This is the fourteenth marketing article you’re browsing today. So, you think you’re going to learn something by reading?

This is the fourteenth marketing article you’re browsing today. So, you think you’re going to learn something by reading?

7 minute read

Confucius knew it, Linus knew it.; you know it.  And yes, consumers know it as well. “Facta, non verba”, “Talk is cheap”, “A tongue doesn't get things done”.

Article details

  • WFA President Emeritus
12 June 2024
David Wheldon (OBE, President Emeritus WFA), Jose Maria Piera (International Senior Advisor) and J.D. Wallovits (Content Advisor at Havas, Jose Maria Piera – International Senior Advisor).

Of course discourse plays a crucial role in commercial communication, persuading and conveying ideas; it is obvious that speeches can inspire, educate, and motivate others to act. However, within today's incredibly noisy landscape, words only reach as far as they can; images blend with others and dissolve into a multitude of messages that have led to an unprecedented attention crisis.

The loss of credibility, due to unfulfilled promises, outright misinformation, and increasing manipulation by artificial intelligence, is affecting most discourses.

So that leaves us, firstly, distrusting this very text and, secondly, at the threshold of a new phase in which it’s imperative to build a new relationship between brands and citizens.

The question is: how?

Let’s do a flashback, like in a Netflix show

In 1999, Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger coined a phrase in their book, “The Cluetrain Manifesto," that has become so popular in the world of marketing that it now seems anonymous.

“Markets are conversations."

They used it as a rallying cry to argue that the Internet had transformed the relationship between companies and consumers, emphasizing the importance of communications becoming, from that point on, bilateral and therefore more authentic.

Everybody in marketing started parroting this; although it's not clear who grasped its consequences. Truth is some companies understood the message and started working on it, but others were never comfortable with a way of operating that made them lose control over their own messages, which could now be aimlessly amplified, answered, or even censored.

The pressure from consumers for two-way communication led many companies to start speaking more to please than to engage in dialogue. Trying not to challenge their fans, many brands lost all traces of leadership. What was supposed to be a democratic and constructive dialogue turned, in many cases, into a simple corruption of language, with words that had lost all backing in reality.

And then came the era of Brand Purpose.

Brand Purpose, derived from the increased weight of ESG in corporate practices, was initially welcomed by consumers as a unique opportunity to break free from the “rhetorical marketing bubble” and start talking with their favorite brands about topics that were much more important than buying or selling, more important than brands and companies.

Even more important than themselves.

But the “talking" fell into the same problems as the traditional unidirectional messages, with the aggravation that now the issues were much more delicate and important.

The result was that all existing brand-consumer dialogue failures acquired a much more evident and annoying dimension for citizens than when the matter was solely brand preference.

Let’s go even further back, like in an HBO show

Historically, brands helped us citizens fit better into the world, providing us not only with a product or service but also with an image and an ideology. But suddenly the world no longer appears as that ideal place where we all want to fit in.

In fact, brands that continue to push us to help us fit in seem to be in denial of the most important thing: the recognition of the need for new and true social and environmental purposes, combined with the actions we must undertake to implement them.

The result yields clear metrics today: Meaningful Brands by Havas, the most comprehensive and thorough survey on brand relevance for the last 10 years, confirms in 2023 that 77% of the citizens are tired of companies trying to convince them that they want to improve society when they only want to make money. 72% are also convinced that brands should significantly improve their way of doing things.

The same percentage demands brands to “put themselves in charge” of the situation we are facing not only on the environmental front, but also on the social and political ones.

The plot

Companies need, probably more than ever, to provide tangible evidence of their intentions, character, and commitment to the world's problems.

They definitely need, as we all do, to make real change happen. And it becomes clear that, at this moment, it is only actions that can provide tangible evidence of one's intentions, have the power to create real change and impact on others.

Moreover, actions can be verified.

That's why we declare that markets can no longer be considered mere conversations.

In this time and day, markets must be actions.

The kind of actions we refer to are special and different from the ones that some brands are putting into practice, not so much in relation to their goals - leaving a positive footprint and improving the world’s situation , but in the way and the collaboration necessary to carry them out.

Companies need to incorporate a new stakeholder to materialize their purpose initiatives. Someone who, added to the equation, helps transition from a private intelligence to a public intelligence, where the whole represents much more than the sum of its individual members.

Someone who helps brands move away from their historical roles to embody new, more vibrant and transparent ones, based on a type of cooperation that gets to validate each initiative in an irrefutable way.

A Star takes on a new role

So far, concerns about climate change and socio-political justice, along with their consequent calls to action, have often ended up in frustration for people. At this point, really the only antidote -especially for the younger generation- seems to be to provide them with the tools so that they themselves can generate real positive impact.

The VICE Report 2024 on culture makes it clear that generation Z is eager to take the stage. They feel they are outside of all equations that govern our lives -market, world and politics- and they want the world where people were spectators of brand initiatives to end, seeking not only ongoing dialogue with companies but also constant active participation in all activations they propose.

It seems clear, therefore, that the initiatives companies need to undertake in the face of the world's problems must be carried out together with their consumers, followers, citizens... However you want to refer to People. Brands need to propose actions to be carried out together with them in order to materialize positive impact on the community and the Planet, not only allowing but also urging for their participation, over mere passive consumption.

It’s a two way street: just as citizens need a gateway to engage with reality in a modern and appealing way, brands need the energy that only people's humanity can provide to stay alive and vibrant.

The end of the story… And of hierarchies

Through a real partnership between companies and citizens, the dichotomy between consumers and brands will become obsolete. In our interconnected era, we are all called to action, not as disparate entities, but as members of a single, global community with a shared destiny.

It is not just about “we and them” anymore; it’s about “us”. The best -and probably the only- way to positively impact the world is to do it together.

This evolution demands we transcend our roles and come united as human beings, each contributing our unique strengths and perspectives. Companies must step up as drivers and facilitators of change, leveraging the resources for the greater good and decentralizing decisions by recognizing consumers as “partners”.

Citizens, on the other hand, clearly need to go beyond being mere end-users to become actors, active participants, allies in the responsibility and beneficiaries in the rewards of creating a better world.

The litany of ideological manifestos and messages of personal empowerment makes perfect sense in a world of abundance and constant growth. But in a world of scarcity, which we are rapidly approaching, loyalties will narrow down to the closest, the experienced and the shared. And it will be the action in complicity with others that will make us feel our own HUMANITY more intensely.

David Wheldon – OBE, President Emeritus WFA
Jose Maria Piera – International Senior Advisor
J.D. Wallovits – Content Advisor at Havas


Article details

  • WFA President Emeritus
12 June 2024