Drive north out of Kampala in Uganda and you will come across many signs like this one – Coca Cola has sponsored a local school and given the school a Coca Cola sign. A example of commerce invading people’s lives and landscapes you might think? But on reflection I think not.Coca Cola schools signs


It is (as I discovered from visiting schools) a fine example sensitivity to local culture and perfect fit between idea and medium,of Coca Cola getting it right by thinking about what their brand idea can means in different cultures and contexts.

In Uganda happiness really is a good education. Many aspire to it and many can’t afford it especially if their parents are either too poor or dead. There are many penniless orphans and struggling single parents burdened with a large brood of offspring and so there are many children for whom schooling is a dream and an aspiration and not, as we have it, a right.

Go inside these schools and you understand something else – they may be very ill-equipped but the mood is one of warmth, energy and joy. Like this one i visited on the outskirts of Kampala.

They had very little as you can see from the classroom but i have not met happier children.

Or children with better taste in Eyewear….kids2 Here one young lad tries on my glasses

So any money contributed to these schools is definitely a contribution to the sum of Ugandan national happiness.

There are emerging trends and then there are fully emerged trends

If you take the  Cannes 2013 awards as a guide  then the idea that brands should take on public spirited causes is now a fully emerged trend

I mean by this not just a commitment to being responsible  in the way they do business. No this is something altogether more high profile.

In this years  awards many of the award winners- a majority perhaps- were companies communicating how they are working on behalf of citizens and championing public spirited causes

Such as these campaigns

  • IBM making billboards into seats and shelters for weary travellers.
  • Dela Dela Funeral Insurance encouraging us to be nice to relatives, before they die.
  • Channel 4 saluting Paralympic athletes.
  • Smart Communications providing textbooks for poor schoolchildren using old mobile phones.
  • Dove encouraging women to value their own beauty.
  • Oreo cookies celebrating diversity.
  • Recife Football Club encouraging organ donation.
  • P&G has become the worlds proud sponsor of mums ( that last one is quite a turnaround- when i started in the biz they were an anonymous chemical company)

What is the thinking behind this? It is  based on the belief that people don’t just buy what you do, they also buy why you do it.

Put another way the model is this-

“Love my values,

Love my brand,

Buy my product or service ( at a premium)”

Is it working ? Well Nielsen have just published some research that suggests that it does –

The proportion of consumers willing to pay more for goods and services from companies engaged in corporate social responsibility has increased to 50% globally, according to new research.
The study from market researchers Nielsen also found that 43% of global respondents have actually spent more on products and services from companies that have implemented programmes to give back to society.
That represents just 7% fewer than those expressing willingness to do so and comes amidst signs of a rising trend of goodwill towards socially responsible brands.
Credit should go to Unilever with their 5 levers of change and to the Dove team- the big players who were at in the start of this recent trend .
But i don’t think they invented it – “Love my values love my brand” marketing is really a classic challenger brand strategy as explained by Adam Morgan in Eating the Big Fish. People who pioneered this trend go further back like the late and highly visionary Anita Roddick with The Body Shop. It is just that the rest of the marketing world has taken a long time to catch up with Anita
Roddick was well ahead of her time - a true pioneer

Roddick was well ahead of her time – a true pioneer

But why this trend now ? Like a lot of emerged trends, There is not just one factor but a combination
– Follow my leader: when Unilever and P&G do something big time, others follow
– Marketing and business theory. John Kay in Obliquity and Jim Stengel in Grow have made the business performance case ; Companies that purely pursue profits ( aka The Shareholder Value School)  do less well than those who try to do the right thing. And sometimes doing the right thing means championing causes.
-Staff motivation: people are not just motivated by money. They prefer to work at and perform better at places ( private or public sector) that pursue a higher purpose.
-Customer service: Staff who are believers (and not just mercenaries) deliver better service. Companies like John Lewis for example.
– Premium pricing – if Mintel is right we pay more to companies that give back to society
– Communications effectiveness; It gives a company or brand a true story to tell – one that is worth telling in film (still the most moving of media) and a story to  pass on through networks and through social media. Stories worth talking about and participating in.

