Monday, March 19, 2012


Like many guys my age, I spent some time in my mid- to late-teens absorbed in a computer game called Syndicate. Set in the future, the premise behind it was that, with nation states no longer in existence, faceless corporations had achieved world domination, and controlled vast swathes of the globe using mind control and, where necessary, heavily-armed cyborgs in trenchcoats.

It was announced recently that Syndicate is being remade and updated for the twenty-first century gamer. This coincides with the news that Peter Molyneaux, former top geek at Bullfrog, the company behind the original, is leaving Microsoft to pursue his latest venture. Giddy with nostalgic glee at the memories these blasts from the past stirred within me, I found myself pondering whether we are closer, twenty years on, to the reality depicted in Syndicate, in this technologically-augmented age.

The nation state remains very much with us of course. But faceless, manipulative corporations? One notable trend that runs counter to this fear is the rise to prominence of the corporate brand. Unilever is one that is particularly notable, always aligning the corporate entity with the brand or product, from Lynx to Hellmans. I noticed on the latest Dulux TV ad that Akzo Nobel has followed suit.

It is an interesting move, reflecting a general shift towards accountability in the post-Enron era. Does it make a difference to consumer purchase decisions? Is the Lynx effect stronger for the association with Unilever? Possibly, but also it reflects the importance of reputation to the investors and shareholders to whom those at the top of these businesses ultimately report. To echo recent comments by Paul Polman, Unilever's top man, about how fragile brand constructs look in the wake of the Arab Spring (and, by the by, isn't Vodeafone's "Power To You" slogan just a tad ironic given what happened to them in Egypt?) a bad rep can wipe out a company's share price (look what happened to BP). This can very quickly send the Masters of the Universe to the dole queue (again, look what happened to BP).

There are still plenty of shady corporate entities about of course - but this growing trend towards bringing them into the glare of public scrutiny augurs well for a future where they are at least less obscure. And hopefully less likely to send trenchcoated cyborgs to enforce their KPIs.


At 1:10 PM GMT , Anonymous Claire Duggan said...

Diageo have been doing it for years I note that the Diageo branding is often more associated with their responsible drinking messages


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