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Slow branding for a new rebirth

I see the current drift and I shudder.

We are witnessing live the renouncement of the universal covenants of Human Rights in these near and genocidal wars. No one in their right mind would say that the world needs more weapons, more wars, more ethnical cleansing, more deaths of innocent people. 

No government seems to be up to the seriousness of the facts of climate change, no one wants to be the first to act quickly and drastically as the IPCC scientists are asking us to do. A new report by the European Central Bank reveals that 90% of banks continue to finance targets that run counter to achieving climate neutrality by 2050 (despite 70% having signed up to the pledge). They clearly prefer to prioritise profit, which this year has been record high. 

Generative artificial intelligence began an aggressive expansion in hyperscale processes consuming huge amounts of fresh water, energy and minerals in its wake. A giant like Axel Springel has signed a so-called “historic” agreement with Open AI for its funds to be used to train the tool that can create text, images and code indistinguishable from humans. The big tech companies declare profits never before earned by anyone in the history of mankind and at the same time announce massive layoffs.

Fossil emissions are not only not falling, they are at an all-time high. We eat more meat. We buy more clothes. We travel more. More than 84 million tourists is what our country (Spain) received in 2023 and when we are suffering the most intense drought on record.  

The great Eduardo Galeano summed it up beautifully in his “Letter to Mr Future“: 

“We are running out of world. The violent ones kick it as if it were a ball. The warlords play with it as if it were a hand grenade; and the voracious squeeze it, as if it were a lemon. At this rate, I fear, sooner rather than later the world may be nothing but a dead stone spinning in space, without earth, without water, without air, without soul.”

What else has to happen? Why don’t we lose our fear of seizing the initiative and assume, as Daniel Schmachtenberger says, that we cannot be accomplices of an omnicidal system and that we have to act in defence of life that is beautiful and sacred?

Let us dare to talk about changing a system that Jason Hickel defines by the following features:

  • It is undemocratic. It is run by an elite that controls most of the investment assets and management of companies. 
  • It promotes a permanent state of artificial scarcity by restricting people’s access to the commons and independent subsistence to make them dependent on wage labour for survival. 
  • It depends on the perpetual expansion of ever-increasing commodity production. It goes into crisis if it does not continually expand. The ultimate purpose of increasing production is not the satisfaction of human needs but the maximisation of profit. The result is a system that generates inequality and ecological collapse.

It is obvious to anyone living in this system that the vast majority of businesses, micro and SME’s, are not driven by this unbridled drive for growth but by their orientation to the needs of their customers. We all have examples of our favourite brands that are not guided by these parameters. Some even put a lot of love into the process. 

In contrast, corporations are of their shareholders claiming growing interests and often pressuring governments to relax regulations, investing in carbon-intensive activities when they should be abandoned, offshoring activities to countries with lower environmental standards or cheaper labour, employing greenwashing strategies to give the impression that they are serious about sustainability when in reality they are only seeking to continue to grow their businesses, and innovating to increase profits rather than to meet human needs.

Moreover, failure to shift to a more democratic and equitable system in which production is focused on what is required for human needs produces all sorts of “capitalogenic” diseases as Guddi Singh and Jason Hickel develop:

. Related to the promotion of harmful products and brands. For example, ultra-processed food and sugary drink brands produce metabolic diseases and cardiovascular problems.  Interbrand’s ranking of the 100 most valuable brands still includes Coca-Cola, McDonalds, Pepsi, Nestlle, Kellogg’s, Danone, KFC… All of them get rich without paying the enormous health costs of the diseases they produce.

. Diseases exacerbated by patents that prevent generic production and importation. Antiretrovirals for AIDS were approved in 1987 but generics were banned until 2000, causing one of the deadliest and longest epidemics in history. Something similar has happened with Covid. It is outrageous how much money Big Pharma brands such as Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca or Janssen made from vaccines that were developed in record time thanks to public funding.

. Neglect of tropical diseases that cause 1 million deaths a year. As those affected are poor and it is not profitable, no progress is made.

