What would make a compelling identity campaign?

This blog was originally posted at Identity Campaigning.

Over the last few months, I’ve been working through various proposals for a pilot identity campaign: A campaign that can (1) demonstrate the principles of identity campaigning, (2) serve as a laboratory for developing some of the approaches (for example, the particular challenges of public communication around an identity campaign), and (3) that offers the prospect of effecting an important change in policy that has an impact on identity.

Whatever this campaign might be, it will need to be underpinned by a robust research base that makes the links between (A) a piece of policy change, (B) an attendant effect on identity, and (C) an impact on an issue of environmental concern. So, for example:

Example of campaign rationale (focus on materialism)
(C) People who express a more materialistic set of values are more antagonistic towards environmental concerns, and more resistant to engaging in pro-environmental behaviour > (B) People who are exposed to more commercial marketing tend to express a more materialistic set of values > (A) Policies could be enacted to restrict commercial marketing (for example, there are tight restrictions on marketing to children in Sweden and Norway).

If such a campaign was to be run, the research would need to provide a basis for building a powerful argument about the causal connections represented by the arrows above.

Better still would be to make the link between an aspect of identity and a range of social or environmental concerns:

Example of campaign rationale (focus on materialism)
(C) People who express a more materialistic set of values are more resistant to engaging in pro-environmental behaviour, show greater indifference to humanitarian concerns, greater prejudice towards disabled people, and greater indifference about animal welfare abuses > (B) People who are exposed to more commercial marketing tend to express a more materialistic set of values > (A) Policies could be enacted to restrict commercial marketing.

Making these wider links would allow for the involvement of not just environmental organisations, but a range of other groups (development, disability, animal welfare). That would make for a broader and more powerful campaign.

But what about those arrows – is the evidence base strong enough? I’ve spent time over the last few weeks speaking to academics who have been working on those causal connections. Right now I’m working on set of recommendations about these, on which I’ll post in the next week or so.

Tom CromptonWhat would make a compelling identity campaign?


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  • santiago gowland - June 27, 2009 reply

    I tend to agree. We know that there is a connection between the beauty industry advertising and anorexia (for example). Watch:

    But I don’t support a No Logo world. On the contrary. I think that a Pro Logo world can be the solution to many issues. Brands have the power to engage in identity conversations and achieve significant behavioral changes. Dove has done a remarkable job in doing that (a Unilever Brand: company that I work for). Brands are already trusted simple mechanisms that can be used for good.

    Of course, when the product is futile then brands and marketing will instill consumerism which is per se the biggest issue with marketing. But if it is not, you can be satisfying relevant needs with relevant messages.


  • Jim - July 1, 2009 reply

    How about turning this around? A campaign based on restricting may not flag up the benefits of identity campaigning as much as a more positive example may…
    I would be interested in the evidence base for the following-
    (C) People who express a strong desire to engage in pro-environmental behaviour and show a greater concern for humanitarian causes tend to have a less materialistic set of values
    >(B) People who have a less materialistic set of values tend to have had strong emotional experiences in the natural (or non-commercial) world
    >(A) Policies to encourage interaction with the natural (non-commercial world) should be enacted, such as extending opportunities for green space in planning developments or increasing time spent outdoors for schoolchildren.
    What do you think Tom? Is there any research in this direction?

  • Ciaran Mundy - July 3, 2009 reply

    A compelling identity campaign for me would include a very experiential aspect, for those targeted, of co-operating with others to achieve a common goal and celebrating that. That would be the ask.

    Success in eliciting deeper values concomitant with pro-environmental behaviour is far more likely if we share the experience. Collective response it seems creates permission for far greater shifts in identity and it is worth remembering that around 80% of human learning is done through mimicry then latter processing asseses whether it was the right course of action. . . . So how about a copy cat campaign where people meet with neighbours to copy a good action from and swap ideas. I would suggest the best way to frame such a thing would be a national street party day with a focus on celebrating and copying the sets of values and behaviours we need to bring out. WE WANT A NATIONAL STREET PARTY DAY – AN EXTRA BANK HOLIDAY IN THE MIDDLE OF JUNE TO CELEBRATE COMMUNITY. . . . ALL THE SHOPS ARE SHUT, NO COMMERCIAL ADVERTISING ON THE TV, THE STREETS CLOSED TO CARS. . . MEET AND GREET SOMEONE NEW, HAVE FUN, SHARE CAKE AND IDEAS ON HOW TO MAKE THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE. . . APART FROM MORE CAKE!

    Follow up work could collect and highlight the stories around the day and in particular publicise the reactions that people have in experiencing a positive community event in the absence of the usual commercial messaging.

    Another advantage of such an approach. . . it’s far easier, it seems, to get money to tackle social exclusion than preventing catastrophic environmental collapse.

  • jules - July 7, 2009 reply

    Tom as well as applying your thinking to NGO campaigning I wonder what you think of Santiago’s comment and the possibility of this being tested and applied by corporate brands. Do you think this has legs? I know you have given this some thought as has John Grant (who I’ve invited onto this site to comment).
    I am sure there will be many who say that by their very nature corporate brands are there simply to encourage consumerism. But then again others will say that in a more perfect and sustainable worl we will still have ‘companies’ or enterprises of some sort and they would still need to communicate their value and values to society. Then again others would say that is wrong and that if any entity needs to ‘sell’ me something then its something I don’t need?

