Filed under: 11 Conversations, Corporate Citizenship, Multinationals, Predictions, Public Opinion, Trust | Tags: 2013, arctic, Aviva, banking, Banks, Corporate Citizenship, corruption, CSR, Disney, ESG, ethical investing, food waste, HSBC, Kenya, mobile money, Oxfam, predictions, Save The Children, Thomson Reuters
As the world of business gets to grips with how it can reconnect to society, here’s five big conversations that corporates can expect to find themselves having in 2013.
I always thought of corruption as a bit of a victimless crime – but my trip to Uganda really opened my eyes to its effects. It undermines everything: economic development, health services, education, the rule of law, democracy. There are plenty of potential good news stories in developing countries: a new tide of entrepreneurial energy, continuing aid support, trade flows from the fast-growing economies – but all of this is threatened by bribery and corruption. And nobody is in the front line of this problem more than global corporates.
→ In 2013, the big multinationals will need a solid narrative on how they deal with corruption – why it matters, and what they’re doing about it.
The global food companies – agriculture, processing, retail, etc – will increasingly find themselves having conversations about food waste. Currently, 1/3 of the world’s food is wasted – and this won’t have escaped the attention of major NGOs like Oxfam and Save The Children, both of whom are planning major campaigns against in 2013. Food gets wasted whilst growing, distributing and selling food – 1.3 billion tonnes goes to waste each year. This is also a massive waste of manpower, land, water and carbon emissions.
→ In 2013, big companies in the global food system will need to decide whether they’re going to be the heroes or villains of this story.
FUTURE OF BANKING
Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, 2012 delivered a fresh series of banking scandals: fraud, money-laundering, sanction-busting. This, combined with continued economic pressure, led The Economist to predict “the fall of universal banking” whilst Slate is predicting a busy year for banking reform. Meanwhile, new payment models are sidestepping the banks: already in Kenya mobile payments account for more than 10% of GDP – leaving the traditional banks to figure out their relevance.
→ In 2013, the big banks will need to explain why they are relevant to the future, and why it will be different from the past.
Rio+20 was the biggest fail of 2012 – but it did show that the corporates world is getting its act together, especially when it comes to measuring and reporting corporate impacts on the world. Forbes suggested Rio+20 was a “tipping point” in sustainability reporting. The Sustainable Stock Exchange Initiative and the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Coalition picked up pace, with leadership from the likes of Aviva, HSBC and Thomson Reuters. Meanwhile, the big accountancy firms all published thoughtful reports on sustainability reporting: Deloitte, PWC and E&Y.
→ In 2013, the bar will be raised on how companies measure and report their impacts on the world. It’s a chance to lead the pack – or get left behind.
Of course for business to truly reconnect with society, corporates need to act boldly – they need to disrupt the atmosphere of negativity and mistrust that has settled around the business world. The past year has seen some striking examples of bold action – such as Disney boss Robert Iger announcing a short-term hit by rejecting advertising of “junk” food and drink, and Total SA oil boss Christophe de Margerie coming out against drilling in the Arctic. Tough decisions like these send a strong signal that some businesses are responding to the expectations of society.
→ Hopefully in 2013 we’ll be talking about more hero companies who have taken decisive action on areas of social concern.
And of course if you want a complete overview of the big debates that corporates are in the middle of, have a look at The 11 Conversations.
Filed under: Corporate Citizenship, Public Opinion | Tags: Corporate Citizenship, Corporate Reputation, CSR, film, Murdoch, News Corporation, pharmaceuticals, Public Opinion
So, the anti-corporate hysteria in Britain reaches new heights thanks to Murdoch and his evil empire. Funny that nobody would be better at goading the public and fuelling the outrage than News of the World.
The media and the public are all complicit in this, I think: everybody wants a simple story of good vs. evil with a villain and a few victims. The current scandal is like NOTW journalism at its finest.
