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January 18, 2010

Keeping GOOD company

3 minute read, in Brand Strategy / Content / Identity / Impact / Marketing / Needle/Mission/Agenda

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Your mama was right. It matters who you choose to associate with. Stand in a crowd of smokers huddled outside an office building and most will assume you’re a smoker too. Even if all you’re doing is getting a breath of fresh (not so fresh?) air. Companies should follow this simple lesson which we all know from our own lives; as much as you can try and compartmentalize and intellectualize decisions, others don’t see it that way. People get an overall “gut” impression of who you are and what you stand for by the decisions you make.

My most recent issue of GOOD magazine arrived yesterday. GOOD is a great publication featuring “a collaboration of individuals, businesses, and nonprofits pushing the world forward.” By it’s own admission, GOOD is “for people who give a damn.” But, the people they choose to hang out with do damage to the brand.

Every month when my GOOD magazine arrives, I find myself disappointed by the Ralph Lauren Rugby ad on the back page of the magazine. I found this ad placement particularly disturbing during the recent Ralph Lauren kerfuffle when RL and his friends resisted taking responsibility for photoshopping a model who ended up looking so emaciated a Boing Boing blogger commented “Dude, her head is bigger than her pelvis.”

It is tough being Good. Just ask a vegetarian. Take one step toward righeousness by reducing meat consumption and everyone wants to call you out on wearing leather shoes. Magazines wlike Cosmopolitan and Lucky don’t have GOOD’s issues. And, GOOD has had it’s share of financial difficulties and now only publishes four issues a year. However, that is the burden of trying to be GOOD. And, GOOD needs to suck that up.

I was particularly interested yesterday when the latest of GOOD included two letters to the editor criticizing GOOD for including advertisers such as the Gap and United Methodist Church whose values were deemed inconsistent with those of the magazine. The editor’s response was as follows:

“GOOD is an advertising-supported business, because we believe that doing good can and must be financially as well as morally successful.That doesn’t mean we endorse all the practices of our advertisers

(or, for that matter, that they endorse everything that appears in our pages.But if you’re upset with the policies of a business that suppotts us, make it clear to us,and more importantly, to that company itself.”

With or without such a disclaimer, GOOD’s readers are impacted by the advertisers that appear in their pages.

One person who gets this is Vicki Bell, founder and editor of The Little Paper, a local Toronto guide for young families. The paper’s tagline says it all: “Proudly urban, totally independent, fiercely smart & a little bit silly.” The Little Paper is an absolutely essential publication for parents because it lists virtually every activity happening in Toronto. And, it has very healthy circulation of 10,000 families a month. Several of the “usual suspect” parent magazine advertisers like Nestle, Johnson + Johnson and Baby Einstein would purchase advertising if approached by The Little Paper. But that’s not how The Little Paper rolls.

Instead you’ll find small ads from a bunch of local kids’ programs, clothing stores and the like. The result? A magazine that lives up to it’s claim to be “fiercely independent.” Vicki calls it “Enlightened self interest.” In her words “as long as independents support the Little Paper, the Little Paper puts them first.”

Similarly, if you, like GOOD, claim to represent people who “give a damn” than they should keep better company than Ralph Lauren. He’s just not your type. It may require a different business model, but you’re only as good as the company you keep.

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