  • admin - July 7, 2009 reply

    Hi Jules,

    the bottom line for me is that if brands are promoted through confecting a link between the organisation/good/service that is being promoted and some intrinsic value that is not inherent to that organisation/good/service, then this represents dishonest communication. More than dishonest, it’s likely to be counterproductive, because it is helping to persuade people that intrinsic goals (pursuit of which makes people happier and more fulfilled) are best pursued through the consumption of that good or service.

    Marketers are of course aware of this, and it leaves them uncomfortable. Hence the restrictions (voluntary or obligatory) on selling some things on the basis of them improving a person’s social popularity, for example (see for example the Portman guidelines for alcohol marketing).

    The Unilever Dove campaign is all very well, Santiago. Maybe, in passing, it does some good. But I actually think that it’s just another clever way of selling soap. If Unilever were serious about this agenda, then would they really sell Lynx deodorant like this?


  • Ciaran Mundy - July 7, 2009 reply

    Responding to Jules, first I want to know what is this site and our work in this arena for? Can the application of such understanding in a commercial branding excercise be part of helping to create a culture shift away from shopping as therapy? I Have my doubts to say the least. Commercial advertising is already there to some degree and use such things when it meets the needs of directors and shareholders.

    Branding is the work done to the outward facing image of any organisation, charitable, corporate or other and ideally flows from the activities and values of the organisation. The problem lies at the heart of the corporate model where shareholder return is the primary legal fiduciary duty of directors. Often there may be no benefits, or social costs that far outweigh any benefits of many commercial activities and such things will clearly never be part of a brand. . . . so BP’s beyond petroleum greenwash as part of a brand is a bad thing even if it does attempt to elicit more intrinsic values! Where as the brand of GreenPeace may have broader appeal if such understanding is applied and the world better for it. BUT the corporate world holds such sway over modern culture that the values that are behind so many commercial brands become the common currency for those branding every organisation and so many environmental campaigns tend to ape the values of commercial brands . . . the tail wagging the dog!

    The challenge for those building brands of socially and environmentally positive organisations/movements is to have the confidence to articulate the intrinsic values the organisations represent and ensure that such values are central to the brand of such organisations.

    The irony is that we need to be doing this to effectively compete with so many consumer messages but the commercial world understands this and the green movement will probably only be persuaded to take the lessons on when it is thoroughly wrung out in the commercial world. . . at least we have authenticity on our side, he said weakly!

  • Alastair McIntosh - July 9, 2009 reply

    Hello Folks

    I sat up late the night before last reading right though the print edition of Tom’s and Tim’s “Meeting Environmental Challenges” (MEC) report, and then had a look on the site to see what was being discussed. First, as I said to Tom on reading the exec. summary version, this is excellent work. Along with Tim Jackson’s recent report for the UK SD commission, it really pushes out the envelope of the debate and brings it, at last, onto the same psychological level as the industry, in my view, has long operated on (though often denies). To find this sort of stuff don’t go to the bland face of corporate marketing such as the ubiquitous Kotler; go, instead, to the seeming backwater know as “consumer behavior” and that’s where you get all the depth psychological manipulation that drives consumerism – Bernays, Dichter, etc.. See, for example,

    As I’ve tried to suggest in Hell and High Water, most of the industry don’t need to be aware of what shapes its mores. It is enough just to be of the culture to do what the culture requires to feed its hollow vacuity; its nihilism.

    It seems to me that the challenge of building an identity campaign is how to do so without falling prey to the allegation of manipulation. We have to be clear that what we are doing is not merely manipulating people in the opposite direction to which consumerism has already manipulated them. We are seeking to free one another from that manipulation. Some of the most important work on this has been around for quite a while now – for example, Charles Tart on “consensus trance reality” and a classic remains Deikman’s paper on the deautomatization of perceptual and cognitive structures as apparent in mystic experience – .

    But I return to the question of manipulation. In reading MEC there were several points where I thought that somebody hostile to it could lift a quote and present it as being manipulative. That raised the old question about whether you can dismantle the oppressor’s fortress with the oppressor’s tools. It’s a question we discussed in our meetings at Saatchis. I think it’s the question at the heart of these two comments from the above string:

    Tom: “…the bottom line for me is that if brands are promoted through confecting a link between the organisation/good/service that is being promoted and some intrinsic value that is not inherent to that organisation/good/service, then this represents dishonest communication.”


    Ciaran: “Branding is the work done to the outward facing image of any organisation, charitable, corporate or other and ideally flows from the activities and values of the organisation.”

    What’s at issue here is the question of essence (Ferrier) or “real presence” (Steiner – and not the Rudolf version). Is there such a thing as a core of integrity from which to act genuinely? It’s Plato’s old question: “What is good?”

