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Slow Branding and the narratives of our time

I have been trying for many years to understand the great challenges of today’s world. From a standpoint of conscience and taking on board my own contradictions and biases, I try to dedicate my professional time to those projects that build towards solutions.

We live in dystopian times and much of the literature painstakingly describes all the horrors to which we are subjecting the world and devotes very few pages to offering solutions, a way out, or a vision of a better world within our reach. There is a tacit acceptance that we have gone too far and have reached the point of no return. And also that we are not capable of envisioning an alternative way forward. The well-known quote that it is easier for us to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism has become famous.

That is why, when I find a book that generously offers me what I am looking for, I try to absorb it like a sponge, to learn, to put its recipes into action. This is the case with “Active Hope: how to face the mess we are in without going crazy” by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone, a prescient book from 2012 that anticipates many of the events that have followed and truly offers the help that each of us needs to avoid falling into a hopeless eco-anxiety. 

The greatest danger of our time is inaction. The only way out is to become active participants: to help bring into this world what we hope will happen. As strategic foresight specialists always remind us, we cannot predict the future but we can invent it.

The main advice of the book is how to strengthen our intention to act to heal our world from the harm we have inflicted on it. How we can wake up so that our lives can be filled with meaning for ourselves and generations to come.

And it begins by describing the three main narratives that give meaning to our world we often live simultaneously.

We recognise the first one very easily and we are all in it if we have survived or got this far, even if we sometimes find it hard to recognise it. It is the story of “Business as usual” which basically considers that there is little need to change the way we live because it is “normal”. That famous “return to normality” that was so much talked about in the confinement and never quite arrived. The advertising machine has made us all feel worthy of more and more things. Progress is still measured by the ratio of what we have compared to what we had and how far and how fast we can reach it. It is the embodiment of collective selfishness that will miraculously deliver collective well-being.  Business and the economy must continue to grow, even in periods of recession. The main plot of “business as usual” is that we must always move forward without questioning why, and we already know the secondary ones: finding a partner, founding a family, taking care of ourselves in order to look young and beautiful, buying lots of stuff to satisfy our status and thus contributing to the consumer economy. What happens in the external world to make our lifestyle what it is, does not matter, it is far away and out of our concerns. 

This narrative is based on the following assumptions:

  • Economic growth is essential for prosperity.
  • Nature is a commodity for human purposes.
  • Promoting consumption is good for the economy.
  • The struggles of other people, nations, and spaces do not concern us.

If we think of it in terms of branding, we could easily include here all the rankings of the most powerful brands. Value is still measured in financial terms, the ones that have grown the most are the ones rewarded by the system, with the technological ones at the very top. Even if social and environmental criteria are also taken into account, those at the top of the list are always those that have given the highest dividends to shareholders.

“Branding as usual” regards its job as aseptically technical with no moral, social or environmental responsibility and a zero-sum competitive economy as the best business opportunity. It is driven by business without out-of-the-box questions such as, for example, whether the brand we are launching into the world is really helping to build a better world for future generations. Its ideal project is the most profitable: a rebranding of a large multinational. It has been the perfect accomplice to the most predatory capitalism, the one that puts a kind or sexy face on what is not at all.

The second story is “The Great Unraveling” also known as “Collapse” or “Overshoot”.

This is the one that believes that our children will live worse than we do, the one that has lost confidence in the future because it perceives that our world is in a serious decline of chained crises. Every day we discover with horror some aspect of the world that triggers our alarm.

The main assumptions of this narrative are:

  • An economic and systemic decline
  • The depletion of natural resources
  • Climate change caused by global warming.
  • Social inequality and wars
  • Mass extinction of species

We are too many, almost 8 billion people wishing to live the unsustainable lifestyle of the West. We are reaching the peak of fossil fuels and are beginning to suffer the consequences of rising prices and the wars that are already being triggered because we do not address them. Drinking water is also in serious decline, and so are the minerals we need to make a green transition. Climate change means melting of the poles, rising ocean levels, flooding of major cities, dreadful fires like the ones we have experienced in recent years… The consequences of warming lead to more warming and more tragedies. As if all of this was not enough, we are also responsible for the sixth mass extinction of species, the most important since the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Some of these species are critical to our very existence, such as the oceans’ plankton because they produce much of the oxygen we breathe.

All those brands that seek security by fighting enemies rather than addressing the causes of growing inequality, resource depletion, and climate change live in this scary, apocalyptic narrative. The entertainment industry contributes to its widespread dissemination, and the media has been making it mainstream for some years now. The branding of the apocalypse as just another consumer product.

Story 1 and 2 coexist. That reality of apparent normality constructed by business as usual is increasingly interrupted by the interconnected events and misfortunes of the collapse.

Luckily there is a third story, called “The Great Turning” in the book. It is the necessary transformation toward an economy that puts life at the heart of all decisions. This is the story in which live all brands committed to sustainability and regeneration of the world. From B-Corp to the entire social and solidarity economy.

In the beginning, it seemed that this vision only lived on the margins, in the interstices. But ideas are contagious, as is the commitment to act for life and all that goes with it. There are already countless organisations and companies working for sustainability and social and climate justice.

The shift has three dimensions:

  • Actions to protect what remains of natural systems, rescuing what we can of biodiversity: clean air, water, forests, land cover.
  • Life-sustaining systems and practices by rethinking how we do things and creatively redesigning the structures and systems that sustain our society: ethical banking, conscious investment, vertical and regenerative agriculture, circular economy, decentralised energy…Is there anything better than profit without unintended effects?
  • Change of consciousness. We are rediscovering the earth as the astronauts did when they first beheld this beautiful blue planet. As described in scientist James Lovelock’s Gaia Theory: the earth functions as a self-regulating system. We are living a new collective identity and a moment in which science and spirituality are converging.

As Marta Peirano says, “rebelling against the apocalypse begins with imagining a better ending”. Which of these three stories do you want to live in and leave behind?

At Plázida we are clear about this.  Our aspiration is not “branding as usual” and we are very aware of the moment of collapse. We are not going to bury our heads in the sand like ostrich. On the contrary, we want to open our eyes and listen carefully. We want to strategise, name, face and give life to those projects helping to create and implement solutions that are becoming more and more urgent. We need to adapt our homes to extreme heat and cold without burning hydrocarbons. We need projects to regenerate our coastlines before the sea engulfs them. We need to reinvent our cities and do away with the car culture. We urgently need to change the food system and make agriculture regenerative by default. We need to create bonds with our neighbours and foster a caring and welfare society. We need to place ourselves in the sweet spot of Kate Raworth‘s doughnut with all that it entails …. There is much work to be done (and undone) and many new identities to be created. We also care about the how. To the strategy and creativity of all branding, we always bring commitment, warmth, and humanity. We want to be there when ideas are born and help to ensure that they are born well, that the child is healthy, and cries loudly. We want to be the perfect partner for the innovative, dreamer, and idealistic entrepreneur and, although times may be short, we do not skimp on reflection and, as Maria Angeles Quesada says, we want to inhabit those uncomfortable questions that we cannot stop asking ourselves even if we do not have the answer, even if they remain unanswered forever. 

Slow branding is our contribution to the slow movement. Its aim is not to put more brands on the market but better brands, more sustainable, more artisanal, more conscious, more ethical, more responsible. More humane. Yours perhaps?