MY: This is MY. I’m the host of the “formula for creating value podcast”. Today my special guest is TK. Mr.Goodvertising from Copenhagen.
TK: Thank you so much. It’s a nice and sunny day in Copenhagen. So that’s great. Thank you for inviting me.
MY: Thanks for being with us today. So let me maybe briefly introduce you and then, how we got here let me explain to our audience. You are a marketing activist and advisor. You are an international speaker and author. So I attended Sustainable Brands Turkey virtual events couple of weeks ago and then you had a key note there. And I had a post on LinkedIn. I share the glimpse of your presentation, your arrow model and your newly published book “The Hero Trap”. Then you kindly commented on my post and a little discussions sparked among my friends also. So we had a nice chat and here we are. So thanks for accepting my invitation once again and today we will talk about your views on purpose and the role of brands playing in people’s lives your new book. So first of all to start with I mean I like how you tweak advertising words into goodvertising. So they call you also Don Draper of good advertising or marketing.
TK: Exactly, I think isn’t it great that social media can bring us all together across the globe and spark these conversations. It’s very true actually. First thing I did right was this thing and I sometimes joke a little bit because my background I actually start out as a copywriter before moving on being a creative director. As a copyrighter you always like wordplays right? You kinda hate them, you kinda love them and putting good together with advertising from the worse in a way such a no-brainer and this was a bad decade ago when the book came out and today I feel it’s become a movement with in itself. I mean you cannot go to Cannes, you cannot go to D&AD… every brand in these days talking about obviously the responsibilities that’s put on brands and expected from people across the world.
MY: Right. And what I also take from that I mean I have the feeling like people want brands to be more open, more honest and so I was going to refer to our commonality there. I worked 20 years in the beer industry and you also worked for Carlsberg for a period of time and on the other side of the table. We were always like admiring, I was as a marketeer “the Carlsberg probably the best beer in the world” tag. So last year, they also changed it to “probably not the best beer in the world” so that was quite shocking news and was sure take on that I mean how do you see it?
TK: I think the thing is today that you know, brands got embrace the fact that you know, there are so much scrutiny and people expect almost brands to be naked and some expects when you’re naked you better be robust, you better be embracing rather than try to run away from it. I think what the whole idea that marketing is changed the last years, I normally cut out you know, maybe it’s because I’m from Copenhagen but icebergs, so I use the iceberg analogy. It used to be, you know, marketing, it’s kinda tip of the iceberg. But it exactly all that stuff underneath the water level that so important now, how do you pay employees, what else sort of ingredients in that product etc. And I think actually Carlsberg obviously having a real courage. It’s actually what I’m calling from Carlsberg, is just literally like a couple hundred meter up this road, where the founder Carl obviously move the brewery back then and his son took it over and stuff. What I like about the new kinda “probably” words is that I’m seeing it at a point and I think especially if you look at can and some stuff like that some of the crated awards and some of the communication that came out. I’m in some way spelled that Heineken had this kinda innovative edge. For quite some time in the beer game, and now, I think they lost a bit the breath and I think what Carlsberg have done is actually breathe quite innovative spirit into the brand. I think it is actually always been the part of the heritage of the brewer. I mean they’re owned by a foundation that are run by scientists so this whole innovative spirit I think it is embraced pretty well on the campaign and I think they’ve been doing some pretty amazing stuff and delivering on that. I mean in my kinda world of goodvertising one of the thing said I absolutely loved. And when we talk about purpose actually, is infact this dilemma between profit and purpose. I called it “the two headed purpose monster” because one head is trying to say “let’s be nice and cute” and like stuff like that and the other one is just saying “let’s earn a hell a lot of money”. And that dilemma is tough to navigate as a brand and as a company. And I think Carlsberg recently launched and some markets a new innovation that called snap pack, and it basically to get rid of the sixpack ring that’s made of plastic and harming sea life, I mean with Linda Lovelace that the little pinguin have a sixpack ring stuck around it’s neck. Which is real I mean, I’m a surfer by heart and I’ve seen seals having a sixpack ring cutting through its yeah. So now they made this little piece of glue that glue sticks the cans together so less plastics and if you think about it risk it does take for brewer to make people learn a new way to separate the beer cans and things like that I think it’s quite a risk I mean the couple years earlier they launched in some markets and beer made out of plastic instead of glass and that was huge failure and people hated it. So I think for them to kind of keep trying I think it really shows the stamina that it takes to build the brand for me just say it’s always about kinda reinforcing the brand message again and again and again.
