Good Behavior is a Business Opportunity

In Standing on the Sun and (more briefly!) the HBR, Julia Kirby and I argued that sensors of all kinds—from Copenhagen Wheels to Kenyans with Ushahidi on their phones to body cameras—would bring information about negative externalities such as pollution, civil violence, and abuse of authority to the attention of consumers/citizens, who would consequently care more about the behaviors that caused them.

(We titled this “Sensors and sensibilities.” Couldn’t help ourselves.) The consequence would be people voting with their wallets and ballots to endorse choices that respected all constituents.

Our point was that data on “intangibles” that have gone unmeasured by GDP and GAAP accounting would enable society to express its collective desires more effectively. The result would be a world better balancing the needs of all stakeholders. (This happened in the early 20th century; after industrialization concentrated power, anti-trust legislation, labor laws and financial regulation redistributed it to consumers, workers and savers.)

But we did not foresee the next stage—as the demand for such information grows, it becomes a business opportunity. 



Thomson Reuters’ ad, above, shows that it can be. And of course it makes sense that a news organization would see the growing mainstream desire for such information as a new market.  

I expect some will react negatively to a for-profit organization taking up a “cause” and express more trust in NGOs to supply this kind of information.  My view is that the embrace of a powerful company that knows how to do the information gathering and presentation (see more of their work here) will accelerate a positive feedback cycle, fueling awareness and concern that leads to bad actors seeing better behavior in their best interests.


A late-breaking example: the October 1st New York Times reports that brands including Verizon, General Mills, and HP Inc. are “[asking] ad agencies for action on diversity hiring.”  

According to the chief creative officer of General Mills “You don’t need to be a mom to make some Cheerios ads, but if we have more moms on the team…maybe we increase the probability we do work that connects with moms. That’s really where our drive for diversity came—it wasn’t some sort of moral high-horse stance about the failing ad industry.”

-- CAM