Brand activism, the good and the gross

Brand Activism is a key business trend I have been tracking with my work at Flux Trends. In essence, brand activism involves brands stepping outside of their corporate comfort-zone to confront a tricky social issue and take a public stance about what their brand stands for.

A great example of brand activism in action comes from Ben & Jerry’s. The ice cream brand took a decision in 2017 to stop serving individual customers two scoops of any one flavour of ice cream until gay marriage was legalised in Australia. (Incidentally, it looks like Australian two-scoop ice-cream fans will soon finally enjoy their double portions again. Who knows? Perhaps ice-cream greed was a factor in the vote.)


This was a brand risk. Supporting equal marriage rights may be right, but it is a brand risk. Not everyone likes the idea of two men (or two women) in a marriage bed – that’s why gay marriage was illegal in the first place. By publicly siding with liberals, Ben & Jerry’s has also deliberately, knowingly alienated and angered conservatives. That’s what brand activism is – taking a stand, taking a risk, taking a side. And it’s this boldness, this un-charaterisic (for companies with shareholders)  willingness to leave potential sales at the proverbial door that makes brand activism work – it’s the side-taking that makes the brand-fans in your own corner become passionate brand supporters, at the same time as it makes your brand enemies. (Sound a dramatic? – ask Keurig, the American coffee-maker brand, that learned the hard way not to piss-off self-sabotaging Republicans, when it pulled advertising from Fox news because of sexual assault allegations at the network.)


The idea is if you don’t stand for something, you stand for nothing. (Again – sound dramatic? Ask Uber. When Trump came up with his anti-muslim travel ban idea, Uber’s smaller rival Lyft pledged to donate a million dollars to the anti-travl-ban-lobby. Uber, on the other hand did pretty much “nothing” – in that it decided to continue with “business of usual” even as many of its drivers went on strike over the issue. Within hours #DeleteUber was trending on Twitter. Within a weekend a few hundred thousand Uber users had deleted their Uber apps and switched to Lyft. Ouch.)

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But there is another point here – if your brand only stand for things that pretty much everyone is for or against – such as being anti-peadophila, or pro puppies – then you still stand for nothing. And that brings me to the icky advertising agency that decided to have Johnny Walker take a “stand” against women and child abuse in South Africa this week – by shutting down a public road (the Nelson Mandela Bridge, no less) and littering the street with advertising material (life-size gold – nothing tacky to see here – Johnny statues). Yuck. There is so much wrong with this. It’s like whoever sold the (very expensive) idea to the brand had read about brand activism without understanding what it meant and why and how it works.


For starters they picked an issue to take a “stand” against that everyone agrees with. Nothing controversial or brave about saying beating up small children or brutally murdering women is bad. The brand is not stating anything new here. They are not being brave, bold or brilliant.

Secondly, they are an alcohol brand. In the business of selling hard liquor, mostly to men. Alcohol abuse is a key factor in violent domestic abuse. As such, the brand’s choice of issue to stand against is more than a little ironic.

Thirdly, they chose to make their “protest” in a public space – shutting down a public road, paid for by public taxes – and turning it into a private catwalk for their brand. It’s always nice to know your tax-rands are being used to support a private company’s thinly veiled profit-addenda. (Aside: Let me be clear – I have NO issue with profits, companies or capitalism. I am an unashamed, free-marketing loving “randroid” at heart. I DO however have a BIG issue with public (tax) money being used to benefit private entities. That’s just plain bullsh*t. Don’t even get me started on 94.7.)

Fourthly, the stand is irrelevant to it’s cause. It’s not lobbying for any state change. It’s not aiding victims or punishing perpetrators. It’s a campaign designed to draw attention to something everyone already knows about (and the brand, of course), that does nothing to actually help the victims, and costs the brand behind it nothing but ad rands. There is no self-righteous brand sacrifice here. It’s just showboating. Show me one man who decided not to raise his hand in drunken rage last night because some gold statues were arranged in an Instagram-worthy display around Jozi’s most picturesque bridge.

Fifthly, this is about publicly, PR, free advertising –  not about protecting the vulnerable. They are, in truth, using women and child abuse to call attention to their brand. They are literally capitalising off the blood of the people they are “standing for”.


But that’s the brilliance of the free market system. The market gets to decide who to support. And most of us are smart enough to smell the difference between brand activism and brand sluts.

PS: Here’s an idea for Johnny Walker – a brand stand that might actually make a difference to the cause they say they are standing behind (there is a catch though – as with all brand activism – it’s going to hurt Johnny at the tills in the short term):  How about Johnny refuses to sell alcohol to South African men of all ages though all its retail stockists until domestic abuse statistics decline by 10%? How about the brand only permits sales to women until that happens? Who knows. The brand might just find a whole new, passionate, target market if it’s brave enough to walk the talk.

