Why brands must evolve to a higher state of consciousness.


A philosopher once said: 'Hell is other people'.

But that was before anyone ever had to endure the spectacle of two brands flirting on social media.

Blame that Oreo ‘Dunk in the Dark’ tweet, and the million copycats it spawned. And, yes, blame us.

Along with a clutch of marketing gurus, brand strategists and social media experts, we’ve championed the cause of HUMAN BRANDS – that is, brands with a dose of empathy, flexibility and humor – for years. But now, it’s clear that this epic trend has jumped the shark, and descended into an orgy of youth culture bandwagon jumping, pop-up eco and social responsibility vanity projects, and awkward inter-brand ‘fun’ on social media.

The HUMAN BRANDS trend promised so much more. So what went wrong?




Stop saying 'bae', brands (with thanks to @BrandsSayingBae).


And we don't even want to remind you of the super-awkward moment that was this tweet. But we will.
(Yes, that's a sex toy manufacturer tweeting about 9/11.)

What's so great about HUMANS, anyway?

They're vain, selfish and power-hungry, and they're wrecking the planet FFS!

Okay, maybe that’s just the rage talking.

After all, human beings can also aspire to, and occasionally achieve, the highest virtues: empathy, generosity, responsibility and more. But in pursuit of a HUMAN side, most brands took a shortcut: a chirpy brand voice that covered them in a patina of humanity and allowed them to pay lip service to those virtues.

Now, customer expectations have raced onwards (they do that). People are looking to brands to evolve to a higher state of consciousness by taking real, meaningful, even painful, action to make their lives – and the world we share – better. It’s the difference between being HUMAN and being ENLIGHTENED.

The irony here? Many customers are far from saintly themselves! After all, they co-created this planet warming, sugar rushing, socially damaging mess we’re in, right along with brands. And now, they’re looking for brands to embrace ENLIGHTENMENT for them.

Unfair? That’s consumers for you ;)


Just 7% of consumers think brands positively or meaningfully contribute to their lives.

Havas, April 2015
ENLIGHTENED BRANDS | A million and one brands are tweeting, instagramming and periscoping their HUMAN side. But in 2016, brands that want to assure their survival will start on the hard path towards true ENLIGHTENMENT, by taking meaningful action to improve both individual lives and the wider world.

Any brand starting out on the path should understand that ENLIGHTENED BRANDS are:

RESTLESS: That means they’re forever in search of new ways to make the world a better place, and to hold themselves to higher standards of fairness and responsibility.

EMPATHETIC: That means understanding and addressing customer pain points and working to make individual lives easier, faster, and more fun.

DEMANDING: Making individual lives better can also mean pushing consumers to overcome their human flaws, and become the people they want to be.

The truth is that in 2015, few brands are anywhere near true ENLIGHTENMENT. Most are deeply mired in eco, social and service sin. But any business can learn from the major brands that are taking their first steps, and the startups introducing the kind of ENLIGHTENED innovations that all brands should be working on!

In a global survey of 28,000 consumers, 63% said they only buy products and services that appeal to their beliefs, values or ideals.

GfK, April 2015


They will continually take steps (even costly ones) towards a better world through new products, services, production methods, marketing and internal policies.



Telecoms company announces worldwide maternity pay guarantee

One powerful way for big brands to move closer to ENLIGHTENMENT? Let change start from the inside by creating a fairer, more equal or simply more fun, internal culture. In March 2015, Vodafone announced that it would implement a worldwide minimum level of maternity pay. All female staff will be entitled to 16 weeks of maternity leave on full pay, plus full pay for a 30-hour week for the first six months after their return to work. Vodafone claims the move will help staff who work in countries with little or no legal provision for maternity pay. The telecoms company employs around 100,000 people in 30 countries.


Diario ABC Color

Paraguayan newspaper launches free journalism school

ENLIGHTENMENT can mean empowering customers to realize their dreams of doing good in the world. In March 2015, Paraguayan newspaper Diario ABC Color launched two educational courses aimed at introducing the next generation to journalism. The free courses are held every Saturday, and students learn how to write news and opinion pieces and conduct interviews. Participating children also contribute to the Young Journalism newspaper, and radio channel Habemus Mess.



