Net Favorite

The Mirror Project. Reflections of a Connected World.

Have you ever caught a glimpse of your reflection and realized that you were looking at a precious moment in time? You are not alone. More than 23,000 people from all corners of the world have captured their special reflective moments and displayed them for all to see at The Mirror Project . You are invited to join them. At Enlightened Brand Journal, we are fascinated by the ways people around the world, especially those who have never met, use technology for a common purpose or to create a collective statement. We view these efforts as symbols of our increasingly connected world. Nowhere is this phenomenon more evident than with The Mirror Project. It all began with one woman documenting her own life with a series of reflective self-portraits. Heather Champ, a California Web designer, began feeling compelled to photograph herself in mirrors shortly after her parents died. Heather's parents were avid photographers. Once they were gone, Heather began creating self-portraits as a way to capture time and memories. Intuitively, Heather knew that she was not the first person to snap a photo of herself in a mirror. In October 1999, after creating Jezebel's Mirror, an online photo album with more than 200 of her self-portraits, Heather posted an open invitation to anyone who had ever shot a self-portrait in a mirror to send her a copy to post. Send they did. Friends of Jezebel's Mirror quickly grew to an unwieldy collection of more than 700 images and stories. In June of 2001, Heather and Aaron Straup Cope teamed up to re-launch the site as Adventures in Reflective Surfaces: The Mirror Project. The redesign added search capabilities, galleries, and themes. Most recently, the team added a Random Image Widget, a small application that periodically polls The Mirror Project for a random image and displays it in a window on your computer desktop. Thousands of people from around the world continue to support The Mirror Project, capturing their images in all manner of reflective surfaces, from sunglasses to spoons to puddles. In a 2002 article in Oprah Winfrey's O magazine, Heather says, "Every day, I get 20 or 30 new pictures. It's like everybody's sending me presents." According to The Mirror Project Web site, you can blame Heather if you catch yourself taking a second look in that mirror. Now you can rest assured that you are not alone. Heather quietly lets visitors know that financial support of The Mirror Project is always welcome, too.

Featured Reading
Priceless: Turning Ordinary Products into Extraordinary Experiences

“Experience” might just be the hottest buzzword in branding. By now, most companies know that providing their customers with a consistent and deeply satisfying experience is, well, priceless. But just how do you deliver the kind of brand experience that inspires customer loyalty? You could begin by reading this book.

In Priceless, Diana LaSalle and Terry A. Britton have created a practical guide to building extraordinary experiences. The co-authors offer two essential tools. The “Value Model” will help you determine what your customers value—physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. And the “Experience Engagement Process” will increase your awareness of all the experience events your customer encounters while doing business with you. Priceless also offers an insiders’ look at experience success stories and a list of companies the authors have dubbed “priceless pioneers.”

» Buy it here.

Leadership Thought
Blaze an Essential Research Path

Corporations are increasingly expected to be socially responsible. But just how well equipped are today's business leaders to meet the rising expectations society has laid at their doors?

Not very, according to a new study conducted by a team of researchers from leading business schools.

The scholarly collaborators set out to learn what the research had to say about business and social responsibility. They studied management research published over a 43-year period from 1958 to 2001. What they found is a gaping hole. It turns out that research in the field of management has overwhelmingly focused on economic performance rather than social welfare.

If you've ever tried to build a business case for social responsibility, this dearth of relevant research might come as no surprise.

According to researcher and Harvard Business School professor, Joshua Margolis, it is important to be cognizant that this area of research has been left unattended and even more important for leaders to correct the situation by devoting more research attention to social welfare issues.

In a recent interview, Margolis had this to say, "One way to reverse the trend is for leaders and researchers alike to move away from a dichotomy between economic and societal outcomes. Companies are being asked to meet high expectations on multiple fronts, so the real question is: How can companies satisfy societal and economic demands? Indeed, financial demands are unrelenting, but the world is turning to corporations to do more than meet financial demands."

"What we are calling for is a subtle but significant shift in orientation, and we acknowledge it is not easy."