PPS: Sorry-not-sorry about the puns. I can’t help myself.


The difference between UBI and UGI – and why it matters

What’s the difference?

UBI – Universal Basic Income

UGI – Universal Guaranteed Income

In short, with UBI, to paraphrase Oprah, “You get an income, she gets an income, he gets an income – EVERYONE gets an income!”

Every person in the country gets the same get government sponsored income – regardless of whether they are employed, unemployed,, old, young, rich , poor, whatever. It’s all very equitable. But it has some down-sides. Take South Africa, for example. The country has a GDP of approx 280 billion rand. It also has a population of around 56 million. This means that even if the country was to distribute its ENTIRE GDP as a UBI  (which is obviously not possible in reality, what ,when the country has a 50 billion budget deficit to pay off, and you know, things like infrastructure, security, education and healthcare  – public-goods-kinds-of things – to account for – not to mention the pesky private sector that owns most of that wealth and will not relinquish its without a fight) every person would get five thousand rand. A year. That’s all. Yey.

You get five thousand rand, you get five thousand rand – you ALL get five thousand rand!”

OK, So that’s probably not going to work out any time soon. Definitely not in the long run.

Then we get to UGI. This is different. This system basically replaces all existing social grant schemes with a tax credit system. How it works is if your income drops below a specific pre-determined living-wage level, you get a text credit from the government to top up your income (or lack thereof) to the living wage level. In other words you are a net tax recipient. If you earn exactly the base level income, you are a net zero tax payer. If you earn over the basic guaranteed income level, you pay tax. The tax you pay subsidies the tax credits for poorer people and is also used to fund public goods and governance. This system makes a whole lot more sense than UBI.

The economist in me likes how the poor just get CASH as a lump sum rather than expensive social grants and subsidy schemes which inevitably bring unacceptable dead weight loss (and tempt government corruption).

The libertarian in me is irked that anyone gets a free ride from actual real-life tax-payers. (The libertarian in me is also irked about compulsory tax in general. That libertarian is irked about a lot of things.)

The realist in me thinks this might just actually work.

And even if it doesn’t actually work in real life, expect to hear and read a whole lot more about these equality-enhancing liberal economic ideas in 2018. The people are getting impatient.

Toxic femininity in the boardroom – someone has to say something

“The findings here clearly state that even if girls are more harassed in total, they are not more harassed by boys, they are harassed by other girls.” 

First things first: Please do yourself a favour and go read this evidence-based article on female-on-female sexual harassment in schools before we continue.

Now that you’re back, I hope you can understand that despite the claims of new-wave feminist “experts”, toxic femininity is a real thing.

In my personal experience, my own career and self esteem – from primary school, right through to corporate life – have been far more shaped and damaged by female-on-female, sly, insidious, toxic femininity than by Weinsteen-esque #metoo sexual harassment or any other form of male-dominant toxic masculinity.

Toxic behaviour, according to current common wisdom is damaging to both the perpetrator and the the victim. Usually, the perpetrator acts out of some underlying reptilian emotion, such as fear, greed, lust… or jealously. This explains a lot. Including, for instance, why the victims of toxic femininity are usually the very same victims of toxic masculinity – young, attractive females.

Also by definition toxic behaviour is perpetrated by someone in a position of power over someone who holds less power or agency. Toxic femininity is exactly this – it is the pack of popular girls driving a less popular girl to suicide through relentless sexual and emotional harrasment on Snapchat . It is the older female manager undermining a young female colleague by spending rumours about the younger woman’s personal life (I have witnessed this on several occasions in the boardrooms I frequent. One girl I worked with was driven to a nervous breakdown and ended up moving countries to escape her harasser who was systematically sabotaging her career). It is the female boss who wears a skin-tight-see-through-lace-blouse-without-a-bra-on-underneath and then calls younger male employees into her office for private meetings… This is toxic femininity: Power. Jealousy. Control.

(Not so dissimilar to toxic masculinity is it now? – It’s just more emotional less obviously physical in effect.)

Sexual harassment in the work place is a real issue.  This post in no way excuses lecherous old (and not so old) men or the power games powerful men play with younger, more vulnerable women. Highlighting one issue in no way diminishes another. But that is simply not the topic I am writing about today. Enough articles and posts have been written about powerful men already. I have simply chosen to write about a similar, yet distinct, issue that is just as wide-spread, and just as devastating to the victims.

I would like to see a hashtag on toxic femininity trending too.

