John Grant has just posted on some of the corporate wrong doings of Coca-Cola, complete with a quote from Rita Clifton of Interbrand where she suggests that this isn't necessarily a big deal for the brand given that "People are radical in research questionnaires and reactionary at the checkout … People like to carry on doing what they like doing".
I was so incensed, I had to respond. Which I've repeated here as I think Coke's problems and Interbrand's POV highlight a big issue we need to grapple with...
Comments like that really piss me off. Are we so amoral (or immoral) that we really don’t give a shit if sales aren’t effected (which they will be in the long term, so ha ha - King Canute or boys with fingers in dykes spring to mind).
Wrong is wrong, and good businesses & brands (should) do something about it. Even if that’s just because of the strategic business sense in doing the right thing in a world where everyone can find out what they want about anything. But also (you can always hope) because they just recognise they should.
And even if our clients don’t want to know, surely it is our job to slap them round the face (maybe not literally) until they take notice. Doesn’t make you popular to be a Jeremiah figure like that, but it’s a dirty job and someone’s got to do it (as Faith No More once pointed out).
Hesitate making this point, but one of the first things that popped into my mind on reading your post was Martin Niemoller’s poem from WWII. That was a comment on evil in a very specific sense, and businesses doing what businesses do doesn’t come into that league (do they?!?).
But just made me think. If we say nothing and do nothing to change the way our clients behave, who will.?And what happens when it’s too late for them…and the world?
First they came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up,
because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left
to speak up for me.
So my question is this: what is our role as 'consultants' to our clients. Are we there to do whatever asked (and to turn a blind eye). Or is it our job to help paper over the cracks and to get people looking the other way (I hope it's neither). Or are we just too scared, in this low margin, volatile business environment, to actually challenge clients on thorny topics (somehow that feels even worse).
Personally, I think it's about time for us to stand up and be counted. Obviously, what I see as an issue won't be an issue for everyone. But any issue that engages enough people will have a negative business impact eventually simply because information is so easy to find nowadays, and so easy to pass on to others.
I believe we will only be doing our job properly if we robustly challenge clients on the kind of issues Coke is now facing. Even if they disagree, we will probably sleep more easily at night. Which is why one of the first things we are now trying to do with a new or prospective is have a 'truth' session: cards on the table, what makes you great...but get the skeletons out of closets as well. Because if we don't know everything (particularly as some consumers will probably know already) we can't do our job properly.