Austrian lifestyle magazine uses HIV+ ink to tackle stigma

Helping to educate and inform – especially when that means fighting prejudice and misinformation – is always a powerful way to take a step towards ENLIGHTENMENT. In May 2015, Austrian lifestyle magazine Vangardist was printed using ink infused with HIV+ blood. The move was intended to tackle the mistaken idea that it is possible to become infected with HIV simply by touching someone who is infected. The makers of the magazine followed safety guidelines developed by Harvard and Innsbruck universities, ensuring handling the magazine is 100% safe.



Cambodian fashion brand built around zero waste

New, innovative processes that reduce waste and benefit the planet are unquestionably ENLIGHTENED. In November 2014, Cambodian fashion brand Tonlé exceeded its Kickstarter goal to sell its sustainable apparel in North America. The brand manufactures its garments from scrap materials, and collects its own scraps to create new, usable fabric, resulting in zero waste. During 2014, Tonlé recycled 22,046 lb (10,000 kg) of materials. Tonlé’s staff work in small, egalitarian teams rather than on a factory line. Around 500,000 are employed by Cambodia’s booming clothes manufacturing industry.


Gramming for Good & Gramforacause

Startups pair Instagrammers with nonprofits

Empowering consumers to do good in the world is a powerful way for an organization to show it understands ENLIGHTENMENT. In April 2015, Gramming for Good and Gramforacause launched platforms intended to connect socially conscious Instagrammers with nonprofits. The platforms want to help nonprofits spread the word about their work via relevant photography, and when matching photographers to organizations, will consider the type of photography sought by the nonprofit and the expected rate of pay.



That means understanding the way customers live, and what it takes to make their lives better.


Grand Hyatt Melbourne

Regular visitors allowed to leave belongings at hotel between stays

Finding one small way to make life more convenient for customers is one small step towards ENLIGHTENMENT. In November 2014, Melbourne’s Grand Hyatt hotel launched the Leave it at Hyatt scheme, giving regular travelers the option of leaving items at the establishment between visits. Within the limits of available space, there are no restrictions on what can be left, and the hotel also offers to launder any garments (at the regular rate). Similar programs have since launched at Grand Hyatt properties globally.



App connects stranded drivers with Audi 4x4 drivers

Innovations that help keep customers safe are a visible sign of a brand’s EMPATHY. December 2014 saw the launch of Audi Swedish Snow Rescuers: a mobile app designed to help Swedish drivers cope with bad weather conditions by connecting them to Audi 4×4 drivers. The free app is open to drivers of any vehicle, and enables users to locate and connect with nearby volunteer Audi drivers if they are in need of help.



Rescue dogs save festival goers from dying mobile devices

A step towards ENLIGHTENMENT can mean addressing even the smallest of first world problems, and in so doing making customers feel cared for. Visitors to the SXSW festival in March 2015 were saved from low cellphone battery life by St. Bernard rescue dogs. US battery pack manufacturer Mophie teamed up with the St. Bernard Rescue Foundation for the mophieRescue service. To have their batteries saved, attendees needed to send to a tweet to the brand with a screenshot of their battery icon and their current location, along with the hashtag #mophieRescue.



Software maker gives millions of students free access

Whilst the journey towards ENLIGHTENMENT can start with the smallest of innovations, a grand gesture that makes the world a better place will always be appreciated. December 2014 saw AutoDesk make its software and services free for students, educators and learning institutions. The decision allows 680 million students in 188 nations to access professional design software, creativity apps and real-world projects, continuing the US-based commercial design company’s commitment to US President Barack Obama’s ConnectED Initiative.


Idea Bank

Bank opens co-working space and café for entrepreneurs

Finding new ways for customers to make constructive use of infrastructure is good for society and the planet. Opened in Warsaw during February 2015, Idea Bank‘s city center branch is styled as a café and staffed by baristas. The retail bank’s coffee shop and workspace was opened to attract small business owners away from local cafés, offering free beverages, offices and bookable meeting rooms. The space also gives entrepreneurs and small companies access to wifi, printers and photocopiers.