"When we think of leaders, we think of individuals and organizations who set themselves apart by committing to difficult challenges, rather than dodging them. Leaders accept additional responsibility and find creative ways to blaze unforeseen paths. That is what is called for here as well: recognizing the rising expectations and looking for ways to be both an effective societal contributor and an economic powerhouse."


The research findings are recorded in the paper "Social Issues and Management: Our Lost Cause Found," published by the Journal of Management, December 2003.

Professor Margolis' quotes were excerpted from the article, "Why Don't We Study Corporate Responsibility," published by Harvard Business School
Working Knowledge
, May 2004.

Enlightened Brand News
Enlightened Brand Selected for Bullmarket 2004

Enlightened Brand Incorporated was selected for inclusion in Bullmarket 2004, a directory of companies that can help you make things happen. Fast Company magazine and Seth Godin, author of the New York Times bestseller, Purple Cow, have compiled Bullmarket 2004 as a sourcebook of the top 500 companies and consultants that can help their clients be remarkable. “Enlightened Brand has demonstrated that it is a Purple Cow catalyst, helping clients shake things up and see possibilities where none existed,” commented Godin. Enlightened Brand is one of only five brand strategists featured in the directory.

Download a copy of Bullmarket 2004

Enlightened Brand is the consulting company that helps its clients become market leaders by focusing on the blend of social, environ- mental, and financial forces that shape a brand in today's connected world.

Want to become a market leader for our connected world? Contact us to create your own Enlightened Brand.

Welcome to the Autumn 2004 issue of Enlightened Brand Journal—an online newsletter dedicated to inspiring new possibilities for your brand and our world. Tell us what you think—so we can keep helping you shine a light on your brand.


Thought Leader: The Natural Beauty of Aveda
Enlightened Practice: Walking the Trail. Aveda's Indigenous Sourcing.
Emerging Trend: Consumers Challenge Marketing Practices
Net Favorite: The Mirror Project. Reflections of a Connected World.
Featured Reading: Priceless: Turning Ordinary Products into Extraordinary Experiences
Leadership Thought: Blaze an Essential Research Path
Enlightened Brand News: Enlightened Brand Selected for Bullmarket 2004

Thought Leader
The Natural Beauty of Aveda
A Discussion with Chris Hacker

In 1978, with a single plant-based shampoo, Austrian-born environmentalist and businessman Horst Rechelbacher founded Aveda Corporation. Early on, Horst saw the potential for a profitable business dedicated to the well-being of people and the environment.

Twenty-six years later, that potential has long been realized. Today, Aveda Corporation is a global powerhouse in the beauty industry and one of the fastest growing brands in the prestigious Estée Lauder portfolio. In fact, Aveda's consistent double-digit sales growth has resulted in effectively doubling the business in the last four years.

How do they do it? At Aveda, the founder's mission serves as a touchstone for everything they do, providing clarity of direction and bringing integrity to the Aveda brand experience.

Our mission at Aveda is to care for the world we live in, from the products we make to the ways in which we give back to society. At Aveda, we strive to set an example for environmental leadership and responsibility, not just in the world of beauty, but around the world. — Horst M. Rechelbacher, founder of Aveda

Enlightened Brand Journal recently spoke with Chris Hacker, Aveda's senior vice president of global marketing and design. Chris, who was trained as an industrial designer, joined Aveda in 2000 following his associations with such well-known brands as Sony, Disney, Dansk, and Steuben Glass. He is responsible for Aveda's Global Marketing and Consumer Marketing domains as well as all aspects of design, including visual merchandising, packaging, store design, and advertising.

Enlightened Brand Journal: Chris, please tell us about the Aveda marketing group. How are you organized, and what roles do you serve?

Chris Hacker: There are about 60 people in the group, split almost evenly between marketing and design. We are organized by five domains—hair care, which includes shampoos, conditioners, and styling products; color, which includes makeup and professional hair products; skin care, which spans spa, aroma, and lifestyle products; brand, which includes our advertising, online presence, and our approach through promotional materials; and holiday, which includes the design and merchandising of the holiday look and gift packages. Each year we design a new look for our holiday collection. Collectively, Aveda’s marketing and design group is responsible for everything that has to do with how the company expresses itself, including everything to do with look and feel.

