Everything You Want: Understanding Consumers, Brands & Communications

Traci Warrington (Associate Professor of Marketing, Salve Regina University, Newport, Rhode Island, USA)

Journal of Consumer Marketing

ISSN: 0736-3761

Article publication date: 1 June 2004




Warrington, T. (2004), "Everything You Want: Understanding Consumers, Brands & Communications", Journal of Consumer Marketing, Vol. 21 No. 4, pp. 286-287. https://doi.org/10.1108/07363760410542219



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Everything You Want: Understanding Consumers, Brands & Communications is an interesting look at the role of social marketing in today's branding strategies. As Wood and Allan put it, the book is an attempt to “bridge the gap between consumer fact … and brand fiction” (p. 1).

After an extensive review of the history of shopping and consumerism, Wood and Allan make a case for the integration of social and ethical responsibility in the development of a brand and its marketing efforts. They look at branding issues, copywriting, and advertising, and study The Big Issue as an example of a social brand to which consumers have responded. The book is divided into the following five sections:

  1. 1.

    Making friends with Frankenstein: how to be a consumer.

  2. 2.

    Unwrapping the wrapper: the rise and fall of the brand.

  3. 3.

    A brand new world: meaning, ethics, and politics.

  4. 4.

    New communications: writing copy.

  5. 5.

    A brand new solution.

Wood and Allan argue that new brands need to tell the truth, widen their social appeals, and practice real morals. Consumers are so disbelieving of advertising that the truth will break through. In the section “The rise and fall of the brand”, the authors take an interesting look at the role that politics is playing in consumer perceptions of a brand. In particular, Wood and Allan discuss their anticipated response to political fallout over recent events in the USA following September 11, 2001:

… if the US becomes more isolationist and aggressive, those brands that trade heavily on their “Americanness” may find their sales declining. The great US brands may decide that there is no point wrapping themselves in a flag that has become a symbol of insecurity, self‐absorption, ignorance and misdirected violence (p. 74).

The importance of brand associations in the development of consumer perceptions is highlighted, whether those associations are political, environmental, social, corporate, or other.

The authors propose that consumer perceptions of brands are based in part on the ethical behavior of the corporate entity.

The ethical challenge facing brand marketers is twofold; the first is to devise marketing communication aimed at consumers who are already in the “ethical” category, i.e. those who feel strongly about social and environmental issues and want to express their beliefs in their purchase decisions. The second challenge is to develop a brand strategy for companies looking to counter reputational risk by appearing to be socially or environmentally responsible to the market at large (p. 101).

This social element needs to be part of the fabric of the business. More that just a marketing slogan or campaign, this attitude toward social responsibility must permeate the organization: its brands, its policies, and its employees. The actions of the organization must support that social responsiveness and prove to consumers that the organization is indeed committed to social responsibility:

If ethical behavior is to mean anything at all, it shouldn't be an add‐on, or afterthought, but rather an integral part of the business offer to consumers, staff, and shareholders … To be effective in using its ethical credentials for marketing, a business needs to stand for something and live up to it (p. 112).

In discussing “A brand new solution” in the final chapter of the book, the authors note that organizations need to determine which ethical or social values are most important to their consumer. After all, it is the consumer's perception and overall attitude toward a brand that the organization is working to shape.

Social brands focus on being more real, more useful, more human, more concerned with real meaning and values than bogus, meaning‐lite, pseudo values that only represent a quest for the euphemism for profit at any cost – “shareholder value”. Social brands look at how they can interact with our sense of self‐worth as individuals, rather than imposing on us their own specious idea of who we are and who we wannabe (p. 164).

Management's role is to determine which social causes should be supported in order to develop the most effective brand for the target consumer.

Everything You Want is an interesting springboard for discussion of marketing ethics and social responsibility – particularly as it relates to the role that brands and organizations should play in society. In addition, the broader scope of marketing's role in society can be debated.

Apart perhaps from management, marketing is probably the least credible of all the social sciences, yet it is one of the most influential forces in our lives … It is received by millions every day, and while it can be creative, stimulating and brilliant, much of it is just crass, invasive and dumb (p.45).

Marketers and consumers should enjoy this novel approach to exploring branding strategy and consumer perceptions. Wood and Allan demonstrate the support that consumers have for marketers with a social conscience through a number of (mostly English) brand examples throughout the book.

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