Capitalism is the new activism: big business and media lead the way to social and environmental change

Late last year I had the pleasure of meeting with Sophie Tranchell, Managing Director of Divine Chocolate  and an activist at heart. Armed with management experience in the film industry, Sophie arrived at Divine ready to merge her passion for social transformation with good business sense, understanding that the market has the power to bring about massive change and that creativity and communications are the key to people’s hearts.

Divine, to me, is a work of marketing and campaigning genius. Divine – and the stalwarts that supported its mission – made fair trade chocolate sexy; now everyone’s doing it, even Cadbury. Divine’s ‘Like Love Only More So’ campaign (St Luke’s) uses straplines such as ‘like a whirlwind affair, only more ethical’.  Who can resist ethics if the side dishes are chocolate and romance?

Do consumers ‘get’ what it means when advertising entices them to purchase a fair trade cocoa product? I doubt that most would understand the message this seemingly simple choice sends to suppliers.  The choice has a huge impact, not only for the farmers in the Kuapa Kokoo co-operative who supply Divine’s cocoa, but as a flow-on effect to farmers and workers who will benefit down the track from the increase in demand for ethical products.

Leading change in such an emerging market  is where big (or at least medium-sized) business has its place in sustainability transformation: business doesn’t need everyone to get it for change to happen.  Entrepreneurs don’t wait for governments to get it enough to legislate (and even if they did, it probably wouldn’t happen fast enough).  All that is needed is a group of dedicated people who know how to get a message out to the world and make things happen.

Much maligned as the antithesis to sustainability, advertising and media are finding their place in the new world of urgent social and environmental change, offering what is generally lacking in environmental purists and social activists: the understanding that hard facts and finger pointing aren’t enough to yield results; you need to understand people, to appeal to values and to emotions and you need to get the right message out in the right way to lots and lots of people.

I felt sorry for the young couple in Franny Armstrong’s recent film, Age of Stupid, who had to deal with community backlash when they attempted to establish wind farms in England but I did think that their approach was somewhat lacking. If a community doesn’t want what you are offering – even when they know it will save the world – then you’re not selling it right.

Communications company Clownfish makes sustainability impact assessment part of their clients’ marketing strategy.  To their clients they sell the business advantage of positive environmental and social impact.  They help them implement changes and measure achievements.   They then use the proof to help their clients sell their success, and the sustainability message, to the world.

Web 2.0  gets this message out to the masses. Most importantly, though, it allows you to listen to how the world responds.   Two-way engagement is part of good branding and marketing, whether you’re selling soap or recycling.  The ‘Not Stupid Campaign’ (of which Age of Stupid plays a big part) is a brilliant example, uniting communities all over the world and motivating them to demand their governments step up and deliver at the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen in December.  Unilever‘s successful Dove brand ties ‘true’ self-esteem and beauty to its products, and opened up debate about ethics in the beauty industry.    Future Gov Consultancy  uses digital media to help organisations understand the benefits of strategic thinking and true community engagement.

These groups blend strategy, technical knowledge and people know-how.  They are finding creative ways to get people to listen.

These are the people who ‘get it’.

If you’d like to read more about creating systemic change, read Donella Meadows’  Leverage points : Places to intervene in a system.  Strategic sustainable communications, especially when its related to big business, hits almost all of the leverage points.  More about this in future blogs. 

Published by rachaelwest

Strategic Speaker Coach | Founder | Engineer

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