‘The holding company heads don’t really care about brand purpose’ claims One Young World’s David Jones

‘The holding company heads don’t really care about brand purpose’ claims One Young World’s David Jones / The Drum

The co-founder of global youth forum One Young World (OYW), David Jones has claimed that he does not believe that the trend of brands seeking to adopt purpose is taken seriously by the agency network chiefs they employ to drive their communications and marketing strategies.

Jones, the former chief executive of Havas and founder of marketing technology group, You and Mr Jones, told The Drum of his belief that brands are committed to developing a purpose beyond their self-serving business goals, but that he doubts the commitment of their agency partners.

“The world’s brand and marketeers are genuinely serious about purpose. I don’t think that any of the holding company heads really care about it, although a lot of people within their organizations do. The younger talent is passionate about it but that the senior leaders of those companies are just paying lip service to it and the only reason they do it is that they think it’s what their clients want and they should say something along those lines.”

In 2011, Jones released his first book, Who Cares Wins: Why Good Business Is Better Business, which tackled the need for more brands to attempt to tackle societal needs, a topic he said was then referred to as ‘greenwashing’.

He admitted to not having heard of the current term to describe faux brand agendas – Woke Washing, a term used by Alan Jope, Unilever’s chief executive earlier this year when he also decried some attempts from within the industry around doing good.

Just over a decade since he worked with Kofi Annan, the seventh general secretary of the United Nations in attempting to engage with advertisers around climate change initiatives after he spoke at Cannes to launch the “Tck Tck Tck” campaign, Jones still believes that the industry from talking “total bullshit” in the main to being a part of a “genuine” conversation.

“Now that doesn’t mean that it is equally genuine for everyone and it also doesn’t mean that people always know what they are doing,” caveats Jones. “Up until 12 months ago, according to Linkedin the companies people most wanted to work for were Apple, Google and Unilever – now I get Apple and Google because they are massive tech companies but Unilever makes household products – how can they be number three? And the answer was because they are seen to be a company with such a purpose that the top talent wants to work for them. We’re very much living in a world where – and we see this through OYW – young adults are wired differently, they care less about the things that previous generations cared about and unless you have a genuine purpose beyond product, they are not going to buy your products and they are not going to come and work at your company.”

He continues to claim that there is a shift of talking about profit to talking about purpose and activism; “It’s an interesting trend over the last 18 months to see brands getting involved in things that historically they would have seen as political and so have shied away from it. They now realize that in a time when our political leaders are letting us down so badly, brands can and almost have an obligation to step up.”

Jones cites Patagonia for its donation of millions in profits to helping environmental causes, the work Nike has done including its support of National Football League player Colin Kaepernick within its marketing and its work with disabled athletes too and of shoes and sunglasses brand Toms in its bid to end gun violence in America, as companies that have benefited from adopting a purpose to back.

“It is genuine for most people. What’s been very interesting in the last decade is – who has led the way? Packaged goods, which is crazy. It’s the Unilevers and the P&Gs and the RBs and the L’Oreals who have led the way… if you ask what industry is going to be disrupted in the next 10 years it’s luxury and fashion,” he continues, explaining that high-end fashion brands would be able to boost their prices if seen to use that money for good, and it could further build the esteem of their customers knowing that their money was spent well, rather than on nothing but “conspicuous consumption”.

“You are either going to see a whole raft of luxury brands coming along and eating the lunch of incumbents or the incumbents will have to change,” predicts Jones if there isn’t a change in mindset from current sector leaders.

OYW will be held in London later in October, and Jones and co-founder Kate Robertson are putting the finishing preparations to the agenda, which will include the likes of Alan Jope, Ellie Goulding, Sir Richard Branson and Ban Ki-Moon.

Asked why OYW doesn’t accept sponsors, he explains that it is a political move to avoid any speaker being embarrassed from being wrongly associated with a particular brand, however that doesn’t mean there is any exclusion policies from them supporting the event, outside of vaping and cigarette companies he caveats.

“Kofi said that even if they [oil and gas companies] get 15% better then the world gets better so we have to try and include them in the conversation,” explains Jones of the reason why company’s who aim to be seen to make a positive difference should be included in the event somehow.

“This comes down to your own judgment,” he continues. “I have no issue working with alcohol companies because responsible consumption of alcohol is a positive contributor to the world and the idea and concept of going to a wedding or a party without alcohol is pretty bleak but I don’t think any amount of cigarettes can be justified. Now someone may say it should be both – I’m not trying to impose my own judgment on anyone. What we’re trying to do with OYW is trying to drive massive change, we’re not partnering with brands, there is only one logo at the summit – and that is OYW because the guests we ask to get involved will happily sit in front of that logo but I’m not sure they would in front of some other logos and I’m not even talking about bad brands – it’s a commercial issue.”

Finally, he is dubious of what the impact the advertising industry can really have when it comes to saving or harming the world in equal respect.

“Today the world of business, and in that the world of marketing and advertising, has a significant opportunity and an obligation. Simplistically I would say before charities had great intentions and crap execution and brands had great execution and crap intentions and what the world needs is great intentions and great execution. I would argue that it’s almost easier for business to execute against good intentions than it is for charities to get great execution and tragically the world’s leaders are dividing us. It’s a disaster what they are doing. I do think communication can play a really important role in the big challenges and the subjects they are facing.”

He concludes by stating his outright hatred of the word ‘consumer’ and explains why.

“Did the advertising industry play a core role in getting people to consume stuff they didn’t necessarily need? Absolutely. But I hate the word consumer because it looks like we view you and your sole role on the planet is to consume my advertising and then rush out and buy my products… What we really need to do is to go from marketing to consumers to mattering to people. If you sit there and think your job is to market to consumers then you will work out ways to promote your product using clever marketing tactics, but if you sit there and work out how your product can matter to people, you will do stuff that is better for them and better for the world moving forward.

“Every business must have a purpose beyond profit and in a decade you won’t be able to do business without that, I said that a decade ago and maybe I was 10 years too soon,” he concludes.

One Young World 2019 will take place in London between 22 - 25 October.

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