I joined Aveda four years ago as creative director. My background is in design and image consulting. I don't have a traditional marketing background—I think I had a total of one quarter of marketing in college—but I'm curious by nature. When Dominique Conseil, Aveda's president, approached me about taking responsibility for marketing, I was surprised. But Dominique saw in me someone who would have the ability to know the customer. That ability is very important at Aveda.

EBJ: What is the story of your company name?

CH: A-Veda means "all knowledge" in Sanskrit. It is closely associated with Ayurveda, the ancient healing art of India. The name was chosen by Horst as a way to express modern wisdom derived from ancient roots.

EBJ: Tell us about your company mission and how it lives in the company today?

CH: Our environmental mission provides the logic for what we do. The actual mission statement is our touchstone. Whatever we do, we ask, "Does this fit our mission?"

We are an experiential brand. We think in terms of experiences.

The way we operate our business is not about metrics. It's not about what goes back to our shareholder. Yes, we have goals, but our primary goal is to do the best we can in making the right product both beautiful and environmentally responsible.

It is interesting to work for a company that has these morals. Most businesses have morals, but they're not my morals. This company has the same morals that I have. It's very rewarding.

EBJ: Estée Lauder acquired Aveda in 1997. What is the nature of your relationship with the parent company?

CH: In some ways it is like a family affair. Horst is fond of saying that the acquisition was like marrying his daughter to a good family. It's an appropriate metaphor. Lauder was founded as a family organization, and they tend to treat each of their brands as a child. Their idea of parenting is that the child should become what it is intended to be.

They have left Aveda alone more often than they have tried to change things. We are able to freely do what we do. And sometimes we have been able to influence them, for instance, with how to do things in a more environmentally sensitive way. Of course, Lauder founded the Origins brand, so they already have a sense of the importance of this way of thinking. It has been a very good partnership.

EBJ: How do you define the Aveda customer?

CH: Our customer profile is not about demographics. Instead, it is about the people who have an affinity with the ideals of Aveda. An Aveda customer can come from any demographic. They could be 12 years old or 80 years old, man or woman, black or white.

Typically, our customer is someone who has had an experience of the brand that was transforming. Most often, that experience began in a hair salon.

The primary advocate for the Aveda brand is the person behind the salon chair, the stylist. Many companies in the beauty business don't understand the power of the relationship a stylist has with their customer. If you trust the person styling your hair, you take what they say seriously. Much of our marketing effort is directed to the stylist.

We also help stylists to become evangelists for environmental behavior. A woman who goes into a salon might not be thinking about the impact of her choices on the environment. It can be a very powerful catalyst for a trusted stylist to ask a simple question like, "Do you recycle?"

We faced a conundrum in profiling our customers. On one end of the spectrum was a person who might be referred to as the "Birkenstock" customer. Her commitment to the environment is central to all of her purchasing decisions. On the other end, is the woman who might be called the "Manolo Blahnik" customer. She is driven by a desire to be beautiful and to look great. Aveda embodies the values of both of these customers.

EBJ: As environmental concerns have become more mainstream, have you seen those two ends of the customer spectrum come closer together?

CH: Yes. In the current climate, there is much more interest in being both beautiful and responsible. Customers are increasingly aware that you can look beautiful and make a difference.

EBJ: How widely are your products distributed around the globe?

CH: Aveda products are currently sold in 27 countries. The United States is our largest market and represents 65 percent of our sales. We will continue to open new markets while developing the markets we already serve.

EBJ: Can you give an example of how your products might differ from one country to the next?

CH: In general, our products do not differ by region, unless local regulations require a difference. However, we do invest in understanding the local communities in which we operate. Ours is a "glocal" approach to markets.

For instance, when we started doing business in Japan, we opened an Aveda SalonSpa in Tokyo's fashion district as a place in which to demonstrate what the Aveda brand is all about. We took references from the local market so that we could design a place that would be authentic to the area. We used local, environmentally sound materials to build it. Our goal is to infuse the local idea into our global brand.

