Is it true that the old 'sell sell sell' has been replaced with a new era of marketing that aims to attract, seduce and compel?
If so then it must also be true that brands need to find something compelling and ownable with which to seduce their audience. And shouldn't ‘ethos brands’, who put their unique and fundamental values at the heart of their business, be at an advantage when searching for a seductive story to tell?
Sweat shops, childhood obesity, looking after our planet, fair trade, animal testing, children having shoes to wear to school: these are all issues that most people will engage with on an emotional level and which are popularly debated topics in current affairs. These are also stories that ethos brands have at their disposal and which should have a ready-made audience.
Brands can learn a lot from broadcasters on how to attract audiences with gripping and compelling content. Someone who learnt these lessons first hand is Paul Lindley, founder of the hugely successful baby food brand Ella's Kitchen, and previously Deputy Managing Director of Nickelodeon. He poured what he learnt at Nickelodeon - 'put the consumer first, think like a child, get parents on board' - into the ethos of his brand: making healthy food that's also fun for babies and kids.
So has he translated his knowledge into gripping content for his brand, which champions this heartfelt belief? Ella's Kitchen has made a smattering of 'product demo' films such as a 'Baby Thrill-O-Meter' which shows screen tested tots testing different food flavours and providing endearing facial expressions along the way. Doting parents are also invited to upload films of their suspiciously clean offspring consuming Ella's food to YouTube and have a 'clever expert' assess whether they are enjoying it or not. So far so healthy and wholesome, but not a whole lot of fun. Given the founder's insight into broadcasters' formula for attractive and compelling content, and a founding ethos that is also a huge conversation point amongst many new parents, it feels like there is a lot more they could be doing.
TOMS Shoes is another brand with a fantastic founding story. Eight years ago Blake Mycoskie was travelling in Argentina and saw that the village children he had befriended didn't have shoes to protect their feet. He was moved to help and set up TOMS Shoes on the principle that he would match every pair of shoes he sells with a new pair for a child that needs them. One for One. Sounds like a great premise for a film. And there are films, on YouTube of course, packed with uplifting images of children around the world being fitted with their TOMS shoes, but lacking any real sense of the narrative and emotional impact that this brilliant story could have.
Ben & Jerry's have been vocal in their condemnation of brands who focus on profit above the 'common good'. They are proud to be a 'values-led business' and believe these values lead them to decisions others would deem too risky. They famously celebrated the legalisation of same sex marriages in Vermont by re-naming their Chubby Hubby flavour Hubby Hubby for a month. They are rightly proud of their ethos and share it in a short film to promote their 'free cone day', an annual event since their first anniversary in 1979. The film was moderately interesting but I'd have rather had a free cone. Unfortunately another promisingly entitled film, 'Peace Love and Ice Cream' was about as entertaining as the bit when you're waiting for your Ben & Jerry's to warm up from the freezer.
Chipotle is the poster child for this kind of content. Its ethos is so strong and central to the brand that it has rarely needed to make traditional advertising, rather communicating its beliefs through branded content and games that audiences choose to interact with – in their millions.
There are some amazing stories to be told by brands who live by their values and Chipotle proves that worthy beliefs can be communicated through content in a way that is charming, funny, and not at all worthy. Brands can bring a genuinely interesting, different and often quite a personal angle to the values they champion and I think audiences would be inspired by the same ethos that established these brands in the first place.