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Is Goodness a fashion?

From all sides, we are assailed by danger:

Our oceans are rising up against us, with the polar caps melting as we warm our climate up. Suddenly winters seem warmer, droughts longer and more frequent, rain, when it does fall in what is known as the temperate zone of this earth, it seems almost tropical. Soon, Berlin will have to deal with diseases like malaria, bilharzia and the like.

We, through the internet, are more aware than ever of the role of industry and corporations in all of this.

All of a sudden, we are also aware of the conditions most goods we use in our daily lives are manufactured in — sweat-shops. low wage labour in third-world countries, no regard for the health of workers, and no interest in what kind of long-term effect feeding this world of consumerism will have on these countries. Also on the news: the world's biggest, and seemingly most developed economy slowly slipping into recession through impossible loans and unrestrained borrowing.

At the same time, we hear of development aid scandals, we hear about Chinas aid to African countries with poor human rights records, we hear how corruption and lax controls make aid money disappear into the pockets of the few, instead of bringing sustainable improvement to the masses.

And while all of this is happening, we are assailed by brand messages from every side, in form of advertising, cars, houses, clothes, speech and almost any other form of media you care to think about. And, even though not all messages come from corporations or companies intent on centrifuging our hard-earned out of our wallets and/ or bank accounts, we are surrounded by them.

Brand messages are different from advertising in that they are the ads that surround us, not those in magazines, not those pop-ups on the web, not TV ads.

Say someone walks in with a D&G jacket, Levi's (jeans obviously), say a pair of Nikes on their feet and socks made by Puma. Apart from the obvious clash of logos and brands, every single piece of clothing this person is wearing is a brand, and every single brand has a message, which is, in turn, projected onto the wearer, who then reflects it back onto the word around them. Oh, and all those brands are faked imports from Turkey.

In the past, we would have bought any of those things for the message the brand sells us through their advertising. This is how things used to work: A company produces a product, useful or otherwise. It hires out a marketing company, who then advertises the product, in every possible way, to us, the consumer. If we liked the message we were being sent, and became, through the Ad, convinced, that this item had a place and a use in our lives, we'd go out and buy it and whoopee! there's my new couch/ shoes/ lamp/ paraglider/ etc. If it was something a little more complicated than that, we'd do a little comparision shopping, rely on what info we got in the shop, or maybe in couple of magazines or two, listen to our friends who had bought something similar and then we'd go out and buy it and huzzah and hey presto! new washing machine delight. Or whatever.

To say this no longer need be so is an understatement. To quote the Cluetrain report (title link):

A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter—and getting smarter faster than most companies

Hey, people, thats US!

At least those of us who are lucky enough to have to worry about such decisions as buying designer jackets and custom-made washing machines. We are a market. And we are getting, if not smarter, than at least more informed. That's a start.

So the question is: how do those corporations deal with it?

From a marketing point of view it's a nightmare: People no longer rely on targeted and prepackaged information for their buying decisions. Advertising no longer works?
It might have not been working for some time.

Tobacco companies are an interesting example.

Try this, and be prepared for German:

In most first-world countries, they are forbidden from advertising on many channels. So they had to change their advertising strategy drastically. They had to get up close and personal to reach their target audience. They started smokers parties — most of the time these are free for any who care to attend and the music is pretty good sometimes. They also forbid the under-aged from attending, those not yet of legal age to smoke.

Suddenly, they stopped being able to rely on their image and the ads attached to it to shift their product. And they found themselves having to adhere to laws that forbade them from selling tobacco to minors. In other words, they had to "be good". Yet they had to continue creating emotional experiences to reach their newly-restricted audiences. And covertly reach that most desirable of age groups: The teens and pre-teens. How do you get them hooked on your brand, which is essentially no different from any other cigarette brand you will smoke anywhere else (Egyptians will contradict me and shout that you always know a Cleopatra cigarette when you've smoked it)?

The parties are ideal in that they offer an experience, closely linked to the brand, also in that the product on poster is not a cigarette, but a party, with big names attached. And this interplay between the brand of a cigarette and a party with a well-known band is what catches the attention of youth, apparently.

Even though Marlboro still does do poster ads in Germany . But no longer is the canceroid cowboy allowed to enjoy his cig in print

A more recent, and more current example, is that stuff that comes out of our sockets, electricity.

With the price of oil skyrocketing throughout last year, up to $ 100/ Barrel and the above-mentioned global warming looming over our heads, energy corporations could no longer be quiet about where that power comes from. Many people, already resentful of having to face a higher electricity bill, are starting to realize that the power they use up has a direct relation to climate change.

So coal is no longer acceptable, oil and gas are loaded with debate (see Gazprom), thoughts about limited resources and oil running out someday soon in the next fifty years.

Since Al Gores film at the latest, this debate about energy, global warming and all related to it, has entered the very public domain.

And, once again, we find it reflected in the messages we are sent by energy producers, at least in Germany. Ads, once frivolous messages to differentiate one supplier form another, have become much more serious messages of where their energy comes from.

Not that the storks above are my favourite, but they illustrate the point. There is also a whole series of ads extolling the virtues of nuclear power and how clean it is.

The point: through interaction between consumers, the company is forced to react to the Eco-friendly trend. Suddenly, we see posters honestly proclaiming a companies commitment to wind power, water, solar, in short, alternative energies.

The same goes for car makers, computer manufacturers and almost everyone involved in the production of goods of any type. The only sphere this does not yet seem to have reached is politics. But that is a question of time, as those who govern are not exempt from their responsibility in where we are.

The question I want to get at with all this is: Is this just a fad to shut us stupid masses up and make us buy their stuff again, or is this the beginning of a trend that will be with us for years to come, and maybe lead to a genuine improvement in the way we do things?

Think about it:

Honest producers who can be scrutinized and discussed by all of their users. This means that they have to produce responsibly, with some consideration for those involved in the productions (remember the sweat-shops?), the environment and the long-term effect of their product on the world.

Consumers who base their decision not only on what they see in Ads, but also on the research they do into the company and their politics.

Advertising agencies interested in their customers, not as target groups, but as individual consumers buying goods that are suggested to them by peer-to-peer marketing or viral campaigns.

In another word: Responsibility.

More to come.


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