What we learned at Huddle

Brands doing ‘good’ is the zeitgeist marketing movement of 2016 – backed up with the recent publication of Havas’ white paper where thousands of people admitting that out of many of the worlds top 1000 brands, people wouldn’t care (at all!) if 74% of these died tomorrow and Milliard Brown finding that brands with purpose were massively outperforming those without.

Was this a reason for why brands seem more interested than ever to demonstrate a purpose beyond shareholder profits? Are brands giving us what they think we want or are we seeing a shift towards brands who really believe a humanistic purpose is fundamental to their long-term relevance and value? Is good just a good story?
And so the merry Maker band took themselves off to Mindshare’s recent Huddle, a one day event packed to the rafters with workshops and discussions from leading lights in our industry exploring the concept of good in the media. Here are some of our highlights and learnings from oursFF and others huddles….


When Purpose Backfires and How to Get it Right

Joe Wade from Don’t Panic started off by setting the backdrop to the increase in cause related comms; a post-truth landscape where we are more responsive to emotion than facts. He followed with some dubious examples of brands ‘doing’ purpose alongside some brilliant ones. Brands over stretching to align themselves with a purpose was illustrated alarmingly by Tinder. Teaming up with Amnesty International to “highlight the fact that now all women have the power to choose how they live their life” is pretty hollow coming from a company where empowering women boils down to equal swipe left rights.
Getting it right was IKEA teaming up with the Red Cross to raise awareness and funds for the crisis in Syria. Ikea built a replica room of a damaged home in Damascus in one of it’s flagship stores. The stark contrast to the IKEA’s replica rooms highlighted the horrendous conditions so many are living in. They made an emotive and authentic connection to the cause, raising a lot of money for the Red Cross and positive attention and good will for themselves


It kind of reminded me of something that Patagonia’s founder, Yvon Chouinard said:

I know it sounds crazy, but every time I have made a decision that is best for the planet, I have made money.

IKEA put the cause front and centre in their showroom where people came to buy their product. A brave move that made it feel like they were putting the cause first and not piggybacking for the sake of PR. And what do you know, that was genius PR. But it also linked to their vision: ‘To create a better everyday life for the many people’.

Brand Growth in the Digital Age

And so on to Mark Adams the VP of innovation for Vice media talking about “how to get strategic and kick start real growth through the most powerful of all digital forces – storytelling”. He started by drawing the distinction between advertising and content, disagreeing with all the talk at Cannes about the death of the 30 second spot. For him it still had it’s place to sell a benefit of a product in a short entertaining way but surmised that a lot of the problems we’re facing with content is the strange frankenstein we end up with when we confuse them. It was a bit of a neat distinction, there are a lot of great ads out there that don’t hammer home the amazing new life changing benefits of their product, but at Maker we’ve definitely experienced brands trying to shoehorn traditional advertising thinking and messages into content. We know that audiences see right through it, but according to Mark this is where it gets worse – brands are actually damaging themselves – likening it to the sword of damocles that “swings both ways”, brands are creating negative impressions.

The real insight for me was our disconnect as marketers with not just our audience but ourselves. When we’re sat at home in our slippers sipping a cocktail, looking at the internet how do we really respond to brands thinly veiled attempts to sell us stuff under the guise of content? Just like our audience as soon as we sniff the manipulation, we’re out of there, often with a sour taste. So why when we go back to the day job do we delude ourselves that people really want to be interrupted or hoodwinked into hearing about the new improved formula or the life changing performance of the latest gizmo.

What we’re really doing is undermining two vital things we are looking for from our audience: their trust and attention. What we need do is empathise and think about how we can connect through something we both care about. Can we find a simple truth, a purpose or a vision? Can we explore or romanticise it, can we bring it to life in a story or an idea? Or to look at it a different way, if our brand was a person what would be their ultimate vision for a better world? If it had a Martin Luther King moment and had a dream what would it look like and what would be the first steps towards it? This reminds me of something the actor Paddy Considine said when he was giving advice to writers and directors: tell your highest truth. Now this doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be earnest or worthy. Take for example our sex positive film for pleasure brand Mystery Vibe. What they envisioned was a world where real sex was celebrated and individual pleasure was explored as opposed the the ‘normal’ portrayal of panting sex kittens that we should all ‘aspire’ to. So we did just that, we asked real people and got honest answers:

Harness the Power

Next up was the Maker huddle where with the help of Joe from Don’t Panic and Holly from Collectively, (Vice’s digital platform for inspiring change) we looked at how films can best bring these stories to life. But what makes a good story? Keeping it simple drama is about character, conflict and change and story often stems from a simple insight. Look at Dove’s real beauty sketches, it confronts real women with the difference between their perception of themselves and how others see them. When they see this disparity it makes them challenge and change their view. Or if we look at narrative as someone wants something / something’s not right, there are obstacles in the way and in facing them something is realised it works in a very similar way. The women want to be happy with the way they look but they have built up a negative view of themselves, when this subjective view is exposed it makes them think differently.

So if conflict is key to dramatic storytelling then brands can look at what stands in the way of their vision or purpose. What are the hurdles and how can they overcome them? Having a simple narrative and one strong idea is another hallmark of successful content, often brands have different things they want to say (emanating from different parts or stakeholders in the business). But not choosing one or resolving multiple ones into a unifying idea can make the story confusing. We’re generally talking about content of a few minutes and competing narratives dilute the story and reduce the impact. The same can be seen with brands wanting to get across too much information. Joe has seen this a lot with charities where the emotive connection they’re trying to make with audiences is undermined by attempting to get across too much info or requesting too much at the end. He has seen much better results from following up the video with some secondary communication aimed at those that have watched and engaged.

So how can we really know if a video has connected with audiences, if it has been successful. A common misconception is that views are the key indicator. We see this all the time with content clocking up a load of views because of a significant media spend before fizzling out as soon as the promotion stops. It’s pretty obvious when we see a video with a million plus views and next to no interactions that they’ve just paid for the eyeballs, any eyeballs. It’s shares, likes and comments that give us a much better idea of impact.

Stories from Businesses Transforming our World

In our final huddle we heard stories from the founders of two businesses that had ‘good’ at the heart of their business. Jenny Costa from Rubies in the Rubble, a sustainable food brand that makes products from fruit and vegetable that would otherwise be discarded and Karen Hanton and Diana Verde Nieto from Positive Luxury, a company that showcases lifestyle brands that put people and the environment on a par with good design. Working with a host of brands like John Lewis, Louis Vuitton, Veuve Clicquot and The Radisson, Positive Luxury’s Butterfly Trust mark is rapidly gaining traction making it easier for consumers to identify brands that do good. Another clear indicator of consumer appetite to shop ethically. But also a desire to easily recognise brands that are doing the right thing.


Talking about their pretty meteoric rise it was clear how important the stories behind their brands are to their success. For Jenny starting in Borough market with a team of ex-offenders was critical to being taken on by Fortnum & Mason, a listing that catalysed the brand.

Both brands have identified a problem they want to help solve that their customers care about. They have a good story and an audience. Comparing their businesses Diane felt that because food is something that we actually put in our bodies it can have a more direct and emotive connection, but part of her challenge was to highlight the deep connection between what we wear and it’s effect on our world. Bringing this connection to life, telling that story in a meaningful way for the audience could hold the key.

So we come full circle, if brands want to be relevant, meaningful and therefore valuable to their customers they need to have more than a good product, they need a good story and they need to tell it well.