Another example of learning from local markets also has to do with Japan. Our research showed that Japanese customers care a great deal about how their hair feels. There is a quality they seek—that they call "sara-sara"—that feels like there is a slight coating on their hair. Also, many people in Japan color their hair, and they are concerned that this damages their hair.

As a result of this customer understanding, we developed a new product line called Light Elements. It was developed specifically for the Japanese market, but we discovered that it fills a need for everyone. We now sell Light Elements to our customers around the world. We can learn a lot by entering new geographic regions.

See Aveda’s Brightening Essence ad for Japanese customers alongside a similar ad for use by salons in the United States.

EBJ: When one calls Aveda headquarters and is momentarily placed on hold, they are serenaded by the sound of loons. Even at this level of detail, care is given to ensure a harmonious brand experience. What tools or processes do you use to manage such consistent delivery of the Aveda brand?

CH: Our consistency comes from our shared design philosophy that, in turn, comes out of our mission-driven approach to doing business. The Aveda brand experience is managed through the use of design standards that are understood, updated as necessary, and executed by the staff. We don't have a design standards manual, both because I believe manuals limit creativity and because the development and maintenance of a manual is a project that takes time away from other more important work. Our design team is a small internal group with a shared vision that is in constant evolution. We don't use outside agencies and design firms. Instead, we hire designers who are sympathetic to and who buy into the design ideals of Aveda.

EBJ: What channels do you use to bring your products to market?

CH: Seventy percent of our sales are done through salons. We partner with 5,900 salons in the United States alone. In the United Kingdom and Korea, we do sell our products in department stores.

We also have 150 freestanding Aveda stores. We think of these as Experience Centers where people can immerse themselves in the Aveda brand experience. Most of these centers are owned and operated by Aveda Corporation.

EBJ: How do you choose the salons that you will partner with?

CH: It is very important to us to partner with people who understand our mission of environmental responsibility. How do we determine if a salon is environmentally aligned and committed? This might not sound very formal, but we assess their commitment primarily through conversations with salon owners. These partnerships are not about our being suppliers to them. We are building relationships. As with any good relationship, it is essential to keep conversation going with them.

EBJ: Our publication is called Enlightened Brand Journal. What does the phrase “enlightened brand” mean to you?

CH: I think an enlightened brand is a brand that understands its role in the world and the effect it has on the world. Being an enlightened brand is about knowing who you are and bringing that knowledge to how you approach what you do.

I know I am biased, but I have to say that Aveda is about as enlightened as I can imagine any brand being.

EBJ: If you could tell our readers one thing about integrating their mission into their brand, what would you say?

CH: That's easy. Remember that profits and ideals are not mutually exclusive. Aveda is proof of that. We are highly profitable and highly responsible. I say: Think from the mission and let the profits take care of themselves.

Enlightened Practice
Walking the Trail. Aveda's Indigenous Sourcing.

If you have ever read an ingredients label on a package in a supermarket, you are among the growing number of consumers who want to know what is in the products they buy.

Customers, investors, environmental activists, and government regulators are just some of the groups that now have a vested interest in how your products came to be. Producer responsibility along the entire supply chain is the new marketplace expectation, and it could just be the new predictor of your brand's value.

It's not just growing demand that is driving the importance of supply-chain issues. We live in a world of rapidly diminishing natural resources.

For instance, aromatic and medicinal plants, in great demand for use in product development, are currently being collected from the wild in ways that are not sustainable. According to an international study on plant diversity, at least one out of every eight known plant species on Earth is now threatened with extinction. If your business depends on plants, the concern is obvious. Sustainable plant supply chains are simply good business.

How do you develop a sustainable plant supply chain? For Aveda, the answer lies at the source—with the indigenous peoples who have long understood what it means to be responsible stewards of the Earth.

Traditional and indigenous communities around the world have an innate sense of sustainability in their wisdom and use of nature's gifts without depleting them. For anyone committed to environmental sustainability, there is much to learn from these peoples about coexisting with nature in a way inspired by temperance and balance. Perhaps we can solve some of today's environmental challenges by awakening in the industrial world—and its urban citizens—the sense of connection to the rest of the great web of life. Aveda honors these native wisdom keepers and looks to them for insight to help bring the wellness benefits of plants to our customers. Indigenous sourcing is also a way to give back to poor communities around the planet.
— Aveda's statement on indigenous sourcing

Enlightened Brand Journal had the privilege of discussing Aveda's global sourcing practices with two extraordinary businessmen, David Hircock and Dr. Richard Walley.

