Where the seeds of revolution are sown

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The astonishing and often alarming reports emerging thick and fast from a string of revolutionary fronts in Africa and the Middle East are, at times, unsettling and tragic but also burgeoning with promise. Somehow they serve to crystallise for all of us what level of change we, as individuals and brands, are capable of.

The change to society – not just to your businesses – that you as marketers can drive has long been underestimated. Sustainability, ethics and social responsibility are increasingly at the heart of much of marketing’s most interesting work. Simply by tracking and following the needs and desires of your customer, you may find yourself ushering in global change.

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BMW’s new sustainable sub-brand, for example, is a response to changing consumer tastes in the cars they want to own. The Co-operative Group’s CEO, Peter Marks, picked a timely week to reveal the new strapline – ’Join the Revolution’ – for a campaign highlighting his group’s new ethical ambition. The Co-op’s version of M&S’s famous Plan A goes further with its aims than any other business before it, according to Marks.

And Ashley Stockwell, for 19 years something of a business transformation specialist with the Virgin Group, is now heading up ethical brand One.

Stockwell told me he was looking for a change, a business that required his ’turnaround’ capability. It was unlikely to be an already successful big brand. He wanted something “inthe social sector” but he knew he didn’t want to work for a charity.

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His choice will showcase his ability to build a brand that people want to associate with. He says One reminds him of Virgin in the challenger brand stakes. The credibility this brand has is that which comes from having raised £5m for social projects in Africa, but in pure brand terms, what does it stand for? Who is it aimed at? It needs work. It’s perfect for him.

Interestingly, Stockwell will view the good causes One helps as “a side benefit”. He’ll focus scant attention on them from a marketing point of view. “Pictures of starving children will not be the main focus of the campaigns,” Stockwell says. “I want people to buy our products because we’ve created a cool, credible, aspirational brand.” Brand first, good intentions simply a by-product. A different approach from Marks to instigating social change but no less effective if Stockwell succeeds.

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