Expert Interview: Thomas Kolster aka Mr. Goodvertising

Thomas Kolster is a man on a mission, one of the early pioneers in the do-good space coining the term Goodvertising to describe the changing advertising landscape that’s become a movement in itself. As a seasoned advertising professional counting more than 16 years he’s a vocal voice for advertising and brands as a force for good and his book “Goodvertising” is a must to have book to explore communication for good.
Thomas is a globally recognized keynote speaker featured at events like SXSW, TEDx, Eurobest, D&AD, Epica, ad:tech & Sustainable Brands, a columnist for Adweek, The Drum, the Guardian and several other publications and a regular judge at international award shows. We interviewed Thomas and launched a partnership for all our members!

Thomas what do you think is the most effective style for companies to express their commitment to the environment or social causes? Any good example?

I don’t get most companies sustainability communication. It’s like listening to a child that just cleaned his or her room – look dad what I have done! But hey, dear company, you did all the mess in the first place. More cleaning up after yourself, less bragging. With my coming book The Hero Trap (Routledge, May 2020), I’ve done a study comparing commercials from brands that take the usual navel-gazing, purpose approach “This-is-what-we-do-as-a-company” and compare to an approach that inspires and transforms people and ultimately unlocks better lives:  “Who-can-we-help-you-become?”. Two examples of commercials from the test would be a classic purposeful one: Budweiser “Wind Never Felt Better” compared to an enabling and transformative one from Sport England: “This Girl Can”. The transformative commercials made the test participatns feel l29.5% more motivated to act on on the messaging and on average +29,6% more willing to pay a premium price (WPPP).

Just as every brand in the 1990s was all about lifestyle, brands today are firmly about the social and environmental issues bandwagon like bees around a honey pot. (And yes, those diminishing bee populations are seriously a cause we should worry about.) When every brand talk about doing good and claim to have a big role to play in your life as their burning “why,” but it really comes down to one thing: if you can’t see or feel the outcome, it’s simply just another broken promise or patronising corporate purpose. That’s why it’s so pivotal to focus on enabling change as a brand by asking: Who can you help people become?

Which specific topic in the large spectrum of sustainability companies should embrace in the near future?

Depends on the risks and opportunities facing that specific company. It’s dangerous to treat sustainability as a trend – like every brand these days desperately trying to have a voice when it comes to oceans plastic or food waste.

You might be interested in reading the Results on Brands Advertising Green here:  Communication For Good. 2019 Italy Trends  

People are not dumb and can see through the insincerity. Just because you shout: “I care” from every room top, doesn’t make it believable. That said, in these Corona-times employment is moving front and centre of every discussion. How do you weigh your sustainability efforts against maybe having to lay-off staff?

What are the opportunities and associated risks for companies that embrace the new trend of “goodvertising”?

There are tons of exciting opportunities when it comes to product and service innovation – or creating a more meaningful marketing mix, that doesn’t simply interrupt and push wants, but really try to solve personal and societal needs.  Most companies today are firmly on the social and environmental issues bandwagon from oceans plastic to diversity. People are increasingly distrustful towards these efforts viewed as cheap marketing stunts meant to wow people into buying more. The warning in my new book is clear: “Try to fly like a superman, and you will come down like a tin of soup.” It’s time brands stop pretending to be the world-saving super heroes but instead put people in charge of their own lives and the change that need to happen

Do you think companies have ridden on the wave of emotion now that environmentalism and social causes have become popular ?

Oh yes, for sure, they have. A new approach is needed that’s much more about putting people first and enabling better living.

Do you think Advertising is contributing to the diffusion and at the same time understanding of conscious consumerism?

Yes, advertising is a powerful tool, but it can also be used to create important and meaningful conversations like e.g. promoted by the Unstereotype Alliance that’s hosted by UN Women and brings some of the world’s biggest brands together. The Alliance is a thought and action platform that seeks to eradicate harmful gender-based stereotypes in all media and advertising content.

Is there a solution for the ADV industry?

Sustainability has come out of the tree-hugging, do-good closet. The possibilities for brands and businesses (as well as people and planet) are fuelling a creative renaissance to make things better rather than a beauty contest based on incremental or advertised made-up differences.

Webinar: sustainability as a creative wrecking ball

BeIntelligent is proud to partner with Thomas and invite the Intelligent Community on April 30th to learn how to expand the creative canvas and put into play environmental, health, social and other tangible, world-bettering factors that can be an earthquake under well established, but oblivious brands. Through global examples Thomas will show how brands are turning challenges into success stories where profit goes hand in hand with people and planet, but you’ll also get the clever hacks that help you create effective, yet impactful campaigns. Understand what it takes to do marketing today, or prepare your epitaph – because if you aren’t moving with us, you’re dead in the water.

Date: April 30th (2 PM CET/9 AM EST) – Duration: 60 mins and 15 mins Q&A

The workshop is for everyone working in the cross-section of sustainability and marketing from brand, agency, non-profit or consultancy side. There will be a strong focus on communication and campaigns.

You’ll learn
• Why sustainability matters and the mega trends driving the change
• How to create effective, yet impactful sustainability campaigns
• Understanding and unlocking the three-steps from saying, doing to enabling

Since you’re here…
Our mission is to monitor Advertising to make certain that companies obey ethical standards of trustworthiness and transparency while communicating their commitment to addressing the great challenges of the New Millennium. From climate emergency to social inequality through all the issues included in the Sustainable Development Goals Agenda, we monitor the consistency of their statements, if they are ‘walking the talk’. With rising misinformation and commercial ownership, independent information is more and more rare. We think citizens deserve access to accurate analyses with integrity at their heart, so we can all make critical decisions about our lives, health and enviroment – based on fact, not fiction.
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Author: elena grinta

I have been dealing with communication for 20 years, I have worked in marketing for large international and Italian companies and I know the mechanisms of advertising persuasion. I decided to invest my know-how and my skills to use the available resources of companies (budgets but also human capital) in positive transformation. Because to students from all over the world I teach at Purpose Brands in Catholic University I wish to give more and more examples of virtuous companies that have invested for the future, of everyone (and there are already many!). Because if we watch, without acting, without taking responsibility, we have no excuse.