That means nudging, pushing and cajoling consumers to DO better and BE better.


Mexico City Subway

Free subway tickets for customers who perform squats

Pushing customers to embrace beneficial physical activity – if only for a moment – can also push a brand further towards ENLIGHTENMENT. January 2015 saw the Mexican government install 30 motion-sensitive machines at subway stations across Mexico City. The machines issue a token that can be redeemed for a subway ticket to any commuter who completes ten squats. Pedometers were offered to the first 80,000 participants. The scheme was introduced in response to an escalating obesity crisis in the country; according to a 2013 UN report, 32.8% of the Mexican population is obese.

Eagle-eyed innovation watchers will have seen this idea in Russia first!



TV channel suspends broadcasting to encourage young people to vote

Brands moving towards ENLIGHTENMENT should consider bold moves that nudge customers towards more responsible behavior. In May 2015, UK television channel E4 shut down on the day of the general election between 7am and 7pm, in a move intended to push young people to go out and vote. E4 is aimed at young adults, and is controlled by public-service broadcaster Channel 4. The channel reaches 8.7 million people aged 16-34 every month, and said its ‘shock and awe tactic’ was a response to the fact that fewer than half of 18-25s voted in the 2010 British general election.


Peruvian League Against Cancer

Beachgoers get free wifi if they stay in the shade

A cunning way to push consumers to be better (and for a brand to embrace ENLIGHTENMENT)? Lure customers with an incentive, before delivering the nudge that will help make them better or keep them safer. In May 2015, on the Playa Agua Dulce beach in Peru, the Peruvian League Against Cancer set up a large blue structure that allowed beach-goers to access free wifi – but only if they stayed in its shadow. Before being able to access the wifi, users were taken to a landing page where they could read information on skin cancer.

Readers of our Africa Trend Bulletin may have seen another beach-based, DEMANDING initiative – Tunisie Telecom used wifi to incentivize volunteers to pick up trash.


Art Series Hotel Group

Guests reviewed online by hotel staff in return for discounts

Being DEMANDING can mean finding innovative new ways to improve customer behavior, creating an improved experience for everyone. In April 2015, Australia’s Art Series Hotel Group launched Reverse Reviews: a promotion giving guests the chance to obtain discounts and upgrades in return for being reviewed. People staying at any of the group’s boutique hotels could opt in to take part, with their behavior and demeanor being ranked and reviews then published online. Any guests who gained ratings over four stars were rewarded with complimentary food and beverages, stays or upgrades.


Ready to start YOUR journey towards ENLIGHTENMENT?


1. Plenty of big brands are still resolutely UNENLIGHTENED.

In May 2015, the shareholders of eBay voted overwhelmingly against releasing information about the gender pay gap in the company. If you work for an UNENLIGHTENED big brand, how about starting a grassroots movement of ENLIGHTENED staff?


2. Embracing ENLIGHTENMENT can mean making mistakes.

In March 2015, Starbucks faced a social media backlash against its Race Together campaign to start a conversation about race in the US: critics labeled it opportunistic. But customers will be more prepared to accept mistakes from brands they believe are making sincere attempts at ENLIGHTENMENT. The Starbucks College Achievement Plan pays for eligible Starbucks employees to attend Arizona State University.


3. Trend-driven innovation is meditation for brands!

Innovating around the right trends can see any brand get closer to ENLIGHTENMENT. Want to get in touch with your EMPATHETIC side? Start by re-reading SYMPATHETIC PRICING. Searching for new ways to push customers to be better? Check out CURRENCIES OF CHANGE.


4. Creating a future of IMMACULATE CONSUMPTION?

Yeah, right. Let's face it, many brands will ALWAYS be too obsessed with this quarter's earnings to get anywhere near ENLIGHTENMENT. And plenty of customers will always prioritize price and convenience over all else. Can't get your organization to take ENLIGHTENMENT seriously? It's your soul on the line if you stay!