|Brands are not just efficient communication tools|
OK, very interesting, but what has this got to do with climate change, energy policy or econometric models assessing policy instruments designed to decarbonise the economy? Well, more than you might think. I am not suggesting that brands like the IPCC, or Cambridge University for that matter, are sufficient to leverage policy agreements or climate change action – the debates on policy are necessarily complex and require the inputs from many different organisations, experts and interest groups, some of which represent strong brands, but others are important irrespective of any image or value their reputation or brand value might have (if any).
So why is branding even an issue in climate change? The issue is more about the way in which climate change itself is an issue and how campaigns to address climate change or to oppose specific policies can learn from contemporary concepts in branding to communicate their message effectively and transparently.
The response to this suggestion has been mixed; there is the assumption that branding is a strategy used in the commodification and promotion of goods that emphasises trivial differences to charge a premium or outcompete equally valid, or perhaps functionally superior goods and services – branding is about presenting something as better than its rivals by any means necessary, irrespective of the truth of their claims, and more money means better promotion and more profits (within the limits of the law, of course, or not, according to Naomi Klein’s iconic book No Logo). But this is not an accurate assessment of either branding or promotion, although there is always some truth degree of ruthlessness that some businesses pursue their manipulation through promotion, rather than by producing improved goods and services.
Branding is not just concerned with owning a simple, focused position in the consumer’s mind nor indeed, just a relationship partner creating emotional ties to consumers, nor is contemporary branding limited to guerrilla marketing and creating viral videos. Contemporary branding is as much about how to resonate with the values of specific social groups and to present the narratives that inform their sense of value as accurately and coherently as possible.
My research with Doug Holt on cultural branding and social campaigns, such as Jubilee 2000 and Make Poverty History, used this type of framework to assess the success and failure of global cultural campaigns. The question is why do some global campaigns resonate with so many people and force issues onto the decision making agenda, whereas seemingly equally valid global problems or social campaigns fall flat on their face. One answer seems to be that relative success occurs because of the ability of the campaigners to promote a specific cultural brand that resonates with specific cohorts able to leverage influence. With the issue of climate change or emissions reduction or energy policy as (interrelated) global problems requiring specific types of action at the level of policy or behaviour change it will be crucial to analyse the complex ways in which the messages are communicated, the way that the reputations of organisations and individuals change and impact on promotion opportunities or damage a campaign message, the ways key narratives are evoked and invoked to enrol support, the way new media opportunities can provide momentum for a campaign or lose control of the agenda, and similar cultural branding issues are evaluated and implemented, will be crucial if the opportunities of new forms of cultural branding are to be used effectively to address the requirements of an effective global climate change campaign. Equally they will be important for those who disagree with the need to develop such policies or oppose any measures to cut fossil fuel use. Perhaps developing an effective understanding of how cultural branding works to communicate complex issues to multiple stakeholders will be the democratisation of campaigning, rather than manipulative lobbying and counter-lobbying, which has caused confusion, apathy and raised suspicion of all sides of the climate change debate.