A few weeks ago, I was interviewing candidates for a CEO role. We were discussing the huge concern we shared about the rise of political and religious extremism across the world.
He made a remark that really stopped me in my tracks.
‘When I was a boy my mother told me that the facts were the facts, but I was entitled to my own opinion about them. Now people choose their own facts too.’
I found it absolutely chilling.
The facts matter
For those of us who believe in using evidence, data and insight to support our arguments, it is like trying to walk in the middle of an earthquake. What do we do when we cannot even rely on the ground being still?
As leaders we need to think about this. Deeply.
It matters if people can no longer tell the difference between a truth or a lie. It is a concern if arguments are to be made purely by reinforcing existing beliefs and without regard for the facts. And it raises important questions for those of us who think that ‘trust’ is a vital component of a brand.
Political discourse is swirling with falsehood
Of course, this issue is particularly acute in the world of global politics.
David Ogilvy said once that ‘Political advertising ought to be stopped. It’s the only really dishonest kind of advertising that’s left. It’s totally dishonest.’
I suspect he would be astonished at how much of it goes on which is not generally visible and therefore remains unchallenged.
People want to know who to trust
I ask myself constantly whether I am doing enough to stand up against this era of falsehood and fakery.
There are times when I find myself in a nasty Twitter spat, and I wonder whether I am right to go silent, rather than dignify some hateful discourse with a response. Or whether I should really go for it and not let the outright lies sit there unchallenged.
I try to spend my time and effort where it will most count and make a difference, aware that goading opponents into exhausting and energy sapping debate is in itself a tactic.
People do actually want to know who to believe and trust, and their behaviour will be influenced by it. This is important territory for brands, and the organisations and leaders that sit behind them, to leverage.
Our system of voluntary regulation is vital
It is the mantra of the Market Research Society that ‘evidence matters’. That is because reliable information underpins our business cases, provides the insight to seek new markets and grow our brands and persuades customers to believe our claims.
As marketing leaders perhaps, we have a particular responsibility to resist the growing trend for unsubstantiated claims, dodgy research methodology and allowing lying to go unchallenged.
I have been impressed by the ASA continuing to stand their ground in the support of responsible advertising and being increasingly proactive in the monitoring of activity on the internet.
But of course, it is incumbent on all of us to also invest in and protect the resources provided by the Market Research Society who set our professional standards, whilst also providing education and advice to the research sector. Both bodies are an increasingly important and valuable part of our industry ecosystem.
People expect marketing people to be active players
This summer I watched in fascination at the pictures of Extinction Rebellion invading Cannes this year and taking their message directly to some of the most influential people in our industry. Apart from observing the obvious discomfort it caused for advertisers to be confronted directly like that.
It shows that people think our industry really matters. And they are right. We do.
I was grateful to Phil Smith, Director General at ISBA, for pointing out the AdGreen website to me. It has been established to make more sustainable production explicit. Started in 2014, it has ‘five easy steps’ that can be taken, from making scripts more sustainable in the first place by not requiring foreign travel, through to thinking about the materials used and how to recycle and compost as much as possible afterwards.
Wouldn’t it be great if the industry set a target for complying with their suggestions and publishing the number of brands who have achieved compliance?
And it makes me wonder what else we should be leading on at a national level. Our industry made the ‘pack shot’ famous. Packaging is a vital element of the brand experience – effectively an ad at point of sale. Of all people should we not be the ones setting out the ‘5 easy steps’ to sustainable packaging?
The role of brands…