People. Planet. Profit.

Author: Robin Browne

As you can see, I changed the name of my blog to Social Biz: People. Planet. Profit. Here’s why…

A few months ago I had lunch with a business colleague and we ended up talking about a lot more than business. Trump had happened so, me being me and my colleague being a white guy with an Indian wife, we got on to the subject of racism. He had seen the Indian caste system up close and how deeply ingrained it was and he worried that “all these “isms” would never go away.”

I thought for a moment then said that I thought they would never go away as long as we have a dominant economic system that rewards them. Trump is the ultimate example of our current system rewarding nasty behaviour. Slavery was another. But if we change that system so it rewards humane behaviour, I think they will begin to fade.

So, following Gandhi’s “be the change you want to see” philosophy, we are looking at buying a business and plan to run it in a way that puts people and the planet before profits. The business is an environmentally-friendly car wash service – but more on that in upcoming posts.

One of our first challenges is to market the biz in a way that respects people. You may not be surprised that this wasn’t a worry that kept early ad men up at night. I never saw the wildly popular TV show, Mad Men, about sleazy ad execs, but reading about the history of advertising in Tim Wu’s “The Attention Merchants“, I learned that one of the first things that kept them up was trying to come up with even grander bogus health benefit claims to sell more snake oil (literally). They kept selling bundles of oil based on bogus claims until both the public and the government got wise to them. They were forced to stop it but apparently not everyone learned their lesson. In 2010, “Yogurt maker Dannon paid $56 million US to settle charges…over claims that the probiotic bacteria in its yogurt could aid regularity and prevent colds or flu.” In 2012, Health Canada told the maker of Cold-Fx to stop labelling its product with the claim that it “Stops Cold or Flu in its Tracks.”, saying the only approved claim for the product was that it “helps reduce the frequency, severity and duration of cold and flu symptoms by boosting the immune system.”

So, we have to make sure our claims are true and not misleading. This is especially true of the “environmentally-friendly” claim as it will be one of the key points distinguishing us from the competition.

Then there’s the challenge of getting the right people to see the ad. The obvious choice is Google so we can attract people already searching the web for a car wash. However, that means working with a company that, although it appears to have behaved relatively benignly since it began in 1998, has a disturbing amount of power its leaders could use to do really bad things if they wanted to (see trailer for Tom Hanks’ new movie The Circle for an example). A key part of their power is that they’re the only real choice for search advertising.

So we have little choice but to go with Google, which isn’t good, but we have search marketing which past advertisers didn’t and that is good – sort of. Search advertising lets us target our ads to people searching for car washes. In fact, it lets us target people within a certain radius searching for car washes. Our concern, however, is avoiding the “creepy Google effect” I sometimes experience when I get ads for things I don’t remember searching for. We want our ads shown only to people, near by, who have demonstrated their interest by searching online for a car wash.

So we’ll start our social business journey by aiming to have ads that are effective, honest and not annoying – and that might be all we need to distinguish ourselves from the competition.

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3 Responses to “People. Planet. Profit.”

  1. Veronica Scheubel Says:

    Good stuff! More power to you guys! Re. advertising: Given you wanna go local, why not also use billboard advertising? People *do* see that, and spaces are available. Other than that, a bit of guerrilla marketing with cool little cards or flyers (environmentally friendly paper and print, of course) in local corner stores and bars? And handed out to parents at kids’ hockey games and stuff? Reach your customers as directly as possible?

  2. Robin Browne Says:

    Thanks for the comment! The only thing about the ways you suggest is that we’d be hitting people with no self-identified their interest in a car wash and would, therefore, risk violating our “Do Not Annoy” policy. 😉

  3. Maurice Muise Says:

    Absolutely agree, Robin. These are unsettling times…

    Another suggestion for advertising: a small test campaign on Facebook. You could target geo (people in Ottawa) and psychographics (people who have “liked” the page of an environmental org, etc).

    That might sound like another “annoyance” tactic, but I suspect that Ottawans who care about the environment would *want* to know about an eco-friendly car wash service.

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