Bottoms, Bears, Woods, Trees and Brands missing a trick

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By Julian Borra, Executive Creative Director Saatchi & Saatchi S

One day little Charmin bear went into the woods to see what he could find

After a few hours of mischief-making, bee-chasing, the odd monster truck meeting and general bear type activity…

Little Bear needed to do what bears also do in the woods

So he sat down to attend to his business.

But all was not well in the woods that day… because…

When he reached for the loo-roll which should have been happily hanging on its dispenser on the side of the tree…SHOCK HORROR…

…no loo-roll…no dispenser…and no TREE for that matter.

In fact, stretched out in front of him was a forest of emptiness.

Who’d taken all the trees? And why hadn’t they put them back once they’d finished with them?

What was a small bear to do…?

I love the replenishing trees initiative of Velvet loo-roll.

I just wish Charmin had done it.

Velvet’s story – plant 3 trees for every one used – is a lovely example of positive action, alive and kicking in the world.

But wouldn’t it have been lovely if it had been more than just a paper and trees story. Wouldn’t it have been lovely if it had fallen out of a brand story about doing the right thing by bears who undertake all kinds of actions in the woods, bar eating and sleeping.

Charmin should be taking care of trees because bears shit in the woods…. a simple slightly base logic I know, but go with me on this for a moment! The simple point is that brands like Charmin could make the Social or Environmental aspect of their credentials feel like it was inextricably linked to the heart of the brand as opposed to hung on the outside of the business – creating a strategy built to elevate the brand story and add authenticity and substance. In that way, they could have made a far more persuasive and authentic claim to the tree replenishment initiative, because their brand persona makes it incumbent on them to do so.

I am not suggesting that mining brand stories for a truly authentic and differentiated sustainability strategy is always easy, appropriate or right for everyone. Some businesses feel that they struggle as it is to future-proof their supply and value chains on broad pillars of sustainability that are themselves sustainable.

We could also predict that once you’ve opened the door to brands using their brand stories or brand motifs as strategic ice breakers all kinds of madness might ensue – watching Ronald McDonald and 100 specially selected calorific-ally challenged, socially deprived children fight it out in an X Factor audition for Cirque Du Soleil with an eye on a life changing check for one million bucks and a share in the business just might catch on.

And who’s to say the world wouldn’t be a richer place for The Pillsbury Dough Boy hosting weekly webcast spin classes with 100,000 Weight Watchers ladies peddling to endorphin-fuelled feel good look good Nirvana.

Of course Brand Stories and Entities must be protected and not degraded in the pursuit of writing tenuous do-good strands into them: they cost a lot of money to build and maintain but:

Looking at Sustainability; its relevance, potency and ultimately its sharp-cornered commercial value, not only from the supply chain up but from the brand story down, may just liberate some businesses out of the inertia some seem to be trapped in.

A recent Harvard think piece cited that “a well run business that applies its vast resources expertise and management talent to problems that it understands, and in which it has a stake, can have a greater impact on social good than any other institution or philanthropic organization”.

I simply suggest that the problems that it understands, and in which it has a stake, should not always simply derive from supply and value chain sources and issues.

This would help some brands to actually differentiate their Sustainability strategy and positioning instead of feeling they have to scrap around for miniscule and statistically arcane increments of superiority, picked out of the usual suspects of Sustainability pillars; and in which their C-Suite see a value in investing.

Currently we have generic Water and Obesity campaigns that lack authenticity or differentiation. Or we have the social agenda ‘community’ face lift actions favored by so many ‘community’ brands. Or there’s the algebraic madness of carbon impact claims and gestures that most people struggle to make sense of at the best of times.

Am I glad they exist? Of course. They are the first steps to better.

But do I want more and more authentically framed? Yes.

If for example our ‘friends’ in the bottled water industry want to pick a real biggie as a feel-good better-living cause, I would suggest they ask a small tropical fish currently residing in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (135° W and 40° N) what they think about the health benefits of sustaining a source of pure clean water; salty or otherwise. The fish might venture that, before they make their next roller skating baby ad, they might spare a thought, and a ship or two, and perhaps consider how one might clean up the mess that they and their pretenders leave in the oceans of our world, the catastrophic impacts of which are only just beginning to reveal themselves.

Surely the sheer joy that you would bring to the collective inhabitants of the planet by exploring how to, perhaps, breakdown or remove the archipelagos of plastic currently suffocating our oceans might be a wonderful place to start; and far more ‘on brand’ than the usual reflex choices of fully functioning kidneys and good skin.

But of course there is a marked difference between the universally embraced sovereignty of consumption, and the particular and highly unattractive sovereignty of floating trash. Perhaps an ocean too far as a starter for ten. So perhaps we’ll turn back to those bears and those woods that we can’t see the trees for, and see if we can pick some easy wins to begin with.  I’ll get my trowel.

Also we need to be careful what we say in the world.

As David Haylock recently pointed out in his blog…When Velvet say: ‘so if twice as many of you choose Velvet that will be six million trees …’ No, it won’t. They will get to six million trees with their existing customers in precisely how long it’s taken them ‘so far’ to get to three million trees. They don’t need any more people to choose their product, because the three million and six million numbers are aggregates. They just need a little more time.

Picky you might say. But to be fair your authenticity relies on the stats and claims being bullet proof. And less abstract.


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  1. Zachary Dominitz, Tue May,01:

    Brilliant piece, and genius thinking too…thanks.

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