Aveda herbalist, environmental watchdog, and Organic Style journalist, David Hircock, has extensive experience in complementary and alternative medicines and environmental sciences. David is one of Aveda’s experts on certified organic and sustainable plant-material sourcing. He also works with indigenous communities and international scientific and agricultural research stations on sustainable and traceable ingredient sourcing initiatives.

Aboriginal Noongar elder, Dr. Richard Walley, is a member of the Australian Heritage Council, the Australian Government's independent expert advisory body on matters of Australian heritage. He is also widely known and respected as a leading Aboriginal performance artist. Dr. Walley has traveled the world performing and lecturing on the Noongar people. In 1993, he was awarded the Order of Australia for his contribution to the performing arts and Noongar culture.

Enlightened Brand Journal: David, please tell us about your work with Aveda.

David Hircock: I have a direct and open line to Aveda president, Dominique Conseil. That is a good thing, but it is not much use without a system.

Aveda has a system for review of all product ingredients. There is a form called the Mission Aligned Ingredient Review (MAIR) form. It is our system for review of every ingredient in each product. My signature on the form ensures that we have looked at the way the ingredient is sourced and that we are confident that sourcing is sustainable and protects human rights.

My work is to ask questions and to listen around the world. I not only look at what we have done, or what we are doing now, but I aim to be aware of what is happening around the world so that we can address future issues. Aveda sponsors an annual symposium for the medicinal and aromatic plant industry that provides an opportunity to listen to indigenous people—not just about issues of sustainability but also about cultural issues.

Aveda's partnerships with indigenous people go beyond delivery of product. The relationships are about understanding each other.

Listening is a core value of Aveda. We have many systems in place to ensure that we listen, and that information is shared throughout the company. For instance, “Information Celebration” is a company-wide meeting that takes place once a month where we literally share information—about new products, financial results, new ingredients, and more. It’s imperative that all employees attend—remote offices are connected to headquarters by videoconference. Dominique is present at every meeting.

Richard Walley: From an indigenous perspective, listening is very important. We like to say that a person has two ears and one mouth and should use them in that proportion. Indigenous people have been listening for a long time. Now we have the opportunity to become a voice in the world.

Listening is wonderful, but putting what you hear into action is what is important. One thing that we appreciate about our work with Aveda is that the information we have been passing on to them has been transformed into action.

EBJ: What brought you together?

DH: I am an adviser to Aveda, and I work independently in Pennsylvania. Dr. Walley came to Aveda headquarters in Minnesota to talk with Dominique Conseil about the Australian sandalwood project.

In the case of sandalwood, Aveda had sourced its raw materials from India, until it began to suspect sandalwood was not being harvested in a sustainable manner. Knowing how old a sandalwood tree must be to produce oil, the company began to require suppliers to submit documents proving that Indian sandalwood oil was supplied from legal Indian government sources. When suppliers failed to demonstrate progress, Aveda took steps to ensure a sustainable and traceable supply of the oil. While we are committed to help resolve issues in India, rather than continuing to source materials from the wild, Aveda sought alternatives. We had already started sourcing sandalwood from Australia, because that country has strict laws of sustainability controlled by the Sandalwood Act and Wildlife Conservation Act, among other legislation.

After meeting with Dr. Walley, Dominique called me to tell me to be ready for a meeting, because Dr. Walley was on his way to see me. Very soon afterward, I was on a plane to Australia and we began working together.

RW: We also met on a sustainable farm at a small Earth stewardship conference. It was a gathering and cross-pollination of businesspeople who are all on a path of keeping cultural and ethical lines firmly in place.

EBJ: Dr. Walley, please help me introduce our readers to your community. What would you like us to know about the people, how you live, and what you value?

