PAGE Online: Mission Morality

Current social issues call for a new view of brands. This task must be driven forward in companies from the very top down. A guest article of Managing Partner Lukas Cottrell for the German design magazine PAGE.

Branding and design are facing tremendous challenges. People are starting to look behind the lofty words of advertisers and want to see action. To be successful, brands must deliver substance and an authentic standpoint. So instead of planning shows, events and campaigns, it's time to think about how brands can contribute to positive social discourse. Patagonia, Lush and No Animals Killed are showing the way.

Stipulate obligatory values

Even before the Conoravirus pandemic and the first lockdowns, brands were already beginning to realize how important it is to do the right thing. People began judging companies by their ethical standards: Landlords who required struggling restaurants and shops to continue paying rent were considered amoral. Companies were applauded for switching from making liquor to making disinfectant. There are many more examples.

But these cases beg the question: Is my brand acting in accordance with the issues that concern society at the moment? What does my brand have to do with the issues that concern society today? Companies can only answer this question by examining which social norms they support and which they condemn. They must also take people's moral beliefs into consideration. Shared values must be considered obligatory – regardless whether brands are reacting to a social media shitstorm, for example, or starting an initiative to make a contribution to society.

Act according to your brand's morals

Brand morals are always part of the brand image. Morals can be expressed and conveyed visually. The range of design codes that emphasize ecological sustainability, for example, is already extensive. And there has never been a better time to introduce new ones. Fashion brand NAK No Animals Killed for example abstains from using natural, restrained colors in favor of a new, very contemporary and striking design vocabulary. On the other hand, codes for economic and social sustainability have yet to be invented. This is an opportunity for brands to position themselves strongly with a strong visual identity.

The brand's morals should also be part of the product itself and inform its production processes. Cosmetic brand Lush for example applies its ethical principles to everything from the ingredients to the packaging. The company was already selling solid shampoo and bath beads without packaging in the 1990s. Today they offer a huge selection of "solid, naked products." And in cases where some packaging is required, Lush takes it back and recycles it.

Another example for how brands are translating their moral principles into decisive action comes from fashion brand Patagonia, which has been committed to environmental protection since 1973. In view of the forthcoming elections in the USA, the company added a label to its shorts exhorting customers to "vote the assholes out," staking a clear position that climate change deniers don't deserve people's votes.

Improve people's lives

These examples clearly show that branding is a communication effort, branding requires action in accordance with specific, binding values. Marketing and advertising can't do that. Rather, it's part of the daily design process where the focus is on how brands can improve people's lives. This is a task that calls for a Chief Ethics Officer – and that's none other than the head of the company.


The article was published in German at PAGE Online.

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