Caught red-handed, doing the right thing

20th July 2014

I have spent most of a week in San Francisco, that cradle of relaxed inventiveness, talking with young men about their lives and their relationship with premium brands.

In our world of marketing, one is served by curiosity: exactly how is it to be in your shoes, and not mine? It is a privilege of our work that we get to understand the world better in the process of crafting brands and solving problems.

If there was a meta-theme from all of the conversations and side-bars this week, it is this: integrity is a fundamental aspiration of the millennial generation.

Integrity is many things to them: interesting, compelling, engaging and, ultimately, worth paying more for.

It is not so obvious as you might think: much of the media world that surrounds us seems about perfection, about erasing the cracks, about hiding the wrinkles of life. It seems dedicated not to actual truth but the appearance of turbo-truth.

The words of CS Lewis have been doing the rounds of marketing meetings for good reason: ‘Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching’

I had occasion to ponder this just two days ago, as the doleful story of MH17’s demise over Ukraine dribbled out. The New York Times published a set of maps, illustrating the flight paths of carriers over conflict-ridden Eastern Ukraine in the two weeks prior to the downing of the Kuala Lumpur flight.

I was struck by the meaning I invested in what these maps told me: many carriers, including Thai, KLM and Malaysian had taken a flight path directly through East Ukraine. It was, after all, the most direct route to S E Asia and was sanctioned as ‘safe’ by the appropriate international bodies.

The maps told a second tale. Two carriers had chosen to fly different routes – avoiding Ukraine completely and, of course, also incurring extra expense in so doing. Their passengers were surely unaware of these decisions of British Airways and Air France at the time. These were choices taken way outside the glare of our consumer attention. Until something unexpected happens.

In my eyes, British Airways and Air France were caught red-handed, acting in a manner that says something deep and true about what they value most.

That’s the thing about integrity. It cannot be asserted, it can only be detected. It does not dance hoops or become dizzy with self-love. It simply knows what it values, and acts accordingly.

Young men place the highest value on products and services which act with, and embody integrity.

This week, in San Francisco, I began not just to understand, but to feel, their point.

Brian McIntyre. 2014


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