RW: We represent the whole spectrum of indigenous cultures, from traditional to contemporary, and from the desert to the sea. We are blessed with the beauty and abundance of all aspects of culture. Some of the people maintain indigenous values within a contemporary lifestyle. We carry on our traditions, but we also embrace some philosophies of modern culture. That is both good and bad. For instance, we have seen an increase in alcoholism and drug use. It is very much like the communities of Native Americans.

We are a small community of only about a half million people. But we can make a big impact. We are isolated, ready to negotiate, and can be gathered together quickly. Today, we are getting involved in the conversations rather than being the topic of conversations.

We are a friend of Aveda, but we are also external to Aveda. We are forming an audit system that assures that the benefit of our business partnerships goes to the communities. It is complicated but simple. Our business is governed by our obligations to three groups. In order of priority, they are indigenous people, government, and business.

The first rule of business for us is our obligation to our own people. To ensure that we meet this obligation, we have formed an audit and negotiation group that we call the Songman Circle of Wisdom. The group acts as broker between our people and the companies with whom we do business. They make sure that the business has no negative impact on our culture, our children, and our environment. They can give a stamp to businesses that pass their audit, like an Earth stewardship stamp. The system leaves plenty of room for good business.

Dominique likes to say, "We can change the world by changing the way the world does business." We put that idea in action.

EBJ: What is important to your community about the relationship with Aveda?

RW: First is the sense of self worth it provides. And the shared sense of responsibility. Aveda has a reputation for environmental responsibility. Indigenous people have a strong environmental responsibility. We share a complementary association with nature, culture, and land.

The second important thing is that indigenous cultures now have to earn a living. If they can do it themselves, it's a bonus. Without work, the young people leave the community, and the essence and strength of the community leaves with them. The work strengthens the community.

It is a great reward to be able to show that we have been embraced and taken seriously by a market-leading organization.

Indigenous people have come through the four stages of speaking. First, we were spoken about. Then we were spoken to. Next we were spoken for. Now we are speaking.

This interview is an example. In the past, if you had requested an interview about indigenous sourcing, you would have been directed to a company representative. The story would have been told without an indigenous voice. Things are changing. Now, like this interview, it is really a partnership.

EBJ: How is sandalwood harvested? What might a typical workday look like in your community?

RW: It is hot desert. The workers search through the bush to find the tree. Then they follow a process of getting the tree out with a front-end loader and cutting the tree. It is very hard work in a remote area. It is a lonely job. But people love it. They love the solitude of being in the bush. And they love it because they can see a future in it.

There is a myth that indigenous people are not reliable. It is not true. These people have been doing this work for more than 20 years. This hard work has made them very healthy. Some others in town, those without the work, have alcohol and drug problems. The work provides a healthy lifestyle.

EBJ: Can you give us an example of a challenge you have faced in doing your work with each other?

DH: Aveda introduced a product line called "Indigenous." We had applied for a trademark for the name. At the world summit, we were told that our plan to own the word “indigenous” was insensitive. We had to step back and listen. We needed to understand why it is insensitive. We sat with indigenous people for many hours. We learned that trademark law and intellectual property law are western laws. We became very aware of the need to let the indigenous people own what is theirs.

Then we had to decide what to do about our mistake. What is our plan? The outcome was that we abandoned the product line immediately. We produced an international press release and a video of Dominique announcing our decision and the reason for it. The most important lesson of the experience was to talk about our mistakes and learn from them. It comes back to listening.

RW: Another challenge we face is the challenge of middle management. People at the top of corporations may introduce a new philosophy, like indigenous sourcing, and send that down through the line. How do you get the middle management across the sectors of the company to embrace the philosophy? You have to spend time with each sector and show the rationale. For instance, you have to understand the marketing perception of indigenous sourcing. More important, you have to be able to say why it is good business.

EBJ: What role does the customer or final recipient of the sandalwood product play in your work?

DH: A very important role. People can change the world just by the way they buy products. We want people to think about the power of their purchase. We talk about walking the trail, or traceability, from the end product in the customer's hand all the way back to the source. It's about quality at both ends and throughout the chain. If customers walk that trail, it will help them understand the power of their purchase.