    The people who push Lynx or whatever else don’t need to ask this question. Their whole thrust is about being “naughty” because they, or rather, their target customers, are caught up in egotistic narcissism. (For a bit of creative artwork on Lynx see . Lynx weren’t very happy when we phoned up to confess!). Indeed, as MEC draws out very clearly, those of materialistic values basically constellate around that which is “low”. In principle, then, our task is easy. We need to constellate around the opposite. If Lynx, to use it as an example, constellates around the extrinsic/physical-self quadrant of Figure 1 on p. 28, our home is in the opposite intrinsic/self-transcendent quadrant.

    So far so good, but what is it that we find there? Only two things, albeit courageously stated: spirituality and community. In short, we’re in the realm of what Abraham Maslow called Metavalues or Being-values (Towards a Psychology of Being, and, The Further Reaches of Human Nature). The point about B-values, he argued, is that they can only be understood in relation to one another. Deep community can only be understood in relation to spirituality, kindness, conviviality, joy, etc.. Joy can only be understood in terms of community, etc..

    In one of the classic papers on consciousness Tart argues that higher states of consciousness are specific to their own realm. See . You can’t expect somebody in a “lower” state to understand a higher state, though a person in a higher state can understand the lower state. Indeed, that is Tart’s definition of what makes it reasonable to speak of a “higher” state.

    As such, the challenge of identity marketing, I would suggest, is to shift paradigm in consciousness. And what makes that difficult to do is that it challenges us as to where we stand, where our organizations stand, and where the society to which we are trying to speak stands.

    What would be the B-values that we need to address alongside community and spirituality? Integrity. Wholeness. Courage. Simplicity. Generosity. Resilience. In short, these are all qualities of soul. We can phaff around with humanist versions of the same, but I don’t think that goes deep enough. I don’t think a de-souled version, a non-spiritual version of B-values, gets you beyond ego and with it, manipulation.

    When Ciaran says that branding, by which I shall mean here consistent and authentic self-representation, “ideally flows from the activities and values of the organisation” he understates the issue. It is not a question of “ideally”. It is an imperative. And that begs the question about whether or not there is, to use George Steiner’s expression again from his book by that name, “real presence”? Is there more to reality than just modern/postmodern deconstruction and its nihilism. Are there what Charlene Spretnack calls, in her book by the same title, “States of Grace”?

    The direction in which I am pointing here takes us to whether or not spirituality is actually for real. Does that top right quadrant really exist, or is only the bottom quadrant substantive? Because if it does not exist – if there is no more to us than egos on legs – then we’re stuffed anyway. Nothing matters, and Lynx rules: “Greed is Good”.

    But if soul is for real – both individually and at its cosmic level in Buddha nature, Goddess, Christ, Allah, or whatever you want to call it, then the issue that we’re tackling is the age-old question of idolatry. What “god” do you worship? What is real, and what is not real? What gives life in a world that feeds off death?

    Finally, that brings me back to Tom’s question about what an identity campaign would look like. My conclusion would be that an identity campaign, so as not to fall prey to being merely manipulative in another direction, would have to be held at a core level by people who are spiritually grounded. That is to say, by people (they may well not be relgious in a conventional sense) who have a sense of serving goodness that is beyond themselves and above all, a deep commitment to seeking and speaking to truth, including truth to power.

    The effect of this is to give rise to prophetic voice. I am sorry if that is an off-putting loaded term, but I see no alternative to bringing such a theological dimension to it – I’m talking here of theologians like Wink and Bruggemann – e.g. .

    I think out task today is to study this kind of thinking and to translate it into the challenges of our times. This is what I see somebody like Tom as doing. He is not being me – I don’t think it would wash well in WWF UK to go round ranting about Bruggemann and such like – but he, and many of you, are attempting this translation job.

    And what is the point when the issues being raised here, if valid, are so deep structured and therefore not things that can have immediate effect? I think that the point is to dig channels into which subsequent socio-political process might flow. Already I think that much has flowed from those meetings we had at Saatchis and the RSA. People like Porritt are helping such thinking to become mainstream. Our task is to keep digging in ways that would be subversive were it not that, in truth, they are superversive.

    And what does that mean in practical terms of where, say, WWF might spend the campaigning cash?

    I would suggest constellating identity campaigning around the word Resilience and its opposite, brittleness. It is a word that has an excellent ecological pedigree – CS Holling – and quite a bit has been written around extending the metaphor from natural ecology to human ecology – for example,

    The Transition people have picked up on this, and are doing good work with it linking it in to community. I applaud that as the latest addition to an ecosystem of approaches.

    I think resilience can potentially bridge that divide and do so in a way that values people intrinsically. Everybody needs to be loved. Intrinsic values are about learning to love and be loved. Our nature/climate campaigning must be about the cultivation of such empathy – a key word – and showing how the resilience it creates is about becoming grounded wonderful human beings and drawing that out of one another.

    At the end of the day, most of us are not qualified to judge climate change modeling and who knows what will happen. We have to build the resilience to face the come-what-may of the come-to-pass. And we must be humble. As a species we may be at the cutting edge of consciousness in a pivotal era, but we are only 200,000 years old. Let’s dig those channels very deep. Anything else may just get washed away.

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