Should we make socially irresponsible brands appealing again?

As designers, we dream about the brand challenges we’d love to work on with the criteria often cited as “fame, fortune and fun.” But there’s another consideration that increasingly occupies our thoughts that is more to do with what we’re contributing or detracting from society. We now talk about the “purpose” of brands to underpin strategy and design. If this falls short, we’re suddenly at a loss as to how to start building positive relationships with the consumer. In today’s ever-evolving market, there’s an increasing number of brands whose purpose has become out-dated, irrelevant or in some cases just socially irresponsible. We have to ask hard questions of ourselves before accepting the challenge of making it appealing again.

I struggle to want to apply company skills on Philip Morris brands because we can’t condone the harm that smokers (inadvertently) do to other people and, despite a long career designing single-use plastic bottles, I’d rather be helping Evian find a sustainable alternative. Barbie, your days as role-model to a new generation of girls are surely numbered, whatever you do is undermined by your body proportions and out-of-touch version of female empowerment. Wrigley’s gum remains unaccountable (and unapologetic) for covering every city pavement the world over with spat-out litter. And Spam remains a totally processed meat substance with a provenance still firmly rooted in post-war rationing. As for Hummer, does the world really need a road-going, military-grade tank right now?

Should brands such as these simply fade away and join the ranks of other extinct products which failed to keep pace with social change and consumer attitudes? Or should they genuinely redefine their purpose and behave responsibly? Of course, by doing so, it would ensure that all designers would want to work with them again.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

About The Author

Bic is co-founder and head of 3D Design at Brown&co. He has been working creatively and strategically with brands for over 30 years. He is renowned in the design industry, having co-founded two front-running agencies in branded FMCG 2D/3D design. In 1990, he helped set up Tin Horse and successfully built strong relationships with blue-chip companies such as Kodak, BP and Unilever. Looking to further integrate 2D identity with 3D design, Bic joined Blue Marlin in 1999 as Creative Director to build an innovation and structural arm to the established FMCG business. He created a London studio and led a new-product and innovation team. Over four years he developed a successful differentiated innovation offer and won significant new business with companies such as Shell, Cussons and Cadburys. In 2004 Bic co-founded Echo Brand Design, with a fully integrated multi-disciplinary approach to FMCG. Over the next decade Echo became a leading brand agency, appointed to the rosters of Unilever, GSK and Molson Coors and sole provider of brand design services to O2. In 2013 it was appointed brand guardian of Unilever brand Rexona. Echo was also a finalist in the 2012 London Olympic torch design contest and has won several DBA Design Effectiveness Awards.

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