EBJ: Finally, if one of our readers were inspired to consider indigenous sourcing for their own product ingredients, what wisdom or advice would you offer them?

DH: Speak to the custodians of the area at the source. Consult widely, not narrowly. Pay attention to political and social differences. Keep it as simple as possible and speak to as many people as possible. It must be done in a way so the whole community gets a reward.

Read the proceedings from the symposium we help sponsor—The Industrial Leadership Symposium for Medicinal and Aromatic Plants.

RW: The bottom line is that indigenous sourcing is good business. Gone are the days when businesses could acquire resources without asking where they had come from. Transparency is a big part of business, and it will become an even more important part. Skeptics do not believe that indigenous sourcing can work. We demonstrate that it can.

Editorial note: Australian sandalwood is used in four products of the Aveda Love™ line as well as in the sandalwood Pure Essence, a line of pure, undiluted essential oils for professional use.

Emerging Trend
Consumers Challenge Marketing Practices

By Jennie Bettles

Like a petulant kid, at times jumping up and down, waving arms for attention, advertisers have long angled for buyers’ awareness. The decibels have just increased with reams of mail disguised as important messages, incessant pop-ups flashing across the browser, ad-wrapped school buses, and placards in stadium restroom stalls. Marketers have been unrelenting in their going after each free moment of consumers’ time. Thus, like the parents of said petulant kids, U.S. consumers have become weary and increasingly inured of the cries for attention.

A recent Yankelovich Partners’ poll of Americans found rising resentment of aggressive marketing tactics. According to the poll, 65 percent of Americans say they are "constantly bombarded with too much" advertising; 61 percent think the amount of advertising and marketing they are exposed to "is out of control"; and 60 percent report that their view of advertising and marketing is "much more negative than just a few years ago."

Much of this resentment is in response to the proliferation of advertisements and the grab for consumers’ attention. According to research from the Media Kitchen, 30 years ago, the average American was targeted by 560 daily advertising messages. Today, the number of daily messages reaching out to Americans is over 3,500.

Amidst this competition for awareness, yes, advertisers could jump a little higher, scream a little louder, and find yet another way to attract attention. Perhaps, however, consumers are telling advertisers that a new approach is in order. By their own account, advertising isn’t working for the majority of consumers, and there are two fundamentally different ways that their frustration can play out.

One way forward is for consumers to force a new approach. One might suggest that this has already begun with 65 percent of Americans believing that there should be more limits and regulations on marketing and advertising. At the level of organized consumer activism, the Center for Digital Democracy recently sent a public letter to the chairman of the Federal Trade Commission saying, "In light of the aggressive marketing practices that the new digital technologies have unleashed [..] it is now time to re-evaluate the ways in which we shield young people from the excesses of the immersive, interactive media environment.” There’s clear evidence of organized consumer resistance all around us.

At the level of individual consumer empowerment, in just a few years, spam blockers, pop-up blockers, digital video recorders like TiVo, and a whole industry geared to consumer privacy and control has arisen to give some respite. In the Yankelovich poll, 69 percent of Americans expressed interest in mechanisms that skip or block advertising completely. Remember the concept, “the customer is king”? Consumers will either have their respite, or they’ll create an environment where it just gets increasingly costly to reach them.

An alternative approach forward is for the advertising industry and professionals within it to recognize that consumers are tired and to reflect on what that means for the practicum of marketing. While one would expect it to be preferable and less costly to marketing departments, corporations, and society at large for advertisers to lead the way, there exists both significant momentum and built-in structural impediments to the industry actually taking a pause.

Most significant amongst those impediments are the financial incentives for advertisers attempting to retain the status quo. Proctor and Gamble alone is projected to spend $450 billion on advertising this coming year alone. Of the $20.54 billion in worldwide advertising and media revenue, 74 percent is managed by the five top advertising holding companies (Interpublic Group of Companies at 18.3 percent, Omnicom Group at 18.2 percent, Publicis at 16.5 percent, WPP Group at 15.5 percent, and Havas at 5.6 percent). Marketing in its current form, however frustrating it is for consumers, pays the wages of a lot of advertising professionals. Those professionals have a vested interest in not changing.


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