Convergence and divergence

Originally posted as A Different Hat, Nov 13 2009, 01:59 PM

Two decades ago, I was privileged to attend a conference in Bangkok where the Key Note Speaker was the CEO of a major American Bank. He may even have been The President. Certainly, he was very important. He had a bodyguard and he arrived in his Bank’s private plane (as it was private, he probably kept it for himself).

His thesis was that ‘Over time, convergence is more likely than divergence’. In other words, all of us would grow closer together – culturally, educationally, religiously, morally, in every way.

I thought this was really clever. The Asian markets were booming, Vietnam was opening up and curious. And certainly there was much more regional awareness. Asian countries knew much more about what was happening in their region than we did in Europe. Above all, there was massive demand for ‘international’ products and brands.

Two weeks ago, I read ‘A Week in December’ by Sebastian Faulks. Set in modern-day Britain, the book exposes a society that couldn’t be more polarised – culturally, educationally, religiously or morally, in every way.

So what are the media and marketing industries doing to help overcome this divergence?

After all, every year a select few of the cream of British youth yearn for jobs in marketing and advertising – and they learn how to communicate vital messages to the consumer population.

Hardly surprisingly, in a competitive world, these messages are designed to divide rather than unite – brand v brand, service v service, product v product, Pepsi v Coke for pity’s sake. We create USP’s which are, by definition, unique. They are different.

Now, just look at the divergent tabs along the top of the Brand Republic Home Page – advertising, creative, design, digital, direct marketing, market research, marketing, media, public relations and sales promotion.

With all this skill and expertise and amazing creative talent, can’t we bring these divergent specialisms together to communicate the things that we all agree on and that should, but don’t, bind us – right and wrong, the importance of education, respect for others, ‘do as you would be done by’, tolerance, kindness, freedom?

Only this week, at the Berlin Wall, Angela Merkel talked about “the incredible gift of freedom”.

So, who is working to help our communities converge rather than diverge? The only person I can think of at the moment is Nick Griffin.

It certainly is not the ‘main’ political parties. Over the next few months, they are going to be electioneering at us. They’ll be dressing up in red and yellow and blue and green. What a great party it is all going to be.

The trouble is that at the end of it all, whoever wins, we will have endured months of these people telling us how much they can change things and how DIFFERENT they are (they had better be).

Talking of colourful people, I once (and only once) attended the Annual NABS Boxing Dinner. A worthy charity to be sure, but this was one sick evening. We all dressed up in our finest and converged to watch some impoverished kids beat the hell out of each other while the media glitterati drank their brandy, smoked their cigars and cheered the lads on. If you were sitting close enough to the ring, you got splattered with blood.

And then, just to ram home the difference between the rich and the poor, a bidding war started between the clients and agencies for the free space various media channels had put up for grabs. Hundreds of thousands of pounds were raised. A bloody fortune.

Thankfully, and inevitably, NABS moved on to newer, more tasteful events. But, without running off with NABS’ main income stream, can’t this fund-raising principle be applied to society on a wider level?

On 26 October, Warren Buffet said on the BBC: “Most of the rich people in the United States, and probably in the UK too, would not have done quite as well as if they had lived in Bangladesh or some place like that. They may think they did it all by themselves but society has done an awful lot for them. And if you get the chance to live very rich in society then you ought to have a taxation system and a personal value system where you believe that a lot of that ought to go back to the people who got the short straws in life”.

And John Freeman, the editor of Granta magazine, has recognised that the technology designed to bring us together is driving us apart. Surely this new technology, which all of us are using as communications tools, will have freed up more ‘spare media space’ than ever?

So in this divergent world, can’t we, as a business sector, including clients and agencies, be more creative about using our talents and resources to define and create messaging which might help overcome the divisions in the society we live in?

From time to time in the trade press, I have seen hypothetical lists of ‘teams of all the talents’.

Why can’t we do this for real and bring our resources and our skills together to communicate the importance of the values that UNITE us?

Wouldn’t this be a great brief?

About Hugh Salmon

Business leader. Adman. Writer.
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