MY: True. So are you call yourself sustainability normalizer? Normalizes is an interesting term.
TK: yeah I think I you know if I’m not one of the three hawkers I mean I’m really basically on a mission to become a catalyst for positive change and I think change here become sustainability and green marketing used to be such a niche owned by you know non-profits and three hawkers etc. for me what I’m trying to advocate for is really the mainstreamification of sustainability and this is basically something I’m witnessing and I’m seeing that on the political field as well if we see how much climate change is finally obviously being prime in center in a lot of countries, I a lot of political debates I mean we see it across mainstream brands. I mean we see Nike, we’ve seen Adidas, we’ve sceen H&M with conscious collection, a lot of car brands. So for me I’m really happy about that development because it’s exactly the sort of development that is needed and it is really to get it out of the tree hawking closet and to kind of reinvent what sustainability can be in our world here today and make it relevant for each and every one of us. That’s my mission.
MY: And exactly like 10 years ago when you published Goodvertising you were saying that even though some brands are greenwashing, that’s OK because they raise awareness. Do you feel the same?
TK: You know, I like to provoke. I think that the statement was honestly meant us provocation at the time because when I wrote the book this is 10 years ago there was so few brands talking about the environment there was so few brands to about social injustice etc. So at that time was like why we actually bullying a few brands that are trying to raise important conversations in society? Obviously today that has changed and obviously that was also why I had to write second book because it’s almost like today the sides have fliped that you know you can basically not engage with the brand without them claiming to be Mother Teresa, Gandhi I mean it’s almost like even CEOs today, I mean look at most CEOs I mean it used to be them just playing golf and once in a while coming up and talking about financial results now they are all being on stage and talk about how they all want to save our climate and help the whales and save more children in Africa. Which is applaudable but how believable is it, quite frankly how believable is it, suddenly that all these brands suddenly have developed a big beating heart. So that’s a need for writing a new book.
MY: Alright. So I will come to that I mean your arrow model let’s say, you were also referring to this Havas Media global research that 2/3 of consumers wouldn’t care whether the majority of brands would survive or not. And while 80% of people expect brands to contribute in more in social societal problems let’s say to solve and but only 26% would buy a purposeful brand and there’s a huge gap between this people saying that they will buy purposeful brands and declared intention or what they actually do. Why do you think so?
TK: I mean the thing is when the first book came out and I think this is relevant today as well is in fact that these are growing mistrust towards brands and an obviously that’s hurting our industry, that’s hurting the brands that we support to grow and nurture that the people don’t trust with the brands are saying so we must be doing something wrong. I think would have us at the time was pointing towards was actually saying that it is so bad that 2/3 of people don’t care whether the majority of brands have gone tomorrow or not, so well the likes of Coca Cola these these guys are not around tomorrow so that’s a real centerpiece of why we need to do something in marketing advertising industry. That being said I think purpose kinda came out, came on the back of that as a wave brand marketeer to kinda create relevance. Because it’s odd, “hey wait a moment people care about environment of young people they see the polar bear there on the ice flake they care about so obviously Coca Cola gotta care about that”. So that was sort of the mantra but it just didn’t come out as a really genuine thing and as for me having been the purpose based advocated for purpose especially with the with the first book, I suddenly saw like this disconnect which we talk about and this is the survey that you refer to the second time is actually from a report called the Good Life report that states that it’s only this gap with 39% of people who don’t follow through. So they say they want to buy from purposeful companies but 39% actually don’t do it and for me that’s really interesting because think about the market potential for us to kind of take out or 39% of people who kind of wanna do it, but they don’t do it. So for me that was also a big reason for me to understand what is wrong with our core approach to purpose and what was wrong with the approach it took in my first book and what needs to be re-adjusted.
