This blog was originally posted at Identity Campaigning.
I’ve now read Tom & Tim’s book in full, and as someone who works in the context of a mainstream advertising agency, if not necessarily within the role of the average adman, I’m really struggling with this question.
I recently read Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals”, of which rule number one is something along the lines of ‘Start from where the people are’. And this is really the intuitive first rule of all communication. To communicate with someone is to share a two-way process – you must engage at a shared starting point, and move forward from that point. And let’s face it, the world we’re starting from isn’t immediately conducive to applying much of what Tom and Tim suggest on a mass scale – which I would argue is what is necessary.
By way of context, I would say that the advantage of my position is that I have the opportunity to start to bring this work into mainstream mass communications, and I believe it will be necessary to do this if this work is to gain a true foothold. Major brands are getting further and further into our lives through greater and greater integration into the media we consume – this isn’t just advertising; PR is gaining strength as the business models which used to fund more authentic journalism fail, and brands are increasingly involved in the development of broadcast programming (a discipline known as advertiser-funded programming, or AFP), and even computer games. This broad trend involves a lot of money, and is gaining pace. So I believe we must find a way to undermine it, in order to open the door for identity campaigning in its purer forms, or this thinking will continue to be drowned out. We need to create Trojan horses, which will be welcomed as gifts into the mainstream narrative, but can undermine it. This is what it means to me to start from where the people are.
I have two thoughts on this which might help Tom and Tim’s thinking work ‘from the inside’.
First, that we can trust Nature to do some of the work for herself, if you’ll forgive the personalisation briefly. If we can find ways to use brand marketing budgets to get people outside and into nature, we will allow the contact hypothesis work to take hold – but we don’t necessarily have to start by getting people to undertake tree breathing exercises, as per the ‘tester’ link on the Natural Change project’s website. I can imagine many brands selling more products and services in the immediate term by encouraging people outside; but more people spending more time outside will mean more people discovering more of the joys of nature, and taking that journey further and further, thus in the short-medium term undermining the dominant narrative. Persil’s ‘Dirt is good’ campaign springs to mind as a useful example.
Second, that there may be more immediately accessible value shifts that we can start to effect, without yet being ready to spring to an inclusion of nature within human identity. A reversal of the trend towards individualisation, and instead building community, and making altruism cool, strikes me as something brand marketing budgets could certainly be part of. People who are more altruistic are more sociable, and products and services such as mobile communications and much besides could easily tap into this; but people who are more altruistic are also broadening their definition of self, and therefore undermining the dominant narrative once again. Sunday is Big Lunch day, not a bad example in itself of something brands are involved in on a commercial basis; Orange RockCorps is another good case in point, where young people get a gig ticket in return for voluntary service.
Of course, these things are only ever going to be part of the solution, and will need to work in tandem with such excellent initiatives as Rosemary’s Carbon Conversations. But I feel we need to find ways to work with the tools of the present context in order to weaken it, in order for the charge from the ‘outside’ to be effective. I use analogies to the Trojan War altogether too often (I am a Classics graduate after all), but I think they are appropriate here!
PS – I must admit to feeling slightly tentative at putting these views forward to such an academically proficient audience, so please treat them as they’re intended – in a genuine spirit of questioning, and search for the answers we all hope to find!