News & Views

Easy Ethics


We’re becoming increasingly immune to images of communities attempting to get on with life under trying circumstances. Hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, floods and droughts are wreaking havoc throughout the world. Freak weather and the chaos it brings are part of our daily news diet. Good people donate money and better people donate time. But most of us feel pretty powerless when it comes to doing something that might make a tangible difference.
Which is why I love the fact that brands have started waking up to the honest truth that most of us want to make the world a better place but are too overwhelmed / indecisive / lazy  (delete as appropriate) to figure out exactly how. I call this the ‘good for nothing’ approach: brands develop a way for people to give the bare minimum (for instance, spending under a minute downloading an app) with the potential for impressive returns for all stakeholders (not just brands and consumers but also charities, researchers and even society at large).

Take Samsung’s Power Sleep app which the electronics behemoth is billing as ‘the first alarm clock to do good deeds’. Owners of Samsung smartphones and tablets download the app, set the alarm, plug in their device and, as soon as it’s fully charged, can donate the processor power of their device to the University of Vienna. Researchers there will then use the smartphone’s power to help decrypt protein sequences. Still with me? Good. The decrypted sequences are used to benefit cancer and Alzheimer's research meaning that while you’re asleep, your phone is helping to cure cancer. How incredible is that? Every single night you’re doing good without having to lift a finger. Developed by Samsung and Cheil Worldwide, Power Sleep’s obvious appeal is that it seamlessly integrates into our daily device-charging routine. The tidal wave of positivity on Google Play suggests that there’s a healthy appetite for this kind of ‘good for nothing’ solution.

Power Sleep echoes a recent effort by Cancer Research UK, Play to Cure: Genes in Space, a smartphone game that enables players to contribute to the analysis of genetic data that requires a human eye rather than computer software to provide the best results. Considering that Harris Interactive estimates that half of mobile device owners use their phone or tablet for gaming, which shoot ‘em up set up in space would you prefer to play? The one that has no tangible benefit apart from your own personal enjoyment? Or the one that gives you that very same pleasure AND assists cancer research?

People want to do good things for lots of reasons, not least for the little glow of having done A Good Thing. And businesses want to make a profit, build customer loyalty or change their brand perception. This latter objective seems particularly pertinent for Samsung: Power Sleep reframes the cold and impersonal South Korean brand as warmer and more caring. And all for the comparatively small cost of developing an app. Would an integrated marketing campaign ever be as efficient in shifting brand perception?

The objectives of business and consumers needn’t be mutually exclusive. Edelman’s 2014 Trust Barometer revealed that 84% of global consumers believe that business can pursue its self-interest while doing good work for society. UK supermarket chain Sainsbury’s backs this up. Under the stewardship of outgoing CEO Justin King, Sainsbury’s has considered its values-led approach to be key in maintaining market share and has enjoyed 36 consecutive quarters of growth in like-for-like sales. King, in a live online chat with The Guardian’s Jo Confino, said: ‘In the tough economic climate, we're now experiencing customers telling us that they want value with values - by which they mean they don't leave their ethical standards at the door when they do their shopping.’
Sainsbury’s TV ads currently airing in the UK show that people can buy everyday products like teabags and bananas for the same prices as at chief rival store Tesco, only the ones from Sainsbury’s are Fairtrade. If a brand can make people feel better about their purchases then that gives them a strong reason to choose that particular brand over the competition.

In the past, ethical decision-making has been regarded as the preserve of super socially conscious consumers with the luxury of being able to afford the purpose premium. Good for nothing brands prove that’s simply not the case anymore. People want to do the right thing and are happy to be nudged in the right direction… as long as minimum - or preferably no - effort is required.