Rowly Bourne: Be proud of the product you sell, that’s all the purpose you should need…

Rowly Bourne the founder of Rezonence, is NDA’s monthly columnist.

Every now and then, I read a book that completely changes the way I see the world; Tim Marshall’s Prisoners of Geography is one of them. 

As the subtitle — ten maps that tell you everything you need to know about global politics — suggests, foreign policy is almost entirely dictated by geography, and a country’s geographical advantages or disadvantages.  It has forever been the case, and whilst the methodology may vary slightly between leaders, the rationale doesn’t.

On top of politics, the book has had a profound impact on my views about advertising — and whilst it hasn’t changed my opinions, it’s certainly helped me articulate them.  Just as politicians are prisoners of geography, advertisers are prisoners of consumerism — and no amount of brand purpose and social responsibility will ever change this. 

We are destined for the bottom of the Ipsos MORI table of trusted professions; the sooner we accept this and get on with our jobs, the better.

Let’s take Russia and their foreign policy to illustrate the point of a country’s — and its politicians — impotence in the face of geography.  Russia has always lacked a warm water port with direct access to the oceans; halting its trade and preventing its fleet from operating as a global power.  Sevastopol, in the Crimea, is there only access to a warm water port; they own the lease which pro-Russian — or at least neutral — Ukrainian governments of the past have always upheld, mostly due to their reliance of Russian energy. 

The threat of losing access to this warm-water port drives Russian foreign policy in the region, and ultimately led to the annexation of the Crimea:

On the 22nd February, after dozens of deaths in Kiev, the President… fled.  Anti-Russian factions… took over the government. From that moment the die was cast. President Putin did not have much of a choice — he had to annex Crimea, which contained not only many Russian-speaking Ukrainians but, most importantly, the port of Sevastopol.

Similar examples exist everywhere — from the American annexation of Hawaii a century or so ago to China’s development in the South China Sea.  It all comes down to trade, and guaranteeing safe passage for goods to flow and economies to thrive.  A politicians job is to seek the greatest prosperity for his or her people, working with the geographical cards they’ve been dealt; the realities of which mean making decisions that will often be unpopular and compromising where perhaps they would prefer not to. 

A good leader is not always a popular or trusted leader — something which, on the whole, politicians understand.

The ad industry, by the same logic, is trapped.  Advertising is the very essence of consumerism and capitalism; it’s job is to sell more product — and there’s nothing wrong with that. 

As a result, we are bound to be unpopular; how can we be trusted with a raison d’être like that — no matter what, people will always be wary of our motives.

But why do we find ourselves at the bottom of the pile, below politicians, below bankers, below even estate agents?  I think it’s because we seem unable to unwilling to accept our fate. 

The question of trust

Keith Weed recently said “The way you go about addressing every problem is, first of all, by accepting you have a problem and identifying what that problem is.” 

But the problem is not, as he suggests, that we are not trusted, it’s that we cannot accept why.  By not accepting the reality, we’re actually damaging trust even more; desperately looking for a higher purpose in an attempt to distract people — and more tellingly ourselves — from the real motivations of our work.

It doesn’t have to be this way though. 

Social responsibility and the responsibility for looking after our environment of course lies with us all; but is no brands’ purpose — the WWF and a few others aside.  

We should be proud of the products we sell, and proud to sell as much of that product as we can; whether it’s the smartest watch or most affordable shampoo on the market. Both are important to somebody. 

If you find yourself searching for a ‘higher’ purpose, afraid or embarrassed to actually sell your product, stop and ask why. 

Be proud of your product and market the hell out of it — I can assure you that is the single most important factor for a successful advertising campaign. 

One look at a Tide ad and you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about.

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