Suddenly, we can see Sustainability!
Boulder Digital Works is a new school for digital creatives. Fostering radical collaboration is one of it’s mottos. Still, I was surprised to find out that they are hosting an event for a Nut Butter company that seeks to radically improve its squeeze pack.
World’s most famous ex-adman Alex Bogusky opened the summit with a list of issues that will radically influence brand communication. He compared them to the invisible Gorilla in the well-know experiment on perceptional blindness. Bogusky stipulates that radical changes in the branding landscape are already happening, but most of us are focusing so hard on other stuff, that we can’t see them yet.
If brands are facing big challenges, what is the advertising creative’s role in this? In an example of the reinvention of the advertising industry, the students at BDW created a platform to help Justin’s Nut Butter get feedback on their product and packaging. (And I will talk about this more next week.)
Back to the invisible gorilla: Sustainabilty is one of these beasts we used to overlook, but it’s becoming more of an issue with consumers. What most of us are unaware of: It’s also becoming an issue for retailers. Walmart has decided to source increasingly from sustainable suppliers. And the more they do and talk about it, the more we shop in sync with it.
Surprisingly, star products like the iPhone / iPad are really bad examples for the changes that will happen to brand messaging. Why? As a result of the digital revolution, these products are fundamentally new – as opposed to being improved. With these new new products, enjoying a radically different experience trumps all other considerations on the consumer’s side. We don’t care whether Apple source the Coltan in my iPhone in a civil war ridden African country. We don’t ask where the electricity for Google’s servers comes from. We should. But we don’t just yet.
The big shift in brand messaging might first happen at the other end. On the side of the traditional consumer goods where utility can’t substantially change: like bread, or butter. These products have to find new stories to gain a communicative advantage, because we care less and less about the old stories. And differentiation on price alone won’t work.
Good brand stories are customer centric. They always have been. However, in postwar consumerism, most people centered their identity in a narrative of permanent growth and accumulation: first out of necessity (there was nothing) then out of carefree joy.
Well, it’s 2010, and not only don’t we suffer from lack of things, we also know that this accumulation of stuff has limits. What we are lusting after instead is a great experience!
As transparency about products increases, our knowledge will influence our experience of a brand. The first examples of this go back to the 80s and the animal rights campaigns against buying fur coats. This kind of transparency is exploding in the social media age.
A current example: I always knew that a Chicken Nuggets isn’t made of filet, I also assumed it wasn’t great chicken. However, reading that it’s basically made from pink goo that’s an entire chicken pureed with feathers and all, greatly changes my perception and enjoyment of the product. (It’s also the reason my daughter won eat it. A kid! Not eating Nuggets!) As these examples show, this new transparency neither has to be intended or fostered by the brands. The newtworks will make it happen anyway.
These changes will turn sustainability into an important feature of product. And in many cases, the most important aspect of communication.
- Because consumers understand it’s necessary
- Because consumers feel better enjoying the product
- Because consumers share socially relevant ideas in their social network
“Over 33 billion single-serve packs are thrown into landfills each year, one-third of which stem from a single brand of ketchup. The half-life of this type of petroleum-based packaging exceeds 1,000 years in the landfill. Thus, in an average person’s lifetime, 2.6 trillion packs will accumulate in a landfill that will stay there for thousands of years.” (Alex Bogusky, http://alexbogusky.posterous.com)
Which is why Justin’s Nut Butter is inviting the industry and its consumers to talk about its most successful product as something they need to change!
Of course, packaging is not the only way a brand can show that they care about sustainability. Using less energy when you make something, caring about your socio-economic impact in the community your making it in. All of this counts. And soon it will be counted, too.