I shared some slides on “corporate archetypes” in the U.S. last week – News International certainly fits the bill as malevolent megacorp, unaccountable and out of control. This is a strong theme in culture, one we all grew up with – especially in film: corporates are often the bad guys, never the good guys. Here are some examples:
Part corporation, part computer – Skynet sends cyborgs from the future to kill an innocent mum, Sarah Conner. Here’s Skynet’s own corporate film:
It’s A Wonderful Life
Good guy George Carlin fights to prevent the bad-guy bankers from taking over the town. When people think of Bob Diamond from Barclays, they hear echoes of Mr. Potter, in this clip:
True story of an unemployed single mother taking on a multi-billion dollar corporation – and winning. Here she is, kicking ass in the boardroom:
The China Syndrome
A sinister conspiracy to cover up a nuclear accident – weirdly, released just 12 days before the Three Mile Island accident. Here’s the trailer:
The fight to save a remote civilisation from RDA, a military-corporate entity run by Parker Selfridge. He’s an interesting villain – young and ambitious in an MBA type way. Here’s a profile of him:
The Constant Gardener
A widower tries to get to the bottom of his wife’s death – a “corporate murder” at the hands of a pharmaceuticals company. Here’s the trailer:
Arnie plays a hard-grafting construction worker who ends up in a battle with Rekall,Inc – a corporation with the technology to implant fake memories. Here’s their commercial,
So – big evil corporate, that’s a deep cultural archetype. Got it. The point here is not “oh poor corporates” – far from it: corporates have done much to deserve their reputation as bad guys. But that’s not the whole story: business can be a positive force in society – and those of us who want to be part of that need to realize there is some deep cultural resistance to this idea.
And what about the evil Murdoch Empire? I’m no fan of Murdoch, but the whole Punch & Judy show is Britain at its worst: a sanctimonious media, a meek and uncritical public, a pompous and ineffective House of Commons. If Murdoch has (/had) any power, it’s because it was given to him by desperate politicians, and a bored public in search of grubby entertainment.
Could it get any worse for the banks? Protesters targeted Barclays on Saturday – 50 branches in more than 30 towns and cities, according to The Guardian.
“We’re not all in this together”, read the placards. Other banners called for “books not bonuses”, and protesters set up libraries in Barclays branches. In the public mind, George Osborne and Bob Diamond have fused into one self-serving hybrid.
The problem pre-dates both of them, however. The graph below shows the dramatic gap that’s opened up between bankers pay and the rest of the private sector. It’s US data, but you can bet it’s the same in the UK.
It’s not just about the numbers. It’s about a sense that the banks have become detached from society. They’ve created a them-and-us reality – hence we see a broad base of public disapproval and a deepening sense of mistrust. Edelman’s latest Trust Barometer is pretty clear:
Why should the banks care? Maybe they’ll become inured to public ire. That would be a mistake: public opinion and a hostile media environment are creating pressure for the politicians, and the regulators are keen to flex their muscles.
In the meantime, middle England is flexing it’s muscles. The photos below show a family protest day out, and a group of builders bricked up the entrance to a Barclays bank. The Bournemouth Echo reports that they were “watched by a group of cheering onlookers, and with passing motorists sounding their horns in support”.
Filed under: Activism, LGBT, Public Opinion | Tags: Activism, LGBT, Public Opinion
An email went around Mother last week with a bunch of ancient, pre-PC print ads attached, such as the above – mostly involving sex, booze, cigarettes. What’s not to love. They seemed quaint almost. It was a reminder of how attitudes can change.
Last week I met one of the original members of OutRage!, the controversial gay-rights activists – now disbanded. These days many people in the gay community cringe to think of these old militants – a far cry from our modern gay mohito lifestyles. But we owe them a lot. My second favourite Chinese proverb: when you drink the water, remember those who dug the well.
Attitudes can change. What better evidence of this than our new Home Secretary – and Equalities Minister – Teresa May. She was once a Grade A enemy of the gay movement – but she gave a disarming performance on last week’s Question Time, when challenged to reconcile her past with her present. Her answer was unarguable: “I’ve changed my mind,” she said.
It’s cause for celebration, no doubt. Gay rights are a part of the mainstream. In the UK, the public reaction to Jan Moir’s unkind article on Stephen Gately’s death is proof of this. In the US, the recent apology by Pastor Jeff Owens for his hunt-a-homo sermon is a similar example.
Attitudes have changed – good. But we’re not home and dry yet: society may be more gay-friendly, but is it really more tolerant? As Robin Hanson writes on the Overcoming Bias blog:
“Tolerance” is a feel-good buzzword in our society, but I fear people have forgotten what it means. Many folks are proud of their “tolerance” for gays, working women, Tibetan monks in cute orange outfits, or blacks sitting at the front of the bus. But what they really mean is that they consider such things to be completely appropriate parts of their society, and are not bothered by them in the slightest. That, however, isn’t “tolerance.”
“Tolerance” is where you tolerate things that actually bother you. Things … that conflict with strong intuitions on proper behavior. Once upon a time, the idea of gay sex made most folks quite uncomfortable, and yet many of those folks still advocated tolerance for gay sex. Their argument was … that a broad society should be reluctant to ban apparently victimless activities.
