Conscientious capitalism

During a visit to the NASA space centre in 1962, President John F. Kennedy noticed a janitor carrying a broom. He interrupted his tour, walked over to the man and said, "Hi, I'm Jack Kennedy. What are you doing?" "Well, Mr. President," the janitor responded, "I'm helping put a man on the moon."

One of the primary roles of a brand purpose does appear to be its ability to galvanise an entire organisation. The Macmillan ‘Not alone’ campaign did exactly that, uniting fundraising brand building divisions behind one idea capable of achieving both.

The case for purpose driven marketing has been well made by many people and is a something that Direct Line have done effectively. An article in the Harvard Business Review evidenced that for profit companies with a strong sense of purpose achieve better financial results than those without. Similarly in the book “Built to Last” the authors say that organisations driven by purpose and values outperformed the market 15 to 1.

Unilever has put ‘feel good capitalism’ at the heart of every one of its brands with Dove being still the most famous exponent and the campaign for real beauty still going strong. Paul Polman, chief executive for approaching 10 years remains ardent in his belief that it is possible to make money by acting virtuously. “Do we choose to serve a few billionaires, or do we choose to serve the billions?” he asks. “Over time, I think the billions will win”. And although time will tell whether Unilever is able to fend off a takeover from Kraft Heinz Co (a company seen by many as, and I quote “a financial engineering sweatshop with a side hustle in cheese processing”, cultural differences were cited as one of the main reasons the takeover was rejected.

Cynics amongst you might well say this whole conscientious capitalism thing is just a fad that everyone is jumping on the bandwagon of. A way to win awards, a gimmick to minimally compensate for the damages caused by companies, and a way to ease the guilt of those who earn their money peddling goods that no one needs and can scarce afford.

And there may well be an argument to say that actually, perhaps the thing to do to stand out is to zag when everyone else is zigging and forget all these acts of kindness and return to the simple art of selling.

They may well be a case for this. Perhaps in a Trump era self-interest will prevail once more.

I’d like to think there is room for both. And that wherever possible we would use our creativity for good. It’s why Alex Lewis and I wrote Revolt. To encourage more people to create change in the world and try and make it that little bit better.

Does it matter if Paddy Power created rainbow laces for publicity and fame if it also managed to do some good? Surely it's better that it spent its money on that kind of salience driving activity than something utterly meaningless?

Cynical marketing or the genuine desire to do some good in the world?  Obviously the latter is desirable and probably ultimately more successful. I remain convinced that it is usually better to try and do something that makes a difference than nothing.

Discover how Macmillan's Effectiveness Award winning 'Not Alone' campaign helped raise more than £96.7m of additional fundraising - all through a simple, striking and irrefutable idea that no-one should face cancer alone. Watch the latest IPA & Thinkbox Brand Film.

Last updated 21 January 2022