The Age of Accountability

Welcome to the age of accountability, where brands are held to a higher standard, and where consumers have control. Gone are the days of big brands leveraging their weight to broadcast one-way messages, with no consequences when they misuse consumer trust. The steering wheel has been wrestled away from brands and is now being guided by a new wave of consumer conscience.

Take H&M for example, a brand known for low-priced, fashion-forward apparel, which came under fire months ago for featuring a young African American boy wearing a shirt reading: “Coolest monkey in the jungle.” The consumer backlash was loud, yet the brand’s response was quiet. It came across as racist and tone deaf to a culture that’s experiencing heightened racial awareness. They were on trial in the public court of consumer accountability.

Today, the best media agencies understand that everything is media. So, that H&M hoodie was media. The ecommerce site it once lived on is media. And the outpouring of frustration and disgust is media.

If everything is media, then each piece of the brand has the ability to communicate a message. In H&M’s case, it was an unintended message, but it was heard nonetheless.

So, what’s a brand to do? The natural reaction might be to play it safe, to dial the risk meter down a notch and to do less in an effort to avoid stumbling in the spotlight. But brands that can fight this urge and run in the opposite direction will win. In fact, brands that are willing to take on more risk will draw the most love and devotion. That’s fearless media.

Consider the Steph Curry Under Armour story. Curry, an NBA all-star, had previously been in talks with Nike but wanted to put a motivational Bible verse on his signature shoes. Under Armour not only let him put the verse on his shoes, they inked a lucrative deal with Curry to lock him down for the future. An analyst for Morgan Stanley projected Curry’s potential worth to Under Armour at more than a $14 billion.

Under Armour embodied the behavior critical in an environment that longs for brands to be more than just a vehicle for selling more stuff. For consumers to truly buy into a brand, they must first know a brand’s heart—it’s soul. Once an inner core is revealed and shared, consumer trust can grow quickly.

Brands now have to put their money where their mouth is. They must understand that motion creates emotion. And by taking action, brands invite consumers to make change together, forming tighter relationship chemistry. This co-stewardship of the brand creates a nearly unbreakable bond of trust that can weather the common storms of the marketplace.

Brands have to do more than just entertain and interrupt; they have to act. Those that do so with risk and authenticity will have a greater chance of winning.

Consider what your own brand could do to thrive in this age of accountability. Consider your brand’s value and what actions your brand could take to illustrate those values. Are you ready to be fearless?

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