. Limited access to food: of the 8 billion people, 3.3 billion cannot afford a healthy diet because land and food systems are considered commodities. Meanwhile, a third of the food that is produced, distributed and consumed is wasted.

. Poverty-related mortality due to the commodification of health, housing and access to sanitation, which prevents the development of public services.

. Work-related illnesses: Structural unemployment to keep wages low, precarious contracts, work overload leading to stress and other illnesses.

. Racism to justify overexploitation. Pay up to 95% lower than in the global North. Over-exploitation of women.

. Impacts on the health of the planet through its pressure to cheapen what is extracted from nature and externalise ecological costs. The system itself is an obstacle to ecological transition.

It is urgent to transform a system that rewards the accumulation of capital by the few and the dispossession of the many. It is not only pervasive and unhealthy but also profoundly immoral, unjust and cruel.

How can we help to make the transition? What brands do we need to create and which ones urgently need debranding?

What if we started with a Global Plan for the Restructuring of Multinationals that cause social and environmental problems?  Thomas Klaffke in his blog Creative Destruction uses Midjourney to visualise changes that now seem impossible to us like McDonalds offering only organic and vegetarian food; Shell transforming its petrol stations into bike stops; Zara using its spaces to teach us how to sew and repair clothes; Rio Tinto regenerating a mine in a forest; Coca-Cola showing children how much sugar is in its drinks and what the consequences are (cavities, obesity); Mastercard transformed into a card for the minimum vital income (food, housing and health)… Once the floodgates are unleashed, the possibilities are endless.

And in the meantime:

Let’s create brands that help us to trust our operating system again. We have too many brands like Google, Chat GPT or Tinder that hack our creative capacity, our orientation in space, our capacity to seduce in the real world, our capacity to choose and even our thinking.

Let’s create brands to satisfy human needs within the limits of the ecosystems that provide us with life. Without the obligation to grow. Without leaving anyone behind. Without excess. A branding of sufficiency that promotes the adoption of a lifestyle that is frugal in the material realm and infinitely rich in what truly gives meaning to our lives.

Let’s create activist brands, committed to a good cause for the world from their DNA. Brands that will never compromise their values and purpose for the sake of making more profit.

Let’s create brands that identify businesses that help us regenerate our environment. Consilient brands that integrate knowledge from diverse fields to achieve systemic rather than linear solutions. Let’s break the silo mentality and share information across the board. Let’s collaborate radically for a kinder world, with fewer guns and more hugs.

Let’s create democratic brands, and non-hierarchical business models that promote equity, such as cooperatives. If brands are built from the inside out, let’s stop making people feel like machines enslaved to productivity and efficiency. 

Let’s create brand messages built from the bottom up, by intrinsic motivation and shared commitment born of the whole organisation.

Let’s create beautiful brands. Let’s not allow instant gratification, acceleration and functionality withdraw the time and craftsmanship it takes to create beauty.

Let’s create brands that make us feel alive. Let’s stop solving pain points that make people feel they are not enough. Let’s debrand those brands that don’t respect our lifetimes, that don’t leave us time to be unproductive, to do nothing, to create, to be together, to have conversations like the ones we used to have. 

Let’s create collaborative brands, neither individualistic nor elitist. Let’s stop rewarding only those who have gained status at the cost of making a fortune. Let’s be allies rather than competitors. Let’s not seek to crush our opponents. We need to be united to solve human needs and the problems we have caused ourselves.

Let’s create brands more slowly. More thoughtfully. More humane. Let’s prevent the development of technologies and brands that need the basic resources for life and the most central of all: fresh water. How can we not take into account that a third of humanity does not have enough water and that in countries like ours, we are heading towards an unsustainable water stress? Do we prefer to have Chat GPT and die of thirst?

In the words of the great Galeano, let’s do it to have a future:

“I ask you, we ask you, not to let yourself be evicted. To stay, to be, we need you to continue staying, to continue being. We need you to help us defend your house, which is the house of time. Please do us this kindness. To us and to the other ones: to the others who will come after us, if we have afterwards.”