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“Brands Must Solve”: Christian Sarkar

Times have changed. In the past, a company could selectively choose the issues it wanted to engage in. This is no more the case, as per Christian Sarkar, co-author of Brand Activism (with Philip Kotler), and co-founder of Wicked 7 Project and Regenerative Marketing Institute

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Christian Sarkar

What happens when businesses and consumers don’t share the same values? Or, when employees of a company don’t share the same values as their executives? Here comes the concept of “Brand Activism”.

Brand Activism, according to Christian Sarkar, co-author of ‘Brand Activism’ (with Philip Kotler, consultant) &  co-founder of Wicked 7 Project and Regenerative Marketing Institute, consists of business efforts to promote, impede, or direct social, political, economic, and/or environmental reforms with the desire to promote or impede improvements in society. It is driven by a fundamental concern for the biggest and most urgent problems facing society.

Purpose is prime 
Sarkar, in an exclusive interaction with BW Businessworld, stated that brands are expected to solve, not aggravate, the world’s biggest problems. “This they must drive through an overarching purpose which they must be true to at all times,” Sarkar said. Expounding on the nuances of this book, Sarkar shared: “In a highly polarised world, it is no longer good enough to be neutral. Furthermore, the issues are going to be chosen by the customer, your employees, and the public at large.”

“In India specifically, there is a culture of large brands being public-minded. But brand activism is beyond CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility). It focuses on the most urgent problems in the society today and makes a difference by collaborating with governments and non-profits to take action on these problems.” Sarkar believed that the pandemic highlighted this need, where some brands quickly joined the bandwagon- produced safety products, converted assembly lines and alike.  

Having gestated over years, Sarkar’s book delves into the broad brand activism movement and urges the world to see the bigger problems. Sarkar contours the broad takeaways of this book: brands must take a stand, work with the government and be borderless for all; focus on a bottom-up approach, how they can empower the weaker communities; and practice the opposite of colonialism and work on communities to take them to a better position. “Brands have a responsibility to make a difference to the communities they touch. While most brands are trying, it is perhaps not enough,” Sarkar stated.
Marketing that nurtures 

Sarkar’s latest collaboration with consultants and industry experts Philip Kotler and Enrico Foglia has also been on the ‘Regenerative Marketing Institute’. The idea is to foster marketing practices that nurture communities and build local prosperity over the long term. The outcomes of regenerative marketing include value creation for customers, employees and local communities.
Sarkar further stated, “It is certain that these wicked problems will always be present. Covid-19 too has shown us that we are extremely close to losing civilisation. A resilient system is still not built. Our organisation reiterates that brands alone are not enough. We need the government, institutions, and communities- all to work together.”  

Sarkar believed that the challenge here is not that we don’t know what to solve but we are not willing to solve. About 30-40 per cent of the people in the US still don’t believe that global change is man-made. “This is more because of misinformation. This is something very irresponsible of them. It is the simple use of politics to win a few political points. Science is evidently out of the window.”

Sarkar quoted the book ‘Propaganda’ by Edward Bernays, “When you flood the world with misinformation then you are free to get people to follow you, through passion or some form of appeal. This narrative divides the world.” Also an avid follower of Peter Drucker, Sarkar also points how the former’s first book was on ‘fighting fascism’. He said, ‘While businesses have the responsibility to make profits, they must also use reason as a way to stop this madness that is running through all the countries.”

Sarkar further mentioned how ‘employee-driven activism’ is enveloping the US, while it does not apply to the Far East as yet. “There have been cases when the employees have been better at protecting the brand reputation, more than the actual custodians of the brand. So, if there is a difference between what your employees and senior leaders think then there is a problem at the top,” Sarkar stated.

Elites must take action 

Sarkar quips how Bezos spent a mammoth amount on flying around with his friends, while it could have gone towards education or stopping world hunger. Perhaps, it could have ended world hunger. “This is sheer irresponsibility. The bubble of the elite is distant from the starking reality. People with power don’t want to solve the bigger problems.” This upsets Sarkar.

In the end, Sarkar remarked that climate change is slow but will destroy everything. “If we don’t start working together, we are finished. Part of the business world is busy focusing on the profits that they forget they are living in an environment that is soon going to end. It is time these business owners say it is enough. Given they possess substantial power, they play a crucial role here. While they may not possess this power all by themselves, but they certainly do in a group.” “They must join the ‘movement of movements’,” Sarkar stated.  

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magazine 30 Aug 2021 Christian Sarkar