So, at last, this millennium will come of age. It’s ‘got the key of the door, never been 21 before’.
And how these years have left their mark. The early years of ambition, of untold potential, of new ideas transforming the world almost unrecognisably. Bound by an ever-connected population, the formative years of this new millennium brought us Airbnb, Netflix, Uber, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Wechat, Amazon, Amazon Prime, iPhones, iPads, iPhones the size of iPads. It gave us smart watches, smart cars, smart everything and anything, ideas, concepts that brought us together, empowered us, liberated us, hopeful, leaving the old crumbling, controlling, institutions quaking in its wake.
We created movements, positive movements. Gender equality, racial equality. We had same sex marriages, a greater respect for our elderly, class barriers were beginning to break down, LGBTQ+ voices heard and valued. Those toxic stereotypes that infested our global cultures since time immemorial, were bit by bit, being challenged and reset. Of course, there was a long way to go, but we were making progress. A fairer world was in construction, work in progress of course, but ‘in progress’. There were no limits to what could be achieved in the early years of this millennium. What a wonderful world this could be.
But then, like many of us, the millennium reached the age of 16 and turned into a right dick. I suspect we really don’t need to go into the details. We know them all too well; Trump, Boris, Putin, Kim Jong-un, Brexit, bush fires, “I can’t breathe”, conspiracy theories, conspiracy facts, climate change, Trump, Trump, Trump. And just when we thought this millennium’s dickness couldn’t get any greater, it dropped a Global Pandemic.
And before you could say ‘that’s just locker room talk’ the very thing that brought us together just as quickly divided us. Echo chambers driving division and hate, extremes, digging in of heels, violence, death, the mightiest of great divides, counterpoint after counterpoint, accusation after accusation, fake news, deep fakes, fake fakes (making them ‘truths’ ?)
We took to the streets, we took the parks, the piazzas, the plazas, the cities, snarling, swinging blindly, opposites but bound by a common belief of our absolute, undeniable rightness. The world was at war but not with other nations, with each other. What started off so brightly unravelled at a quite alarming rate. If 16 was a difficult age then words fail us at 19 and 20
Hopefully now though, we can look to a new life stage, a life stage where perhaps a little more optimism can prevail. We have Gentle Joe where Trump once sat, the oranged man-child unceremoniously dumped on his ass, pulling his hair out (off) at every step of the way. We have a vaccine. In fact, lots of them. Like waiting for a bus. The logistics around the distribution of these vaccines, as we already know, will provide another opportunity for the ruling parties to raise the bar of ineptness to an even greater scale but it will happen. (It will, right?)
We have a Brexit, and whilst it promises to bring with it its own high-grade strain of fuckness, at least it will be done, out of the oven, ready. (Well clearly not, but at least we can move forward)
And, of course, we have Bill Bailey. If he can do it, anyone can.
So, it would be easy to predict, to project 2021 to be one of more settled seas, one where the Goodship Planet Earth sails, slightly battered and bruised, into calmer waters. It may be little more than a speck, flickering vulnerably in the distant darkness, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.
‘Begone with you bad times, be off with you, hate and anger’. Onwards, together once more.
‘The best part of breaking up is when we’re making up’ as Stephen Tin-Tin Duffy once told us.
But alas, this is unlikely to be so. Well, perhaps not the bushy tailed times as we’d hope them to be. Not straight away anyway as the events of the last week only serve to prove.
Because, as evidenced, those cuts sustained over the last four years run deep, these wounds need more than just licking. We’re at that stage in a badly broken relationship when you look at each other and realise too much has been said and done to just move on. Too much water under the bridge to simply forget about things, like that shit didn’t happen. It’s simply gone too far to right itself. Where previously we were starting to break down these toxic stereotypes, quite remarkably these last four years have only gone and created new ones
New, mutated stereotypes, super-stereotypes have emerged, have come to the fore, more contagious, more toxic, more dangerous than perhaps the originals that went before them. Let’s not forget that some of our leading daily titles, the national treasures we call our tabloids, even now, like to drop harmless little Kraut, Hun, Nazi gags in from time to time - and that was 70+ years ago. We don’t move on easily.
Today, we have The Elite, The Gammons, The Karens, The Remoaners, Wokes, and more recently, The Anti-Vaxxers, defined less by who they are, and more by what they believe.
So, no, I’m afraid not. No ‘new normal’ with new mutual respect, no ‘new different’ with a new spirit of open-mindedness and tolerance born of the scars of the past. At the risk of being the purveyor of more dark clouds, cultural and societal storms that continue to piss on our hopeful parades, I’m afraid I see more of the same ahead
It won’t fix itself, it won’t right itself. No way Jose. (which may also be a stereotype)
But perhaps we can. We, the marketing community. Maybe not fix, then at least help. Because we run brands, we design them, we grow them, we develop them and these brands help shape culture. They always have and always will. And we know that brands that look to do this in a positive way, do better than those who don’t. We know that organisations that lead the way in positive change, in positive societal and cultural change, are admired and valued for being so. As per Edelman’s last trust dip, we know that trust in organisations is only 25% competency but 75% ethics.
I’m not talking simply about ‘inclusion and diversity’ either. I’m not saying these aren’t important because they are. But I can’t ever imagine that we’ll help the cause by casting ‘red-faced, angry gammon anti-vaxxers, in their St George Cross emblazoned knocked-off polos’ in any of our work. We’ve got Eastenders for that anyway. (I’m not helping my case here am I?)
Nor simply Representation either, for all the same reasons. I’m talking about ourselves, our industry. I’m talking about the unconscious bias that touches us all. Affinity bias, confirmation bias, conformity bias, the halo effect, the horns effect (I know. It makes me snigger too), the contrast effect, the name bias and the quite wonderfully named Cloven Hoof bias. Who knew there was so much bias? And remarkably there are more.
Take a look around at those we work with. Do it now, take a look. (Or at least ask them to turn their cameras on). We’re all the same right? We all think in the same way and we all think we are right in being so. We are as much of the problem as perhaps we are the solution. We will create brands in our own likeness, we will create internal cultures similarly.
So, the prediction, the projection for 2021, the coming of age of our new millennium, is nothing will change, or at least change at the pace we would like, unless we transform ourselves, the culture of marketing to transform the culture of our country, of the world.
The plea is to look in not simply out, and lead the way,
Not just to look to who we are, age, gender, sexuality, race (I repeat, these are important) but what we believe in, to delight and thrive on differences, to be open to alternative perspectives and celebrate them. Of course training can help and will help. Equally so how we craft our job descriptions and both inspire and review applications. We also have tech to support us as we move forward, AI and a rich range of inexpensive apps to smooth out the kinds of unconscious bias already outlined. However, it all begins with acknowledgement, of accepted realisation of the problem at hand. Stereotypes are toxic, they destroy lives and encourage division. Smashing them can never simply be a strategy but a behaviour, a commitment.
And I think we are more than capable of embracing this behaviour. In fact, I know we will. (Because our marketing stereotype demands we do just that).
As I believe my mother said as I turned 21. ‘You need to take a long, hard look at yourself’.