Smart marketers have been successfully using children as persuasive drivers of demand under the garb of ‘pester power’, where the emotional ability to influence the adult is vital for converting desire to action. It is now time to align children as co-creators of brand development from the lens of sustainability, both for the individual and the community. As primary stakeholders of Planet Earth with a life expectancy far exceeding the empowered adults, their opinion must be counted at a primary level. Progressive corporations must make a telling start by establishing the ‘Children’s Brand Council’, consisting of children, as a key endorser of board decisions.
Every day we read newer accounts of how established products are under the scrutiny of wellness and environment regulators. The usual enemies such as tobacco and liquor have been clearly relegated to the background by some very unusual suspects. Potato chips with trans-fats are deemed to be equally dangerous while processed meats are in the same vulnerable category. Even farmed fish, as opposed to wild fish, is considered dangerous due to the infusion of dangerous chemicals and antibiotics. Very soon, it is inevitable that over-zealous scientific lobbies will discover the evil in all that is produced for the masses. Due to the laws of commerce and time-lag in verifying the negatives, it is likely that the difficult truth about some of these products will be established after decades of consumption. By which time an entire generation of children would have been brought up on a steady diet of potentially life-threatening substances thanks to decisions taken by senior adults with limited stake on the future.
What is true for consumer products is equally true for large-scale development projects as well. The greenery in our surrounds is being rapidly replaced by concrete construction and malls, arguably as key indicators of growth and development. The key choice is being exercised by people well into their 50s and 60s with scant consideration for the impact in 50 years, when the child of five will be their age. It must be noted that the momentum to convert petrol and diesel vehicles to electric power is a function of the impact of pollution at the present moment. Since the senior societal stakeholders are suffering directly, such a dramatic call is considered necessary as it affects us in our lifetimes. Such considerations do not affect the rampant endorsement of deforestation in the hills for alibi of tourism, as apart from manageable temperature change, not much else seems affected. The simple point at large being that, decisions that critically affect the environment are being taken by citizens who have no personal or generational stake in the future. That is why the ‘Children’s Brand Council’ must feature in every infrastructure outcome as well.
What also gives strength to the viability of such an idea is the evolved role of young adults in acting as responsible and dynamic leaders. What started at 18 is now starting at eight with progressive curriculum enthusing them to wear hats far more mature than their resume age. In schools and communities, initiatives for change are often being powered by this segment and pursued to their relentless conclusion. A function perhaps of the lack of cynicism marks this age-group unlike their more battle-worn earlier generations. As an outcome of education and awareness they are deeply conscious of what is good or bad, from a personal and environmental perspective, and can be trusted to act as per available evidence. Equally, they have the undisputed proven ability to co-opt adults to a path of sustainable responsible behaviour as is proven both anecdotally and by recorded evidence. Thus, paving the path to give ‘pester power’ a far more meaningful dimension, forcing adults to be responsible than being simply indulgent.
As mentioned earlier, the ‘Children’s Brand Council’ is poised to kick off at both an institutional and an organisational level. The members will be recruited from a diverse cross-section of promising students with the proven ability to act with maturity and imagination, perhaps co-opting a government forum like mygov.in to formulate a nation-wide enrolment programme in partnership with industry bodies like CII. They will be trained for the task by a panel of mentors, who will align them to the core task of the council on a simple grading system of red, amber and green like traffic signals, to give a collective assessment of every product and initiative that is being evaluated. From the simple but critical perspective of sustainable well-being, from the view of society and the individual, this information, in the form of the CBC Ratings, will be publicly circulated on digital media and made accessible to both adult and child. Over time, the CBC ratings must appear on product packaging like the FSSAI stamp and feature prominently in public and private infrastructure projects as well. While this is designed to be self-regulatory in nature, like the ASCI code of Advertising, it is expected that responsible business owners will be sensitive to their recommendations, eventually making a conscious attempt, through technology and innovation, to upgrade the red to amber and the amber to green.
Operationally, the CBC or the ‘Children’s Brand Council’ will work as a point-in-time review as well as a regular standing practice for new actions. Imagine at the very outset a large corporation inviting members to participate in a review of the brands on offer with a voluntary disclosure on proven dangers. So, a brand of potato chips must come forth with the ills of trans-fat and possibly how an imminent development in knowhow can help balance fun and good health, or perhaps how regular consumption of packaged treats in measured tandem with vegetables can become the winning formula for continued usage. The council will evaluate the brands purely from the perspective of sustainability, from the view of the individual’s health and the environment at large. For developmental projects, including townships, the assessment will be made basis the assessed impact on the future of Planet Earth for a reasonable medium-term perspective. So, if a luxury housing project in Nainital means that the green cover will dangerously shrink in 20 years leading to drastic temperature rise, the CBC rating will certainly be red. As mentioned earlier, this will not become a regulatory practice in a hurry but certainly worthwhile as a keeper of the conscience.
A forum as such will also have a valuable impact on technology-enabled services and applications as well and their impact on environment more appropriate from a cultural perspective and often less from a physical environmental impact. So, while Uber and Ola may score highly in terms of overall oil savings, the over-working of the drivers may actually be considered an unsafe business practice, leading to short-term mortality. Equally, an opinion on governmental actions will be a valuable form of feedback while NGOs, under increasing media scrutiny, will benefit from this practice. Content at large, in all traditional and modern formats, may find meaning for such opinion as well.
At a first glance, the ‘Children’s Brand Council’ with the CBC Ratings may seem an idea that is ahead of its time or unfriendly to business. Marketers would be wary of exposing their fare to greater scrutiny than already exists in the rampant social media world. However, in an increasingly transparent business environment, proactive self-regulation is way more profitable than the reaction to a sudden external revelation. Building a business model with sustainability at its core, with regard to portfolio and thus the P&L, is a process that will be hastened by the organised influence of children. As an added perk, the organisation that acts as such will be considered to be a modern corporate citizen, scoring valuable perception brownies in the process. Those who still doubt the maturity of young adults as responsible facilitators must cast their exposure net far wider to assuage their unfounded doubts.
Al Gore had famously implied that our sensitivity to the environment increases when we realise that the wrongs of today will affect us in our own lifetime, which is exactly not the case with board room decisions decreed by individuals with limited shelf life in the planet. The CBC ratings of the ‘Children’s Brand Council’ can become a valuable ally for management, including elements of corrective action as well as enhanced adoption, acting initially as a keeper of conscience with the powerful opportunity of actually becoming a driver for growth.
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