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Monday, January 16, 2012

We First, A Review

There is a new book out about social media that appears to be getting some buzz. Three readers on two continents have written to me in the last 10 days asking my opinion. The book is WE FIRST by Simon Mainwaring (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).

It is an interesting book that gives a passionate litany of examples of how social media is changing and will impact both the world of advertising and politics. His vigorous endorsement of social media sometimes borders on the breathless. At one point he writes, “Use social media to build communities, projects and create positive impact.” The title says that we must redefine goals both personal and corporate from “I first” to “We first”.

He later talks of a global brand initiative that will “associate corporate brands and competitors that willingly work together to advance corporate social responsibility and charitable donations”. This can cross corporate lines, Non-profits, and countries. Some examples that he envisions are Coke and Pepsi, Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund, and the United States with China. This seems to be a bit of a stretch especially the Coke and Pepsi collaboration.

Mainwaring also states that consumers will pay more if they see a brand selling based on an eye toward common prosperity. Social media, then, in his view, can actually transform capitalism. As an environmentalist he makes a nice case that we are consuming the earth’s resources faster than they can be regenerated.

His politics and idealism get in the way of things to me. Also, he strikes me as someone, who is an experienced marketer, but is getting detached from the real world. It was as if I were reading a liberal Mitt Romney.

Do people really pay more for a socially responsible brand? Mr. Wainwaring should do what I do. Twice a year, I monitor Wal-Mart prices vs. drug stores, grocery stores, and other mass merchants. I must stick out like a sore thumb with my heavily starched shirt and gold cufflinks as I move through the big box store with a clipboard (last time I heard two clerks whisper, “who is that old guy?” The other responded “look busy. He is probably from headquarters"). What I see on those trips are struggling people who buy the cheapest products and pounce on specials. They are fighting to survive and are not dwelling on corporate or brand social responsibility.

Or how about the 64 million who visit a McDonald’s every day? Would they pay more if they thought McDonald’s was working for social justice? I have visited a Ronald McDonald house during my days on the business and the charitable work they do there is both touching and important but I doubt if many customers dwell on it in the drive-thru lane.

Mr. Wainwaring seems to be talking to customers of Patagonia and Whole Foods. He mentions Patagonia in the text very positively and there is no question that much of their customer base loves the fact that they make sustainable products. But, visit a store, as I often have, and the customer base is upper-middle class and unusually well educated. They do not represent American as a whole.

When he sticks to how social media can make your brand look better and communicate more effectively and less expensively, the book sings. In the next breath, he says that he is not anti-capitalist but sometimes, his speech betrays him.

This is a good read but you may, as I, wrestle some of his proposals to the ground.

If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at doncolemedia@gmail.com

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