Hands up ladies. Be honest. Who has been sexually, verbally or emotionally harassed or blackmailed by women more powerful (in terms of money, position or social status) than yourself? Who had to put up with toxic femininity to get ahead in your career?





Blockchain of all the things

The blockchain is much more than “just” Bitcoin. Here are just three ways the future is about to get a lot more interesting thanks to this simple technology:

(FYI, Bitcoin itself, as in the currency, is a wonderful way to move your money around the world without a bank or Big Brother government sticking its nose in your businesses, but don’t let the exciting looking trading charts tempt you – it is also a very terrible investment unless you are a Flash Boy with a very big computer budget who knows exactly what you are doing. Basically, if trading Forex is your idea of an “investment” go ahead. Otherwise you might want to look into old-fashioned Bitcoin instead, otherwise known as “gold”. Disclaimer: This is just a common-sense observation, not professional financial advice. But seriously. Do not invest in anything you do not thoroughly understand.)

Anyway, the blockchain method of speedily and accurately recording and verifying ownership could put a whole lot of lawyers, bankers and other fat-adding-middle-men out of business. If you have purchased a property lately, you will know just how much of your money is wasted on those paper-producing middle men “verifying” your purchase).

Not only that, the blockchain, with its infinite memory and open access is about to make the mega-billion-rand public sector corruption “industry” (South Africans will know what I am talking about – but then again, all governments the world over are corrupt – they are staffed by career politicians after all) a lot more inconvenient for gravy train passengers. The blockchain sees everything. And it never forgets

And then we get to copyrights.  The blockchain could actually reverse the effects digitisation had on music and media piracy. By attributing ownership and distribution from source through every subsequent transaction or referral, blockchain technology means artists and writers can look forward to the day they will once again get credited for (and possibly even paid) for their own work.

And it doesn’t stop there. Blockchain technology even has the potential to monetise your attention – this means advertisers could pay YOU directly to watch their ads, rather than paying a publisher or search engine to serve you an ad. Now that’s a future I could be excited about. It’s about time us average-joes get to cash in on our own data.

That’s why, even if you are not an amateur trader, you should take some interest in the evolution of the blockchain.



What are they teaching you?

The South African government has just tabled a bill that will make home schooling your children much more difficult – and much, much more expensive.

For a start home-schooled scholars will become subject to annual state education assessments from state educators (which parents will have to pay extra for, of course). What is more, several of the most widely-used international home-schooling syllabuses will become “illegal”. In fact, the bill indicates that home schooling parents will be compelled to teach their children only the South African state syllabus – or face up to six years of jail time and see their children removed to foster homes – totalitarian much?

Like the South African state educational syllabus is doing so well – what with the amazing 44.8% real Matric pass rate and 36.6% youth unemployment rate it is producing right now. I can’t imagine why any parent would ever want to deviate from this proven path to future success.

The question is, why are governments so afraid of home schooling? They should be delighted – every home-schooled child is one less child the government (and the tax payer) has to support.

What are they so afraid of home-schooled children learning? Actual real world skills, taught by someone who loves them, rather than some unionised in-it-for-the-money public school teacher?

With the exponential pace of changing going on in our world, no slow-moving state education syllabus is ever going to prepare children to succeed in the future world of work. In the future (as in tomorrow) technological ability, entrepreneurship and critical thinking skills will be far more important than whatever parrot-learned, historically biased information the government thinks children should and should not know. South African state schools do not teach coding at primary school level, as is becoming common in Europe. South African state schools do not even teach maths properly (unless a 20% “pass mark” “pass mark” is your idea of teaching Maths “properly”. World class that. World class.).

South Africa needs to wake up or get left behind, again.

My take is that the government wants to equalise education down to the lowest common denominator – the low, low standard of state education.

At least that will be “fair” right?


Somebody’s watching you…

If it feels like somebody is watching you, well, it’s because they are.

Who is this somebody?

Pretty much anybody who wants to, that’s who:


Your insurance company and medical aid have already sold you respectively on the “benefits” of letting them track your driving habits, through your cellphone insurance app, and your lifestyle habits through your “free” Fitbit biometric monitor bracelet.

Drunk uncle

Then, last year we were all delighted to find out about the Russian app that let strangers unlock your entire digital identity from any photo of you they find of you online or take of you in real life. Lovely stuff. And you thought your privacy was “safe” because your Facebook profile is set to “private”. Lol.

However, it is not just stingy insurers and creepy-stalker-ex-boyfriends you should be concerned about…

Big brother

Now Big Brother has cottoned on to the awesome population-controling ability of Big Data.

Governments around the world are building databases full of little tiny pieces of you and me.

