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The human bonding for brands

With communication getting increasingly democratised, marketers need to find a 'human purpose' for their brands, says Leo Burnett's Michelle Kristula-Green.

, ET Bureau|
Sep 10, 2008, 06.09 AM IST
Michelle Kristula-Green
The image that first springs to mind when the term HumanKind is mentioned is one of a non-governmental, charitable organisation dedicated to some emancipative cause or the other. It's an entirely different matter that HumanKind is rooted in hardnosed business interest, the product of an 18-month quest on the part of Leo Burnett Worldwide to uncover a new model for brands to connect with consumers better. "All planning models created in the last 20 years belong to the museum; there is no brand thinking framework in the world of advertising," says Michelle Kristula-Green, president - Asia Pacific, Leo Burnett, explaining the genesis of HumanKind. "We couldn't rely on the past and had to create something new and focus on human behaviour."

The fundamental logic behind the evolution of HumanKind rests in the fact that with the rise of technology, the communication process has been thoroughly democratised. "With the advent of technology we are in the 'people's era' because they control technology. What that has done is challenged the marketing community and the ad agency," Green says. She adds that in this context, what matters is understanding and influencing people's behaviour. The other critical factor is what Burnett calls 'identifying the human purpose for brands'. "In the 1950s, you had two or three options of detergents and maybe one of them was soap, and each varied in performance. But today, that performance in itself is quite similar. So people will also choose a brand because of what it stands for in the bigger context - what are its policies in terms of the environment or in running a green company. So now we need to think of what the human purpose of the brand is. I can no longer push the brand to anyone; someone needs to reach out and take it," Green explains.

The HumanKind philosophy - or practice, as Green prefers to term it - draws from Leo Burnett's heritage. "Leo Burnett, the man, always said that before you make a proposition you have to make a friend, which means you have to understand people. It means moving away from ads and commercials to 'acts'," she says, pointing out that one of the first 'acts' of Leo Burnett, as a company, was keeping apples at the office reception. "It was an act that we were confident of being a successful company, that we could give away apples free instead of selling them."

The kind of acts that Burnett wants to institutionalise as a way of thinking include the Titanium Lion-winning 'Earth Hour' campaign created by Leo Burnett Sydney in association with WWF. "People always want to do something for the environment but don't know how they can make a difference. Earth Hour was a way of letting people participate with the brand by switching off lights for one hour and contributing in saving the environment," says Green, adding that brand marketers have to "allow some control to go into people's hands" so that people can participate in a two-way relationship with brands. Green points out that these 'acts' aren't just things to do for a "week or two" - that it calls for a change in mindset.

Citing the example of the intensely competitive insurance market in the US where consumers usually choose insurance based on rates, Green says that Allstate Insurance hit upon a novel way of connecting with consumers. "What Allstate did was re-write its purpose completely. It's not just about paying money when accidents happen, but making the environment safe on an everyday basis," she says. For instance, one of the things the company initiated keeping first-time drivers in mind was creating a conversation between parents and teenage kids about safe driving through a contract. "Imagine a father and son or mother and son sitting down and having that conversation along with that contract. It's an agreement between the parent and the child about driving safely, the consequences of speeding et cetera. It's about creating an environment where parents and children can talk, and it's not a traditional commercial."

Green says that the agency has started conducting 'act workshops' with clients with the purpose of bringing acts to life. "The thing is how do we create acts? It's not just doing 360-marketing bits - how do we define an act? This is important because what we want to do is create a certain response from people about the core act." It's not just clients who need to buy into the new practice; everyone within the agency needs to undergo a change in thinking as well. Green says that at the beginning of the year, the agency's top management was trained, and they in turn are training employees at the regional offices.

One of the key changes that HumanKind has ushered into the agency is in its famed 7+ internal evaluation system - the rating, which used to focus on craft and creativity, has been now tweaked to integrate HumanKind parameters. Earlier, in the 7+ system, No 5 used to be 'innovative strategy'; now it is whether the respondent 'understands the brand's purpose'. Similarly, No 8 used to be 'sets new standards in the category'; now it is 'changes the way people think and feel'. No 9 used to be 'sets new standards in advertising'; now it is 'changes the way people live'. "While craft is still important, we want to identify the human purpose behind each brand," explains Green.

According to Green, HumanKind has been instrumental in breaking down the silos between departments. As HumanKind deals with understanding human behaviour and creating acts to influence behaviour, the onus of coming up with ideas for an act is no longer the domain of the creative department. "The other day an ECD told me most people think ideas come from creative people, but now this has brought the organisation together and is a great equaliser. As acts can come from anywhere, what HumanKind has done is create an equal place for everyone at the table," says Green.

Green also claims that HumanKind is working as a sharp differentiator for Leo Burnett. "Agencies have always been central to brands - except in the last 20 years when they got excessively on 'ads'. The more they focused on ads, the less the value they create for brands," she says, adding that clients have been very encouraging in their response. "Ours clients love it. Mostly what agencies do is go and talk about themselves. HumanKind gives us a chance to go and talk to the clients about their business and their problems," explains Green.
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