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At least that was the verdict from "Brands in Smart Cities – Get Good or Die Trying" hosted by media owner Primesight at this year's Mindshare Huddle, and including panellists from future tech company Pavegen, advertising technology company Intersection and Unilever (who surely need no introduction).
Setting the scene, Primesight's Joel Harris spoke of an 18-month study by Noreena Hertz (who, amongst other things predicted the 2008 financial crisis in her book IOU: The Debt Threat) of 14-21 year-olds that found only 6% trust corporations to do the right thing.
Combine that with findings from the Boston Consulting Group's 2015 European study that show responsible consumption brands have now overtaken "conventional" brands in terms of growth rate and command a higher price point and you get a picture of where the future lies for brands.
So what does doing good and our changing society have to do with smart cities? For Dave Etherington at Intersection, smart cities are all about 'making life in cities much easier for everyone regardless of their economic background', which will be increasingly important as the world’s urban population moves from 54% in 2014 to over two thirds by 2050. Archie Wilkinson sees a huge behaviour shift ahead as consumers could be rewarded for walking – and using Pavegen tiles to power the city around them – rather than driving. And it won't just be data on individuals that will power a shift in doing good – data available to governments through technology from providers such as Intersection will allow the public and the city infrastructure to adapt according to noise pollution, traffic and weather conditions, improving efficiencies and quality of life for everyone.
Smart cities present brands with the opportunity to succeed in doing good, as in the case of Santander in London and Citi Bank in New York, who, as Dave explained are already working hard to change cityscapes.
Have brands been slow to adapt to this new reality? After all, in the YouGov poll's top 10 brands of 2016 amongst 16-24 year olds, only one legacy brand made the cut. But for the panel it's not that simple. For starters, the panellists agreed it isn't just up to brands to take a lead on this – media owners and governments need to drive the change and give brands who show willing the opportunity to do good in the right areas.
Archie introduced the theme of the "3 Ps", now widely discussed by businesses and "intrapreneurs" looking to do good: the pressure is on for companies to balance profit, people and planet which will lead to increased investment in innovation-for-good – if we can all help them find an outlet for that investment. As Unilever's Rob Ellison put it 'it's not good enough to do less bad' – under Paul Polman's leadership the global corporation closed its CSR department, recognising that true change cannot be siloed.
Further, as Rob Ellison pointed out, the companies who are doing good aren't shouting about it enough – for example Unilever developing sustainable compressed deodorant cans (and sharing the technology with rivals because doing good isn't just about the bottom line) and their brownie sourcing for Ben & Jerry's which exclusively uses one New York manufacturer, a not-for-profit employing people who find it difficult to work in traditional environments.
Just yesterday a brief arrived on Rob's desk, tasking his department (marketing and communications) to drive core objectives from Unilever's USLP (Sustainable Living Plan), setting media owners (like Primesight) the challenge to develop the most energy efficient outdoor advertising they can 'It's not any one person's responsibility. No matter what area you work in you can make a difference.'
What other future developments got the panel excited? Archie spoke about Tesla's energy provisions coming full circle, with solar roofs on your home generating electricity that powers your car, which is just a drop in the ocean when compared with Nissan's investments in energy storage. Not to mention Watly, developing technology to power whole cities and purify up to 3 million litres of water per year – allowing developing countries to leapfrog the technological journey and avoid expensive infrastructure countries like ours have already experienced.
In LA recently, panellist Dave noted that 'every other car was a Tesla, which is a really hopeful sign of the future.'