MY: OK, so we will come to know what was the answer. How we can correct this communication?
TK: Yeah, the answer is I mean for me this is all about meaningfulness. It’s all about how brands need to play a pivotal role in our lives. Because if people don’t care about the relationship that they have with brands, it might be because they don’t play an important enough role in their lives. I mean it’s the same with friends, if you stop hanging around with a certain group of friends or some specific friend, it’s most likely because that guy doesn’t really add value in your life. Maybe you just grew apart, maybe your values are unaligned, maybe he never really picks up the phone when they’re trying to call him you know. I’m seeing the same thing with brands in fact that the losing this meaningfulness. So one of the questions I asked myself in the writing process of the new book was in fact what brands of what leaders have really changed my life? Have really created a meaningful difference in my life? And the list was really really short, disappointingly short. And you know with purpose brands take this hard-societal role and say we’re going to do things for environment and society etc. And I saw that again and again as a hero trap because each and every time they stood up and that purpose pedestal and screamed like a some sort of superhero we gonna save the world, they always failed. And the starting point for me in this book was actually in fact looking at my own life and seeing how difficult it was to create change in my life and then I said wait a moment why are we looking why are brands claiming to be the ones that are these world savers rather than standing that what I don’t need to say some sort of priest I need a coach that help me achieve the things that I want to see in my life. So essentially when I’m playing in the focus that brands need to avoid the hero trap are not being the heroes but rather making me the hero in my life so it’s not about asking why is Simon Sinek I mean we talked a lot about Simon Sinek in that (Linkedin) thread I mean Simon Sinek’s claim is obviously saying that a brand gonna figure out its high role in society by asking why, why is it that you exist that is what people actually buy. I would say that that has been true to some extent what is challenging today is that when every brand is claiming to have a higher role to play in our lives in a bigger purpose the ultimate proof point in fact with brands that help us live healthier lives. That help us live greener lives, more connected lives in society. So that was the model that you referred to the arrow which for me asking fundamentally different question which is “who can I help people become” and for me, those are that’s the real question any leader needs to ask. who can I help people become?
MY: And when you say who like does it also refer to some sort of like psychographic definition, I mean like is some segment I mean this is how they should work on that one. Is it really like who anyone or is there any also targeting sort of targeting there?
TK: No for me it’s very much just about what fundamental role I use a brand or leader playing in people’s lives so it’s really about two different kinds of leadership and I’m going to illustrate a political example though and this is actually not about making it political even though we got red screaming face there on the wall of Trump in it. Let me use Barack Obama as an example. And when Barack Obama was stepping down as a president, he was obviously elected a senator in Chicago when he was elected on the “yes we can” message. And when he stepped down and he delivered his last speech in Chicago he said “yes we can was not a message about people believing in his abilities that create a change. It was in fact the message for all of us to believe in our own ability to create empowering exactly, I think and that’s exactly what it is the centerpiece of the “who can you help people become”, and what I saw was that the brands that take that stance, are much more successful at driving people to creating the change it’s much more about my values my dreams and my inspirations. And let me give you a couple examples. I mean if you look at Apple, I mean the early days of Apple and Steve Jobs and when they kind of launched and went up against the more kinda blue-chip companies, it was a platform called think different. So it’s very much about the role that they wanted to play in my life as a crative person as a liberal and they gave me that tools to do so and I think they even though they are such a multiple yondalla company today. Obviously it’s interesting to see if they can stick with that matra of “think different” but I think they have been able to make all of us more creative if I mean if you think about it, a four year old kid can do amazing things on an iPhone today that is actually unimaginable so or if we take a company like Nike I mean the whole “just do it” the whole way that the drive us towards bringing down our barriers and fears in sport. So for me those are the two different kind of things and purpose for me let me give you an example, the “why” approach if we look at Patagonia for example they’re always brought of it this super sustainable company. They say “we are in the business to save our home planet”. If you really listen to what they’re saying it sounds like some really navel gazing self important even megalomanic stuff to say that them as a company and go out and save the world, do we really believe that I mean basically the selling T-shirts to people who are stuck in a one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn and maybe missing a bit of fresh air nature. So that’s one way of leadership, Patagonia can get away with it because they are a legacy brand but I don’t think we should copy it. But if you look at my approach was this “who can I help people become” there is this a health insurance company called discovery they are in seven markets. Their promise like I don’t call that purpose I call it a promise because I think purposes too bigger word but their promise is to incentivize people to live healthier. It’s pretty difficult to criticize them for that, in the sense now it’s two way thing I know they’re trying to coach me to live healthier it’s not like Patagonia saying we want to save the world, for me it’s very easy to criticize like but if you want to save the world; why do you have polyester in your jacket, why do you do this that and you know what it still ship your stuff? For me incentivizing people to live healthier it’s a meaningful role it can play my life they understand that I struggle to live healthier and there trying to help me to do that.
