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Afdhel Aziz – Author of Good is the New Cool

Let's kick off the course by interviewing Afdhel Aziz, Purpose guru and author of Good is the New Cool.
-To kick off our course, I’m going to speak with Afdhel Aziz. Afdhel is the co-author of the book Good Is The New Cool. A book that is compulsory reading for the Good-Loop team, and a book that frames purpose within an exciting and enduring cultural context. My first question for Afdhel. We have price, place, promotion, and product, the four fundamental Ps of marketing, and Afdhel has called purpose the fifth P. Let’s start with a simple question. What is purpose? -The definition of purpose that we use all the time is a higher road or reason for a brand or a company to exist, more than just making money.
Instead of a company saying, “We are here to make $4.5 million in EBITDA by 2019,” it’s somebody thinking through that and replacing and saying, “No. The reason we are here is to improve society in this way, and then that’s how we can actually generate the profitability of the company as well.” It’s really about replacing the focus of the company from just on quarterly returns and shareholder value and putting purpose in service of making those profits as well. Another way to think about it is, if you think about all the different places inside a company where good happens. You’ve had corporate social responsibility or CSR. You’ve had sustainability, which is about the environmental impact the company is making.
You’ve also had cause marketing. If you think about all of these things, it’s almost being like strands in a rope. These different things that were circling different parts of the company are being woven together into this thicker rope called purpose if you will, but it’s also about going beyond those traditional definitions of corporate social responsibility, et cetera. The way I think about a purpose-driven company is one that is not only creating products and services that do no harm but actually also do some good in the world as well. It’s really by putting that idea at the core of your business model, making it not something that’s adjacent, but really saying, “We are in business to help the world.”
Like Tesla has done in cars or Patagonia has done in fashion. That is really what difference [?] Purpose driven company from one that is just experimenting with it as well. -With Greta Thunberg, a 15-year-old Swedish schoolgirl being treated like a rock star on global stages, it’s fair to say that social impact and social activism has become part of the mainstream. Can you talk a little about the cultural context that means today good is the new cool? -It’s important to just unpack that term “good is the new cool” a little bit.
When we wrote the book, what we were trying to say was that today brands have to learn how to use good like they learned how to use the power of cool. In other words that they’ll have a set of muscles around finding ways to positively impact people and the planet much the same way that they learned to use the power of pop culture and storytelling anesthetics. It’s a new skill set that they need to learn. Secondly, as you pointed out in the Greta example, doing good has become its own form of cool. What Greta does is cool. It’s as cool as a rock star or a movie star. What Malala does is cool in and of its own right.
That’s something else we noticed, that doing good had become its own form of cool as well. It doesn’t mean that that’s a trend, by the way. It’s important to point out that we don’t think this is ephemeral, we don’t think this is coming and going. We think that this is here to stay. We think that there is a fundamental shift in the values of humanity. Especially with millennials and Gen Z, you’re seeing two generations of young people and not-so-young people, in the case of millennials, start to say, “We want to vote with our wallets. We want to vote with our conscience about the kind of world we want to live in.
We want our lifestyle to be our activism, it’s not just about protesting on the streets. It’s really about thinking conscientiously and consciously about all the different things that we consume in our lives, and making sure that we’re spending it in a way that is in line with our values as well.” -Both of us have seen firsthand the value that social responsibility builds in the brands we work with and the businesses that we’ve formed. Can you talk a little bit about the commercial opportunity behind purpose? -I’ll answer that in two different ways. One is that if you look at the total amount of non profit donations that occur in the United States here, it’s $400 billion a year.
That pales into insignificance against the hundreds of trillions of dollars that are spent on commerce. If we could take just 1% of that trillions of dollars and convert it into doing good, that is a huge shift in the ecosystem around business as a force for good. The opportunity on a macro level is really summed up by I found this incredible approach to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The upside of achieving all of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which are some of the biggest problems on the planet whether that’s water or education or equal justice, the upside is in the 20 trillion plus range.
For corporations, there’s this great quote, “The world’s biggest business problems are the world’s biggest business opportunities.” Problems are goldmines for companies who want to get out there and help the world solve as well. On a more company level, a great example I always use is what Adidas did with the Ocean Plastic sneakers. Three years ago they announced a collaboration with Parley for the Oceans, and they created a sneaker made out of Ocean Plastic. I have several pairs with them in my house here in LA. They’re now selling 11 million pairs of these sneakers made out of trash a year.
Each sneaker is roughly $225 million, which means that they’re generating more than $2 billion of revenue every year by taking one of the world’s biggest problems, which is trash and ocean plastic, and turning them into products which people buy. The more products they buy, the more trash they pull out, the more profit it generates for Adidas. Which is why they’re now branching out into Ocean Plastic apparel and have vowed to strip out all the virgin plastic from their supply chain by 2024. Hopefully, that gives you a good idea of how profitable this can be if companies really applied their focus on solving some of the world’s problems.
-Finally, in your book, you advise that once a brand has found its purpose, a key next step is to identify allies. The NGOs that bring expertise, the celebrities who bring influence. Can you give an example of a brand that has done this really well? -Yes. What we talked about in the book was really saying the most optimum partnership that you create for doing good was when a brand collaborated with a nonprofit and a culture creator, which could be a celebrity or an influencer, somebody working in fashion or film or music, somebody who used the power of cool.
If the three of those entities could find common purpose or shared purpose in solving a problem in the world, that could lead to some great things happening. My favorite example recently has been Lyft, the rideshare company, and the work that they did partnering up with celebrities like Chance the Rapper in Chicago. There are some great videos online if you want to go check it out. They created this thing called Undercover Lyft, where Chance got disguised up and hid his features and drove people around, asking them questions about how much they love Chance the Rapper.
They did it really all to promote this feature called Round Up & Donate, which allows Lyft riders to donate the difference in their fares to the cause of their choice. Chance has SocialWorks, which is an incredible nonprofit that he started in Chicago to help kids in the Chicago public schools area. It was a great win-win situation. You had the brand, you had the celebrity, and you had the nonprofit, and all of this was really generating more money for young people in the arts and culture as well. Hopefully, that gives you a good idea of how a branded nonprofit and a culture creator can work together.

Let’s kick off the course by interviewing Afdhel Aziz, Purpose guru and author of Good is the New Cool. We chatted about what Purpose actually is and why it’s a fundamental pillar of marketing.

Do you agree with Afdhel’s statement that there has been “a fundamental shift in the values of society”?

It’s interesting that Afdhel highlighted the difference between what Gen Z and Millennials expect from their brands in comparison to older generations. Do you agree? Do you think Purpose plays a different role for different types of consumers?

Discuss in the comments section below.

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