It's been a good year so far for BLUE Marine Foundation, the UK-based ocean conservation charity I'm involved with. In fact, it's been a good three years since startup. And this week was no exception: I felt a big flicker of pride when I saw the fantastic partnership that BLUE has developed with Kenzo come to life on the catwalk at Paris Fashion Week on Monday.
Not being much of a fashionista, I can't comment with any degree of authenticity on the collection itself, but the show was an awesome piece of theatre. The spring/summer 2014 collection is dedicated to BLUE, to the power of the ocean - its constant change, ability to cultivate life and our reliance upon it. The models were sporting clothing emblazoned with the phrase 'No fish, no nothing' and to finish the show they played a slick short film from BLUE introducing the audience to the main issues at play.
I'm a big fan of these types of brand/cause partnerships. On the one hand, I appreciate they may not always have a huge measurable impact of the problem itself, but they can be terrifically successful at raising the profile of the wider issue and persuading people to take action. And that's invaluable.
Every day, brands (and celebrities for that matter) spend vast amounts of money raising their profiles, getting people to stop what they're doing and turn around to look at them. Usually their ask relates to the purchase of the product they are peddling. But I don't see any reason why brands shouldn't more regularly use the attention they generate to start a relevant conversation about issues that inspire them. Even Spiderman knew that "with great power comes great responsibility", and nowhere is that phrase more poignant than in marketing.
Marketing scientists may argue that consumers only have a finite attention span, and that these techniques come with a big risk of annoying potential customers. I think this perspective is outdated. In today's climate of skepticism and disinterest in business, sharing a passion point and engaging in a debate will help to develop a more fulfilling relationship and, ultimately, inspire mutually beneficial action. This is something that pioneering brands like Patagonia, Inc have been doing for years but hopefully more and more mass-market companies will increasingly follow suit.
Importantly, the latest BLUE partnership has real authenticity - Kenzo's founders grew up by the ocean and spoke passionately about its conservation in the interviews around the show. My suspicion is that many of our most creative business leaders are inspired by nature as they develop new products. Think about Jaguar cars, Puma and the Lacoste crocodile. I'm pretty sure Sir Jonathan Ive was inspired by the Snow Leopard, Mountain Lion and Cheetah in the development of Apple's OS X operating systems. Yet, I don't see any evidence of Apple using the attention these launches created to help these critically-endangered species. Their forthcoming operating system is to be called Mavericks, after the famous surf break in California. I wonder if, like Kenzo, Apple might be persuaded to use the attention it will doubtless generate around the release of this new platform to raise awareness of some of the marine issues that are causing the world's surfing community so much concern?