MY: Actually I kind of got an epiphany I mean about because I mean for Simon Sinek I mean we were always like also like great support as believers. But what you’re saying I think the main differences like pretty close to purpose and what you’re saying who you can help people become is just what you’re saying that he’s missing the empowerment he’s missing the call to action sort of like, don’t expect somebody else to save your life or change your life but you have to take charge and you have to do make your own transformation. I think that’s a bit of a nuance there but which is an important one I mean like because he also gives the example of Apple right, I mean he says that people buy Apple for why mean it’s finally it’s against the status quo, I mean it’s again like think different but what you’re saying is just this is it shouldn’t like hang in the air. I mean that that purpose, I mean should touchdown and it should people should resonate with it right?
TK: For me it’s an evolution of purpose in the sense that obviously when we live in a marketing space, where we live in a world where leadership has become about purposeful leadership. We need to evolve it and we need to deliver proof points of that and so ultimately I do think that you know the best leaders out there other ones that enable us are the ones that pushes us to confront our own bar barriers or biases and there’s a big difference because if you take for example if you take one of the other trends in advertising these days brand activism. I know that I was a big believer of brand activism in the first book but today I’m really against it. Because I do think that it builds walls, it separates people and makes things black and white and it really pitches people against each other. And so when a company comes out and say, you know we believe in diversity and we want to fight an endless fight for diversity, I think that’s actually counterproductive and it’s dangerous to go down that road because again as I said it’s so easy to look at leadership and organization like that, or how they treating policy how they hire all that stuff and criticizing for it, what I would rather love is a leader who comes out and talks about how each and everyone of us had to confront our own biases and stereotypes that we’re dealing with our own every day. So it’s really kind of those two sorts of different types of leadership and when I’m trying to send the book and that’s why I called the hero trap you know ultimately was to say. If you want to avoid when you embrace purpose to be criticized should be scrutinized, then you really gonna glow and understand that pivotal role that you wanna play in people’s lives and we did a survey where we compared transformational campaigns with purposeful campaigns. So a campaign like Budweiser when they go out and say “this Bud’s for a better tomorrow” and talk about the commitments towards renewable energy and compare that to a commercial and I’m sure that everybody who lives advertising space know “always” the campaign “like a girl” and some of the follow ups that they’ve done which is always the much more about helping young girls breakthrough that glass ceiling, grow confidence which are very human values. And when we compare those commercials found out the people on average were 29.4 % more motivated to act by the transformational messages which for me is really interesting when we talked about that 39% gap between people wanna try for purposeful companies the one who follow true, something for me that was also a key factor to understand how do we create change, how do you create brands and have meaningful connections with consumers and how can those brands help drive sales going forward.
MY: Very good but let’s say I want to also ask your opinion about this the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) I mean the 17 the UN’s categories and it’s from one hand is good of course for Budweiser to take care about energy and the water sources and things like that, you think this is not important to communicate or it can be also the case that I mean I believe people takes it as a bit of a hygiene factor, I mean like you’re doomed if you don’t but you don’t get credit if you do it I mean sort of thing.