China’s government, of course, has gone full-science fiction with its new (soon to be mandatory) “Social Credit System”. The SCS will give every one of its citizens a SCORE (aka a value to the state) based on the Big Data the Chinese government has been studiously collecting on its citizens for the past few decades. (The Chinese Big Data database already includes the facial recognition of over billion faces, DND samples from over 40 million people and a new super-cool voice-recognition programme. Nothing serious.)

Scores will be calculated based on online activity, biometric data, spending patterns and the like. Better scores will, of course, come with social benefits.

Now, let’s link the lovely little idea of a Social Score with the other lovely little idea of Universal Basic Income. Imagine a world where your livelihood is tied to your state-marketed social score. What could go wrong?

Orwell, eat your heart out. We’re doing better than you ever imagined.

Is Elon Musk a Luddite?

It appears academia is split. The brightest minds of our time cannot agree whether Artificial Intelligence is the best thing to happen to humanity yet – or our worst nightmare.

Mark Zuckerberg from Facebook is on the pro AI team. He is exacted about all the cool technology we will soon be playing with. Yey! The robots can do all the work we don’t want to do – and Bill Gates suggests we can even make them pay taxes, which we can use pay us all a UBI. Cool.

Elon Musk of Paypal, and Tesla and, what I like to call, “the foremost Mars holiday tours company” is on the anti-AI team. He thinks the only way for humans to survive in an AI-run world will be for us all to become cyborgs, through implanting computer chips in our brains. Sounds amazing.

Who is right? Who knows. In the mean time, watch this.

The pretty little humanoid robot called Sophie (the one who once amicably told her creator “OK, I will destroy humanity”) has just been granted citizenship in Saudia Arabia. (Let’s hope for her sake that Saudi gave her the citizenship rights of a male Saudi citizen, rather than a female one. We’re still going to figure out the whole gender assignment thing when it comes to robots. As if gender isn’t confusing enough already for actual human-humans. Or human rights. Or humanoid robot rights. Wow. What are we getting ourselves into.)

Not creepy. At. All.

Politicians and Pastors

They’re all the same, politicians and pastors.

Both groups pay themselves large salaries to fund lifestyles, far above what their tax payers / tithe paying congregants could ever hope to achieve.

Are pastors any better than the kleptocratic governments they lament when they spend the tithes they collect on private schooling for their offspring while their tithe payers can’t afford school shoes for their own? Or to pay for the bonds on their upmarket townhouses, while their congregants shelter from the summer thunderstorms in tin shacks? Or to pay for annual “pilgrimage tours” to Israel (the spiritual home of their religion) or America (the spiritual home of their economic philosophy) when the people who fund their lifestyle through their weekly offerings have never seen the sea?*
(*All real-life observations.)

At least with politicians, sane people know what they are getting – after all, no-one with a moral compass ever wanted to have power and control over another human being. That implies that all the candidates who voluntarily stand for election are “questionable” at best. Also, living in a democracy we have to accept the fact that politicians, elected by the largely uninformed (yes, even in the most developed countries, the less well educated, less well informed are in the majority, which explains a lot about politics) majority, are a fact of life. As is the fact that we have to pay those same politicians taxes, under certain knowledge that our money will be spent on things we do not want or need, whether we like it or not. That’s the price we pay for “civilisation”.

We do, however, have a choice when it comes to religious leaders. They are optional. As are their expense accounts. Choose wisely.

(And perhaps can we all try a bit harder when it comes to the politicians we pick too? I’m pretty sure the current bunch of world leaders are not the very best Earth has to offer.)

Universal Basic Income – a Quick Thought

One of the most important rapidly advancing trends of our time is that of Universal Basic Income (UBI).

The utopian idea behind Universal Basic Income is intoxicating: every human gets a “free” living wage paid to them by the state. The rational behind the idea is similarly palatable; as Artificial Intelligence (AI) becomes more and more advanced, capital will flow to an increasingly small number of capital (read robot) owners, while the majority of mere human workers will themselves virtually unemployable as their robo-colleagues become exponentially smarter and cheaper with every passing day.  Universal Basic Income solves the pending global unemployment crisis and gives pretty much everyone the rest of their lives off, free to pressure the arts or whatever other self-actualising activities they choose (unless of course, they chose to try to become part of the ever-diminishing, ever more rich and powerful capital class that funds the whole set up).

Sounds great! Sign me up for the free money! What could possibly go wrong?

Well, um, I hate to be a downer, but I seem to recall Ayn Rand and George Orwell had a few ideas that might be worth looking right about now…

Humans of Earth, it would be wise to remember that there is no such thing as a free lunch.