Selfish And Societal Are Like Salt And Pepper

Recently, we had a fabulous speaker at Wunderkind U. in the form of Paula Roberts, former EVP of marketing and fundraising at Plan Canada and before that VP marketing at SickKids Foundation. She was also a president and managing director at several large ad agencies. A woman who knows her stuff. And who has successfully applied her marketer’s skills toward the greater good in a huge way. There are few on this continent who can boast this kind of record of achievement in the marketing and branding of causes.

One of the things that came up in the lively talk surrounding her presentation was how today’s consumer/donor/citizen is different from their parents and grandparents. In the 20th century, selfish and societal needs were addressed separately. For example, one could be a robber baron by day, and then attend a charity ball at night, writing a big check that assuaged one’s guilt (or public shame) over how the money was made. As a consumer, one would load up with sinful products and indulgences during the week, and then ‘repent’ separately by giving to the church or to a needy local charity.

But that is so 20th Century.

Starting ten years ago, in response to consumer trends, Wal-Mart announced to all of its suppliers in home products that they had to develop environmental programs (donations through purchase, environmentally friendly line extensions, partnership programs) or they would be removed from shelf. This set off an earthquake throughout the consumer packaged goods industry that continues to this day.

New brands are emerging every day like Toms, which manufactures shoes and eyewear. For every pair of shoes sold, a new pair of shoes is given to an impoverished child, and for every pair of glasses, part of the profit is used to save or repair the eyesight of a child in the developing world. When the founder Mycoskie sold half his stake to Bain Capital in 2014, he used the proceeds to start a new fund to support socially minded entrepreneurship, and Bain matched his investment 1-for-1. New companies following this 1-for-1 selfish/societal model are now popping up all over the planet.

In this era, consumers want to blatantly satisfy their individual needs (for physiological needs, esteem, belonging or self-actualization) while also doing something for the community or the planet. At the same time. Not from different brands at different times, but simultaneously. Therefore, contemporary brands would do well to serve these needs as an ensemble.


– W