TK: I mean for me the sustainable development goals is important in the sense that it’s a shared language that we can all have in tackling some of these unsurmountable challenges, facing the biosphere, facing social systems and all that stuff. So that way, it creates a common language that can foster new collaborations and things. So that way I do think that SDG is important and that have proved its worth, I mean last year in Cannes I was judging the second year the Sustainable Development Lions and that was truly eye opening experience to see the creative industry the advertising industry contributing to the 17 SDGs and then really showing that we as marketeers have an impactful role to play. When that I said I think oh God it’s so difficult to communicate that and get that right. I’ve seen most of the time it does seem like some sort of bullsh*t right? People just speaking like 4-5-7-5 and what the heck does it mean? I mean I don’t run around with a t-shirt 7-4-6-8-10 and then I think that some girl is going to walk up to me and she’s going to yeah nice cats because you care about this stuff. That’s not how it works, I mean for me brands are single minded prepositions that being reinforced overtime and they have figured out what meaningful role they wanna play in our lives by asking “who can I help you become” that’s what a brand is about and having four or five different things I mean doesn’t make any sense. I mean honestly but it’s a hygiene factor, I mean you gotta strengthen your operations, you gotta do this stuff you don’t need to brag about it and achieve at work you know I mean it’s really about being very clever about where’s relevant, where you wanna communicate it and I see it much more as an innovation driver and as a drive of collaboration.
MY: Or is it more more like corporate communication and like it’s to be a good citizen for it’s for P&G not for “always” I mean like sort of?
TK: I mean it’s a methodology’s share language I think for people in the world of communication. I often say that marketing is from Mars and sustainability from Venus. It’s so difficult to bridge between these two worlds, so the world the world of sustainability is very science based it’s very complex and intellectual whereas the world of marketing is very kind of emotional it’s very simplistic it’s very actionable and combining those two worlds are difficult that’s exactly the role of marketeers if you want to make the sustainable development goals relevant, think about how that matters in my life, I mean if you take something like creating a more fair World, how do you do that I mean you can easily do that by buying a product that pays people fairly so don’t buy from sh*tty chocolate producers that runs childlike operations in Ghana or think about brands that pay their employees fairly both women and men that’s an easy way to look at it so you’ve got to translate these kind of complex notions into something that matters to us and I think that’s exactly also why in the book I really tried to take a lot of these very complex societal and environmental issues down something where it’s about what makes a good life? How can you as a brand create relevance in my life? And there’s so many things that we struggle with in our lives. I mean maybe we’re stressed, maybe we don’t have the time to exercise, maybe don’t have enough time without kids. I mean I looked at a survey also called the Goodlife report that came out of Turkey said one of the primary things there that people are concerned about is actually health, economy if you are a brand, how can you help people in this situation and I think I see a lot of brands that kinda try and sugarcoat some sort of corporate social responsibility program but you gotta figure out how you can actually help us towards some of these struggles help us in some of these struggles.
MY: You think this is I mean regardless of any sector right I mean it this can be valid even for toothpaste I mean I don’t know how toothpaste can you know?
TK: It’s cross sectors, it’s B2B brands, it’s B2C brands. I mean and it also shows how in some aspects consumption is changing and obviously this is being said from you know I know that there’s a lot of people go through economic hardship these days and losing their jobs but we also, I mean live in a much more affluent world in our part of the world at least where I’ve seen a shift in how people consume as well. Obviously, it is not as apparent in Turkey at the moment but if we look at you know some of the trends that are happening in Northern Europe and in some parts of the US and then some of their biggest cities probably Istanbul, you’ll see things like that as well. That people are growing up with so much stuff I mean when I was a kid let me illustrate it; with this when I was a kid my biggest wish for my birthday was a boom box one of those with a CD player to cassette tapes and I convinced my parents and I got it. For my niece’s birthday last year she wanted to jump out of a moving airplane in a parachute. But it does show the shift that when you have so much stuff when you look at that at Christmas, birthdays all these gifts you grow tired of it, so this tokenism that you just buy you know a T-shirt that says you know, I do this and that for the environment, there’s not much effort and there’s not much care in that so I think that the ultimate proof point again is if you see how holidays have changed, you don’t go to Italy and go to a fancy restaurant, you can share something from Instagram, that’s fine. But the real experience is actually there getting hands greasy, making pasta with this Italian Mama. This is the thing where you learn something and probably best example of that is Mark Zuckerberg and his personal challenges so the world’s one of the world’s richest guys each year gave himself a personal challenge. Because that’s the one thing you can’t buy and that’s one thing that to one real breaking right that you had today. And the brands that get that what we’re buying today is not just more stuff and some company claiming to have a higher purpose is really to help me do amazing things in my life. That’s the thing that really matters today it’s who you can help become.
