry we’re in the business of creating relevant brand stories about why brand X is better than brand Y. In the early 1940s, Rosser Reeves of Ted Bates & Company spoke about unique selling propositions (USPs) to show how brands should be built on one unique point of difference. For example, a toothpaste giving you the whitest smile. As one toothpaste has now become a thousand, this is no longer a meaningful differentiator and it becomes increasingly difficult to tell a different story.

Sustainability offers a treasure chest of different stories that differentiate brand sustainable from brand run-of-the-mill. When the outdoor company Patagonia said on Black Friday last year: “Don’t buy this jacket”, and urged consumers towards more mindful consumption, it challenged the accepted brand narratives and gained a lot of attention.

Businesses are slowly realising the advantage of telling stories about doing good for people and the planet and how their brand is playing its part. When advertising becomes a force for good, I dub this “goodvertising”. In telling these goodvertising stories, brands are pushing their advertising footprint in a more sustainable direction and more people are being told stories about a healthier, cleaner, more responsible future. It will be slow, but we need to challenge the 99{f94e4705dd4b92c5eea9efac2f517841c0e94ef186bd3a34efec40b3a1787622} step by step.

In uncertain times people want leaders, someone to tell them that everything is going to be okay. Brands can and should take that role. The commercial for the restaurant chain Chipotle tells such a story; it challenges our current industrialised food production which has run amok and shows a new, more sustainable alternative where food is made in harmony with nature. The film exudes leadership and care. These are strong values to own and a lot stronger than “funny, witty or friendly”, which most brands aim for as their key to consumer relevance. If you as a brand show care towards people, people will care about you.

Sustainability is the new competition and if your brand doesn’t own sustainability in its category like Heinz owns Ketchup, you’re losing your voice in this new paradigm. When it comes to sustainability many brands have chosen a “doing” instead of “saying” approach, but doing doesn’t speak for itself. If we look at the 2012 brand survey from Interbrand, showcasing the most valued brands and most valued green brands, the lists are quite similar with seven of the top 20 brands – BMW, Apple, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, Cisco, Nokia and HP – occupying both lists. The more outspoken brands win their spot in the limelight, and so it is with sustainability. When Unilever promises customers a “Sustainable Living Plan”, Nestlé talks about “Creating Shared Value”. When Pepsi launched the Refresh Project, empowering and financing local community initiatives, Coke took its powerful white mascot and turned it into an effort to save the polar bears.

If you don’t begin to speak up for change and let your sustainable efforts speak for themselves, someone else will shout louder than you. For brands, goodvertising offers a different story that can distinguish your brand, attract new customers, challenge competition, grow business, encourage innovation and drag your brand out of the past and secure its lead in the future. Think about your advertising footprint; as a brand you can either choose to continue as normal or you can use your voice as a force for good.


Thomas Kolster is the author of Goodvertising, and founder of the Goodvertising Agency and the collaborative communication platform dedicated to sustainability, WhereGoodGrows.
Source: The Guardian