Do brands need to be ethical?
I don’t mean for ethic’s sake. That’s up to the moral whims of the human at the helm.
I mean in order to sell stuff.
Does being ethical help?
That certainly seems to be the popular opinion among brand experts and in digital we are always drawn to the binary. The definitive. Yet purchasing behaviour tells a rather more complicated story.
You see we are all constantly drowning in ambiguity and contradiction. We say one thing then do the opposite. We claim to care about x, then prioritise y. And of course we rationalise every moment of it beautifully.
I’m a vegetarian, which is a pain as I love meat and fucking hate vegetables. Yet despite being prepared to make that enormous self sacrifice for reasons of animal welfare, I frequently buy dairy products without a moment’s thought given to the poor bovine bastard that’s been milked to within an inch of its miserable life.
And I’m not the only hypocrite.
Millennials and Gen Z’ers – supposedly the bastions of a new moral righteousness, will happily spend an extra 50p on organic condoms and tut when their avocados are presented in cellophane, but they also buy £4 dresses from Boohoo. And order lightbulbs via Amazon that arrive in cardboard boxes big enough to accommodate a family of 4.
How can the same people exhibit such seemingly contradictory traits?
It’s all a question of where we’re getting our dopamine hit from. One way is to feel like we’ve got a bargain, or received our purchase with an unparalleled speed of delivery. No matter who you are, what you believe in, these things are likely to give your brain a lovely chemical bump.
But we can also get that hit from something very different. Something that may not benefit us in economic terms, but that strengthens our identity. And as it happens, ethics are a big part of our modern day identity.
In other words, it all comes down to messaging. Most people will spend an extra 20% if the product packaging applauds them for being brilliant human being, then go home and order something from Amazon that gets delivered the same day by a bloke in an old diesel banger. The key from a branding perspective is not waste energy attempting to unravel this mess of incongruence and inconsistency, and certainly not to be all things to all people at all times, but rather to understand which button you’re pushing at any given moment and to do so emphatically.
See you next time,