So, attitudes can change – but don’t get too cozy. Here are a couple of reminders that the real goal – true tolerance – might be closer for some than others:
Last word to this guy – it’s a random found image, and made me laugh – it could be taken at a God Hates Fags rally or a Gay Pride:
Filed under: Politics, Public Opinion, Uncategorized | Tags: Politics, Public Opinion
I fell asleep during Thursday’s debate, it seemed all fairly predictable. I took the transcript and ran it through Wordle (I’m surely not the only saddo who thought of doing this, but I couldn’t find anyone else). Here’s how the three leaders look. Interesting that Clegg and Cameron are quite similar, but Brown looks very different. Their biggest word is “think”, compared to Brown’s “got” – their personal opinions against his imploring certainties.
Here they are – Clegg, Cameron and Brown:
Man of the match Clegg likes “another”, “other”, “alternative” – and clearly viewers liked these words too, judging by the response. He says “actually” a lot, and “system”- telling us how it really is.
Brown talks about “risk” and “cuts” a lot. If all campaigning is basically about either hope or fear, Brown was playing the fear: “protect” and “secure” are also prominent.
Cameron talks about “waste” instead of “cuts”. This reminds me of a project we did on climate change, working with Linguistic Landscapes: “stop wasting energy” turned out to be far more motivating than “save energy”: waste is one of the most negative words in the language, something to be avoided.
Some words were conspicuous by their absence: nobody talks about “welfare” anymore, nobody has anything to say on “climate”, and “Big Society” didn’t make it in.
In the US, pollsters like Frank Luntz have made their fortunes by fine-tuning the words politicians use – for example, shifting the debate from “estate tax” to “death tax”, or from “drilling for oil” to “exploring for energy”. Many people are instinctively suspicious of this kind of thing – maybe because Republicans like Luntz have been the masters of this art. I think that language matters, helps us to link policy debates to our underlying values.
The Orwell Prize takes place this week, recognizing the best political writers. Orwell is now synonymous with political doublethink, but he was passionate about the role of words in politics, writing that they should be “an instrument for expressing and not concealing or preventing thought”. This comes from his famous essay Politics and the English Language – and from what I saw of the sleep-inducing leaders debate, his comment on political speech still applies:
The concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less of words chosen for their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse.
Filed under: Climate Change, Economics, Ethical Consumerism, Happiness, Innovation, Mother, Public Opinion, Uncategorized | Tags: Advertising, Climate Change, Environment, Happiness, health, Innovation, Mother, New Economics Foundation, Public Opinion
Yesterday Nic Marks from the New Economics Foundation came in to Mother and talked to the strategists. Nic works on well-being and how to measure it, and he started by telling us that he thought people like us – advertising types – fuel the false belief that stuff can make us happy. In fact, Nic wasn’t initially at all keen to come and talk to us – a reminder that to many people, we’re the problem.
I was digging around on their website and found this, in a report called A Bit Rich, which calculates the “Social Return On Investment” of different jobs:
The impact of the [advertising] industry has always been a point of controversy. It encourages high consumer spending and indebtedness. It can create insatiable aspirations, fuelling feelings of dissatisfaction, inadequacy and stress. In our economic model we estimate the share of social and environmental damage caused by overconsumption that is attributable to advertising. For a salary of between £50,000 and £12 million, top advertising executives destroy £11 of value for every pound in value they generate.
Reminds me of the famous Bill Hicks line, “by the way, if anyone here tonight is in advertising or marketing… kill yourselves. Just a little thought”. In fact, I just watched it again. It’s really old now, but great to see again:
Yeah, well. It’s not like we sell arms to children or anything. Of course there’s nothing intrinsically evil about marketing, but the collective indifference of our industry is impressive. Still, I’m convinced this is changing for the better. A few people yesterday pointed out NEF’s slogan, “Economics As If People and the Planet Mattered” – something to think about for us.
So there was a bit of a cultural tension going on. Despite this (or maybe because of it), it was a great talk. Plenty of good nerdy discussion on indices, measurement, systems theory, psychology – finishing with the beautifully practical Five Ways To Wellbeing: Connect, Be Active (physically), Take Notice (smelling coffee, etc), Keep Learning, and Give (compassion, Dalai Lama style). If this all sounds a bit “self-help”, there’s some solid evidence behind this stuff. And some good heart too. It would be nice to figure out some ways we can do some projects with these guys.
And if you’re interested, here’s the full presentation:
Filed under: Advertising, Education, Happiness, LGBT, Public Opinion, Youth | Tags: Advertising, Happiness, LGBT, Public Opinion, stonewall, Youth
Peace, love, goodwill to everyone – fine words at the end of a year which saw a surge in support for the BNP and a rise in homophobic attacks. It’s been a year of growing intolerance in the UK. Interesting then, digging around in the World Values Survey, to see that the world’s most tolerance societies are also the happiest.
