Can a Few Good Brands Save Us All?

As our trust in elected officials continues to plummet across the globe, more and more people are looking to brands -- and the companies behind them -- to make the world a better place.
02/04/2016 01:17 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

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Imagine sending your kids to a school run by Apple rather than the board of education, or commuting to work on a hyperloop train built by Elon Musk instead of Amtrak.

As our trust in elected officials continues to plummet across the globe, more and more people are looking to brands -- and the companies behind them -- to make the world a better place.

According to new research from Havas Worldwide of 10,000 people globally, almost two-thirds of us feel that businesses carry as much responsibility as governments for driving positive social change, and 62 percent saying they'd like their favorite brands to play a bigger role in solving social problems.

And though we still worry about corporate overreach -- like the doomsday scenario of Google forgetting their mantra of don't be evil -- apparently we still trust them a lot more than we do Congress or the NSA.

There's a growing expectation for brands to reflect the shared values of their customers -- to treat people like people, not transactions, and take care of their employees with the same concern they show for the bottom line. A utopian future where big companies work seamlessly with governments and NGOs to make the world cleaner, safer and a lot more human.

We know that people buy brands which reflect their values, so it's fair to say that "don't be evil" and the lesser known motto "don't act like a jackass" are worthwhile corporate slogans that pay big dividends to investors.

And though so-called marketing experts often try to convince clients that marketing is now a science, at the end of the day we do business with companies we like and admire. It's that simple.

And with the rise of social media, selling a great product that's secretly made in a sweatshop by baby seals denied proper eye protection isn't going to stay secret for very long. Sooner or later one of those seals is going to grow up, learn how to type, and open a Twitter account. Then it's all over for your brand.

Younger brands like Tom's Shoes and Warby Parker have done a brilliant job building social responsibility into their business models from day one, while more established companies must sometimes re-engineer everything from supply chains to employee engagement strategies to transform their brand.

This means advertising agencies need to stop producing disposable ads for a transient culture and take a genuine interest in the DNA of a brand -- consider why the company was founded in the first place. Reframe the entire business in a new context, through the eyes of the people with whom they do business, inside and outside the company.

The question we should be asking ourselves isn't what would you buy, if you were a consumer -- it's what would you do if you ran the company?

At the end of the day, we want brands to reflect shared values because the only thing we really trust is other people. So if brands can take a more populist approach to everything they do and remember that companies, like governments, are supposed to be run by the people, for the people, then maybe the world will start spinning a little faster in the right direction.

TIM MALEENY is a bestselling author and Chief Strategy Officer for Havas Worldwide