I was asked this question by Aurora magazine ( which is a cross between Marketing Week and Campaign in Pakistan- edited by the excellent Mary-Lou Andrew). It set me thinking. If you ask this question now you are no longer just asking about the narrow question of winning and retaining customers – you are in fact asking about how brands fit into the wider picture of society, technology and government, especially as the state retreats.

Here were my 5

Business for Good

10 years ago companies started to get CSR departments- but was it just a fig leaf whilst the company carried on as before? The suspicion was yes and not the fig leaves were not big enough to cover the private parts

Then Unilever closed its CSR department and said that ethical behaviour was its whole business (see their 5 levers of change). Last year, Jim Stengel ( ex P&G top marketer) said (in Grow the business case for brand ideals is not about altruism or corporate social responsibility. It is about expressing a business’s fundamental reason for being and powering its growth. A big trend- and the likes of Unilever and P&G do make the weather..

The bigger picture is that as the state retreats outsourcing is on the rise- cue more scandals as we resent private companies making profits out of our taxes. Outsourcing is a ghastly word – a damning association for Mitt Romney even in business friendly USA. These companies desperately need to express and believe in a higher purpose- not least as a defence agains public skepticism about their motives.


It was the surprise hit of the London 2012 Olympics- proof that great customer experience is the best form of marketing and the most effective way to build reputation

We are all now interested in how we can keep all that good will and energy going and apply it to other big challenges- especially as the state is in retreat. How can it help in other areas- the health service and social care for example? Volunteering is how the justice system has run in the UK since time immemorial in the form of ( unpaid ) Justices or the Peace. Can the model be applied to other areas of civic society?

The clues are there in the olympic experience  and they are all to do with how you treat people who do the volunteering

Make it feel important , fun, rewarding and sociable- give people a sense of status as volunteers.

Try not to make it feel like ‘ a duty’

This is The Big Society – to make it happen means dropping the grandiose policy wonkery around it and thinking about the things that give us pleasure and make us feel recognised and rewarded.

 Authentic cultural experiences

All trends have counter trends – as many have become more isolated-slaves to a flood of emails and tweets ,so we want to get back into the real world

Music festivals have grown fast over the past decade and now cultural festivals and book fairs are growing too. The Hay book festival has gone international. I expect Karachi’s young book festival to be as big as Jaipur soon – it will be an authentic expression of Pakistan’s vibrant literature and art.

The mobile personal screen

The mobile is no longer a communications device- it is turning into another screen that we carry around and by which we navigate the world.

The drivers of this are device innovation, a dynamic app economy and lower costs. Huawei (chinese) smartphones will make smartphones available to more people soon – not just those who can afford Iphones

To call this “mobile marketing” is to miss the more radical nature of the mobile revolution. This will collapse the separation between the real and virtual worlds. The mobile- as last supported by high speed internet access- will be a tool for adding whole other dimension to your experiences in shops, streets, sports stadia and at events. Of course big data will get in on the act and see this as a chance to target us with relevant messages- right person, right time ,right place is more possible. But the bigger opportunity is to ask – what portable service can i give my customers that they value and use to navigate the world around them and connect with their networks. Foursquare is just the beginning

Food prices and poverty

Food prices are going up as the harvest has been poor in the USA- expect protectionism to grow as countries like Russia seek to hold onto more of their food to feed their own people. This is understandable but misguided and a bad idea for everyone.

These rises will hit the poor hardest as they spend a much greater proportion of their money than the middle classes on just keeping body and soul together. The so-called developed nations will have to get used to more and more soup kitchens in their poorer cities (the Northern ones in the UK).

And for the big food and retail brands it will represent a challenge- the best will seize the opportunity to demonstrate that business is for good and not just for profit.