It confirms some of our favourite country stereotypes: exuberant Latin American countries which embrace diversity, contrasted with former communist countries of eastern Europe – grim and intolerant. I pulled the data for people who said they were “very happy” and ran it alongside people who said that “homosexuality is never justifiable”. Here’s the results:
It’s all strangely affirming. The more tolerant countries – Sweden, Spain, Canada, Thailand – are the most happy. The more homophobic places – Poland, Ukraine, Russia – are more miserable. It’s a global truth: 92,000 people took the survey across the world, and among those who said that homosexuality is never justifiable, 25% said they were very happy; among those who said it was always justifiable, 31% were very happy. Stop the press: tolerant people are more happy.
Of course most of us knew this already: the question is, how do we tell the rest of them? Peace, love and goodwill are good for the soul – a difficult message to convey to someone struggling in harsh economic conditions, whether in Russia’s industrial wastelands or in Bradford. But it’s an important idealistic message: be happy, love your neighbour.
Stonewall’s campaign against homophobic bullying is a good start. “Some people are gay. Get over it” – in other words, the problem’s yours, deal with it. The campaign was developed by kids in schools, and has been a successful conversation starter. It’s a bold, challenging message – but what’s the emotional benefit? What’s in it for the bullies? We need a positive message as well, something to aspire to.
It will be interesting to see where Stonewall takes the campaign next. The World Values Survey shows that a quarter of Britons think homosexuality is “never justifiable”. This is less than the US (32%) and the world average (56%) – but still, 1 in 4 people is still a huge amount, and recent events suggest it’s on the increase. There’s clearly work for Stonewall to do.
NB. the last World Values Survey was completed in 2007. It’s is being repeated in 2010.
Filed under: Carbon, Climate Change, Environment, Politics, Public Opinion | Tags: Carbon, Climate Change, energy saving trust, Environment, environmental, Politics, Public Opinion
Will climate change be an issue in next years election? Unlikely. The green movement failed to make it an issue last time and this time looks like being even worse. Why?
Firstly, HSBC’s Carbon Confidence monitor shows a fall in concern about climate change in the UK – down from 26% last year to 15% this year. This figure is also much less than developing countries like Brazil, Mexico and India – prompting an excellent rant on Alistair Campbell’s blog:
Is that because [people in developing countries] are more used to weather driven destruction? Or because they have not fallen victim to the ‘not bovvered’ syndrome which says instant gratification belongs to the individual and any long-term problem belongs to somebody else?
Secondly, research we’ve seen by our clients at the Energy Saving Trust suggests people are increasingly confused about carbon – not surprising giving the confusing language: carbon offsets, carbon emissions, carbon calculators, carbon trading, carbon footprints, etc.
Thirdly, there’s no clear story for people to get behind. We’re lost in the din: all kinds of consumer brands are talking the talk; government messaging comes from the Carbon Trust, the Energy Saving Trust, and Act On CO2; and in the run-up to Copenhagen, dozens of campaigns are competing for public engagement.
Fourthly, climate change cynics are on the increase. George Monbiot points to an explosion of books denying climate change: on Amazon.co.uk, anti-climate change books currently rank 1,2,4,5,7 and 8 in the global warming category. The British book-buying public clearly wants to be told that climate change is some kind of conspiracy.
Finally, Armageddon really doesn’t sell well. As climate change becomes a reality, we can expect some public antagonism towards scientists and environmentalists. Worse than this, we might even expect people to consumer more: an extraordinary piece of research called “Of Wealth & Death” finds that people often respond to reminders of death by increasing consumption. They begin with a cheery quote form Tolkien:
But the fear of death grew ever darker upon them, and . . . those that lived turned the more eagerly to pleasure and revelry, desiring ever more goods and more riches. (from The Silmarillion)
I’m going to suggest a new acronym. Already we have SISO (shit in, shit out). Now we have DIDO (disaster in, disaster out): the more we talk about Armageddon, the close it gets. The green movement is good at disaster scenarios. Where are the gleaming possible new futures? If we want a positive response, don’t we need some positive inputs?
Suddenly, people are feeling positive about the future. I found this chart on Consumer Confidence in an Ipsos MORI briefing, and it shows people are feeling more positive than they’ve felt since 1997. In fact it’s pretty much the steepest rise since 1981.
So, what’s with all the positivity? We asked our friends at HHB Dialogue to fire off a question to their mobile Vox Pops panel: “What’s making you feel positive about the world right now?”. The results are in the film below.
Britain is certainly looking on the bright side. Things seem pretty bad right now – but like 1997, that means things can only get better. Mostly though, people talk about “the little things in life” – spending time with friends and family, doing sport, walks in the park… It’s a heartening message: as long as we’ve got each other, how bad can it get?