Brands must act now: the clock is ticking

The desire to to the right thing and the cost of doing the wrong is something to set your watch to in 2021, argues Thinkerbell and Decade of Action (DOA) founder Adam Ferrier.

Late last week the doomsday spruikers said we’re still stuck at 100 seconds to midnight. For those of you unfamiliar with this group of nay-sayers, it’s a bunch of Nobel laureates and other smart people called ‘Bulletin of The Atomic Scientists’.

Ever since 1947, when the clock was set at seven minutes to midnight, as a dark global metaphor, they’ve been predicting how long the world can survive against man-made global calamity. Each year the scientists get together and re-set the clock depending on what’s happened during the previous year. It’s big news around the world as it’s such a stark reminder as to how much trouble we are in (although in Australia the only people who seem to report on it are the ABC!).

So, what would happen if the corporate world embraced the Doomsday Clock, or indeed had its own Doomsday Clock? A clock that was unambiguous in its meaning, with striking simplicity, that says ‘do this by this time or we are all screwed’?

Now is the time for corporate Australia to embrace this thinking. Never before in my lifetime have we been so open to acting on such issues. As Rachel Bronson, president and CEO of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, says, the COVID-19 pandemic has functioned as a “historic wake-up call”She elaborated, “Today, we have the opportunity for a global reset, to admit and learn from past mistakes and better prepare ourselves for future threats, whether they may be from nuclear confrontation, climate disaster, fresh pandemics or a mixture of all of these.”

From my experiences in 2020 the corporate world has had the same ‘wake-up call’.  What were once episodic fringe conversations on the edges of many businesses are now issues preoccupying the c-suite as they try, for several reasons, to course correct large corporations and find a better, more pro-social way of doing business. The search for the elusive successful socio-capitalist business model has taken off with gusto. Brands like Patagonia, and closer to home ‘Who Gives a Crap’ (whose launch we did many years ago winning the inaugural CommsCon PR Grand Prix) are leading the way in terms of having a proposition or purpose (I am not one for getting lost in the argument between these two things – they can be one and the same) that both makes the business money, but also leads the world in helping to make things better.

These two brands were established in 1973 and 2012 respectively, but now as the world searches for meaning and sustainability they are really hitting their straps. In this pandemic-induced introspection we’re starting to see many more brands step into this space.

Do we need a purpose? What’s our purpose? What’s our view on sustainability? How do we have a business model whilst encouraging consumption? These questions are now being acted upon as businesses across Australia are taking action.

Further, as a real-life example of this collective ‘good-will’ in late 2020 we asked some of Australia’s biggest advertisers to donate their 30 second advertising space to Lifeline to raise awareness that they were taking a call every 30 seconds. Around 32 large corporates donated (Bega Cheese, Belong, Bunnings, Budget Direct, MLC, Officeworks, Rams, Westpac, Uncle Tobys and so on) loads of their valuable TV spots. Those who donated, did so nearly instantly and enthusiastically. But the real story is the number of rejections we received: just three, and all for very valid reasons. So nearly everyone we asked donated. People want to be a part of the solution. This level of participation would not have existed pre-COVID.

We are starting to see many brands move from the pro-social stunt, to taking actions that:

  1. a) express their brand
  2. b) do good for the world, and
  3. c) are part of a bigger picture, or longer-term program

The positive actions are being baked into the business model and the brand, meaning they are becoming something tactical happening at the periphery of the company.

We were so inspired by the Doomsday Clock that when we started our social cause agency (Decade of Action or DOA) we borrowed heavily from its look and feel, and the clock in our O is a direct reference to the Doomsday Clock. We hope that corporate Australia is as inspired by the clock as we are, and asks itself two simple questions: ‘What will you do?’ and ‘When will you do it?’

Brands are without a doubt the most powerful infrastructure we have to change the world. And as we start to take social causes more seriously in business, we’ll be creating more effective brands that create more positive change. That’ll be sure to put a few seconds back on the clock.

Adam Ferrier is a founder of Thinkerbell and Decade of Action (DOA).


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