MY: Very well said. Well, thank you very much Thomas. And we come to the signature question of my podcast: What is your formula for creating value?
TK: My formula of creating values is pretty simple and as you refer to kinda that the arrow that I have in the book that’s been inspired by coaching and psychotherapy because those are about two goal oriented disciplines that moves you from in action to action and things that matters in your life. I think way too few leaders way too few brands dare to ask themselves what role that truly play in people’s lives. Whether it’s wanting to make people healthier smarter or more connected, or green or whatever it is. So for me the one key question as a leader of the brand in each ask yourself is actually who could help people become. Because then you are pushing people towards the dreams and aspirations I think that’s actually the Holy Grail of marketing that you dancing on that little tip of Maslov’s Pyramid of needs. It’s all about self actualization that you’re pushing people towards those things. Ultimately, I think that’s amazing in a way that we as marketeers that leaders can help us achieve those amazing things. And those are the leaders in those brands that I hold dear today, those are the friendship, if I look at my friends, those are the friends that I love hanging around with and one of the key points again actually that I did from the survey in the book was in fact that; when you get that sort of relationship with people, people are actually willing to pay a premium price and in that way does explain in some way setting that extra value that comes out of meaningful brands. That idea that we are so dumb to go and pay so much money for iPhone when we can buy something that’s exactly the same capabilities.
MY: I have Huawei.
TK: I see, you’re clever which is buying into some of that brand that BS right so but I think that in some instances Apple have made my life more crazier and simple but you know but it’s a key question to ask yourself as a marketer and a leader today and that’s it that also is a key point actually that you know when brands in a certain industry figure out what role they wanna play people’s lives. They can aspire you for so many different roles so Apple could aspire to creative individuals liberals etc. but there’s so many other uncharged positionings open for brands who want to play a part and I when you take this approach, I’ve seen so many amazing examples. Like KIND Snacks out of the US, I mean they promote kindness something that I think we can only in today’s polarized societies and one of the amazing thing is when you figure that out, it’s both an internal ana an external blip burning flame, I mean Daniel Lubetzky the Founder of KIND Snacks shared with me how the employees each year answer a questionnaire 8 to 6% of his employees answered that they feel more kind after starting to work in KIND Snacks. So that’s the sort of added benefit you can get from asking this one pivotal question.
MY: Great Thomas thank you very much. It was a great talk really and I will take away many things like Venus and Mars and that metaphor and so how people can reach you obviously they can find your LinkedIn and you also have some online workshops right or trainings?
TK: Exactly I mean I have a big part of my own mission is really to be a catalyst for the people’s positive change. So we do lots of webinars, we soon launching our masterclass where with 10 episodes, a deep dive into this methodology. So for me I see the book as a tool to marketeers out there that’s also why sometimes it’s as you might have read from my business card, I’m on marketing activist. I really tried to shake up our inherent and sometimes ignorant ways of doing marketing today and really trying to put the respect back in marketing where we put people first. And that’s exactly what I’m trying to do across digital so whoever wanna follow that mission please go ahead and Mete thank you so much for sparking this conversation which came out of one LinkedIn post, I mean it’s amazing the dialogue we have created in a one Linkedin post. So for whoever who listens wise up, disagree-agree we want to hear your opinions.
MY: Great I’m with you Thomas, thank you very much.
TK: Thank you Mete, thank you.
(I’d like to thank Ms.Ceren Yalçın for helping transcripting this episode)