The truth is back in fashion and flirting with loo roll
There are important marketing insights as to why ‘Don’t Look Up’ is apparently popular while failing to win over critics. Meanwhile, are we about to see a tipping point with how consumers buy everyday products like toilet paper?
Over the holidays I watched the film Don’t Look Up because it was recommended to me. Starring Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio, the film has recorded the biggest week of views in Netflix history, with more than 152 million hours streamed in the first week of 2022. By its second week it had entered Netflixʼs ‘most watched films of all time’, hitting Number Three after just eleven days of availability.
When I watched it, I didn’t know the film had been almost universally panned by the critics. And that got me thinking.
People love a good story
It is never easy to anticipate what will cut through, but the critics certainly misjudged the extent to which this film would captivate the general public. I hope I don’t spoil the film for anyone who hasn’t seen it by revealing that it is about a huge comet heading towards Earth.
There is a contest for attention between the scientists who are armed with the facts, and the politicians who are armed with wishful thinking. We observe how the world reacts. Using dark humour, we witness scientists, who are not media savvy, struggling to get the truth out in the face a corrupted media and populist politicians.
The truth is back in business
If the dynamic of ‘experts versus the popular view’ already sounds spookily familiar, perhaps that is one of the reasons this story is hitting home.
The high audience figures may be a sign that understanding facts and veracity is coming back into fashion.
We can already see chickens coming home to roost at 10 Downing Street as to how many times you can get away with being ‘economical with the truth’. Particularly when the media is prepared to perform its role as the Fourth Estate.
The power of a simple metaphor
The comet, of course, is a metaphor for the Climate Emergency. The simplicity of this device is the genius of the film. Evidencing a complex subject like climate change has been a difficult exercise in the face of a sceptical public with a short attention span.
The science has been both hard for people to grasp and easy to undermine. Whereas the straightforward threat of a huge rock hurtling through space towards earth is a concept simple enough to get your head around.
We believe history repeats itself
What’s more, a large celestial object hitting our planet with devastating effect has happened before. One landed with such force that the impact changed the whole ecosystem forever and wiped-out dinosaurs, the dominant species of that era. We have been to museums and seen their fossils, so we know it’s true.
We also accept that scientists would be able to calculate the moment that such a space rock would impact the earth precisely. So straight away the credibility of the idea is established.
We can face it because ‘it’s only a movie’
Once the problem statement is irrefutable, the story can focus on the way people respond.
As we watch the film we can groan with recognition at the absurdity of people’s behaviour in the face of this existential threat. The film’s use of black humour allows us to stand back and observe the power dynamics play out with startling clarity.
And how ridiculous and desperate it all seems. Except, when the film ends, the story lives with you.
As you watch the news and listen to the discussions (or absence of them) on matters relating to our climate change there is an echo back to the movie.
Brands should be inspired to be as bold
It made me wonder what brands should take away from this success story. Any of us would jump at the chance to get 150 million hours of people’s attention in 11 days.
If you agree with me that most of the people who watch this film will subsequently listen a bit more carefully to climate activists, what does that mean for brands?
It seems to me that the cry of ‘don’t look up’, so you don’t see the truth, is not one that any sensible brand should be imitating. It’s not what most people want. They are increasingly in the mood for the truth. We need to gear up for that scrutiny.
Tackling everyday concerns with bamboo
Recently I have found myself increasingly interested in bamboo loo paper. When we first went into lockdowns across the world it was striking how important toilet paper was to everyone.
The world was united with worry. And we all understand why. The lack of it is something we would notice many times across the day. A potential indignity too far for most of us.
I have learnt that bamboo is the fastest-growing plant in the world and can grow up to 35 inches per day or 1.5 inches per hour! Because it grows so quickly, bamboo can be replenished immediately after being used.
The fact that it’s both soft and strong, as well as highly renewable, makes bamboo a brilliant material for loo paper.
Persuading people to pay more
Apparently approximately 27,000 trees are cut down every day just to make toilet paper. What’s more as there aren’t enough trees (or people available to plant them) to meet existing government planting targets, it seems like a good idea to stop chopping down the ones we already have.
Even if growing the replacement, bamboo, is more expensive. From a policy intervention point of view, a bit like the 5p levy on plastic bags where we encourage people to pay a bit more to do the right thing, I reckon loo paper might be one of the next good cases for ‘change to the everyday’ to make.
Sacrificing a much-loved brand
For as long as I have bought my own loo paper, I’ve been committed to the Andrex brand owned by Kimberley Clark.
I loved the advertising and the product. I was certainly prepared to pay more for such luxurious softness. It has simply never occurred to me to buy anything else.
Although Andrex launched an ‘Eco’ product in 2011, with 10% bamboo, it was discontinued a few years later. So, I simply can’t switch to bamboo and stay with my beloved Andrex brand. I am forced to think the unthinkable.
Flirting with new brands
There has been an explosion of new brands in the emerging ‘bamboo’ toilet tissue sector. With great names like Cheeky Panda, Bamboo Bobbi, Naked Sprout and Who gives a crap, they can all proclaim their challenger credentials of being made from 100% bamboo.
With no legacy supply chain, manufacturing assets, established distribution or pricing to change it’s easier for them to pursue this sustainable product proposition than the traditional incumbent brands.
There must surely come a moment when this rapidly growing sector reaches a tipping point making a wholesale change to bamboo ingredients inevitable. But in the meantime, the time has come to try something new.
No more excuses
Part of consuming more thoughtfully and responsibility means not only sacrificing our beloved brands but also being prepared to pay more for everyday items.
Those of us who can afford to do so are running out of excuses not to change when presented with sustainable alternatives. It’s time to pay more for loo paper once again, not for unrivalled softness and ads with cute puppies, but to stop chopping down any more trees.
I am now the proud owner of a trial pack of four rolls of Cheeky Panda. Decades of brand loyalty switched off in a moment. An easy choice when the fate of the planet is at stake.
But the truth is: we want our brands to do the right thing, so we don’t have to switch. I would have paid even more for Andrex 100% bamboo loo paper.
Jan Gooding is one of the UK’s best-known brand marketers, having worked with BT, British Gas, Diageo, Unilever and Aviva. She is also chair of PAMCo, Given (London) and LGBT equality charity Stonewall. She writes for Mediatel News each month.
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