This article is based on a presentation I gave to an audience of MBA alumni from ESADE, the Spanish business school, on September 26, 2012. The title is borrowed from that well known phrase New Yorkers use to express their feelings of ‘Enough.’ It’s often spoken with great emotion and a sense of exasperation about whatever it is they want to stop.
I feel a similar sense about the idea of ‘enough’. It’s a big and complex subject and the intractable nature of human behaviour seems to make it unlikely that we will react until we are forced to by some kind of natural or man-made disaster. That said, in this article I set out to make a few observations about ‘enough’ and the role that brands can play, in the hope of influencing the debate and shaping our future behaviour.
Paterson AS Ltd.
The Journal of the Medinge Group, vol. 6, no. 1, 2013
Today, the political, economic, social and cultural position of growth has never been more challenging. How do we reconcile people’s desire for growth with the increasing pressure on resources, the effects of climate change and our duty of care for life for everyone? Can ‘enough’ be a strategy for growth and both personal and collective fulfilment? In a more interdependent world, enabled by the creative and productive power of technology, can we all succeed together, where more people transact and experience success and the feeling of enough? Or are we condemned by our selfish instincts, desires and addictions to always want more and to crave instant gratification and the need to win? Are we so driven by competitive peer pressure and the need to measure success in terms of material gain, that we unable to escape these addictions and are becoming blind to the downsides of technology? Even though we know that ever more material success doesn’t always make us happy, that giving can feel more fulfilling than getting, and that status updates lead to status anxiety.
Brands and ‘enough’
How do brands relate to the idea of ‘enough’? Brands today are shorthand for choice. They make choosing easier because they are an invitation to want—to want what you need and, more importantly, what you desire. They stimulate and satisfy our desires. They are also an invitation to associate. Like good friends, brands make us feel good about ourselves. They reinforce our sense of who we are and they make us look good amongst our friends and peers. And like good friends, we choose the brands whose values we share, just as we tend to make friends with the people who are like us and who help to shape our lives. We know that our social ties and peer pressure heavily influence much of our behaviour. So, if brands are about desire, then surely they encourage the idea of ‘more’ rather ‘enough’? Or can the associative power of brands encourage us to change our behaviour for the better, together? I first look at what having less than enough feels like; then what more than enough feels like; what enough might feel like; and finally how brands might help us achieve enough.
Less than ‘enough’
We know that less than enough doesn’t feel good to many people. According to the World Bank, in 2008 there were 1,290 million people living in absolute poverty on less than $1·25 per day. In addition there were a total of 4,000 million people earning less than $2 per day. But not all of these people are stuck. Many want to improve their lives and are just beginning to consume. They are enjoying the feeling of having more and want brands that enable them to do this. These are the people the economist C. K. Prahalad famously called the fortune at the bottom of the pyramid. Many emerging market multinational companies, as well as those in the developed world, are now creating brands that are designed to meet their needs. For example, Indian multinational Godrej makes the Little Cool Fridge. It is designed on the low cost principles of frugal engineering and sells for $50, matching the consumer’s budget with Godrej’s desire to make a profit.
In Africa, with seven of the world’s fastest-growing economies, it is the mobile phone operators who are driving change, revealing through their rapid expansion that there are more Africans with money to spend than previously thought. In Nigeria, there are now 110 million mobile phone subscriptions out of a total population of 160 million, and 475 million in sub-Saharan Africa as a whole. In Kenya, Safaricom have created the mobile phone-based money transfer and micro-financing service M-Pesa. The transformative power of mobile phones in Africa has been well documented. It’s often said that the mobile phone has been more valuable in helping to eliminate poverty than all the foreign aid ever donated. Micro-renewable energy initiatives are now spurring this growth with innovative brands like Indigo, a pay-as-you-go light and mobile phone solar charger, from UK-based Azuri Technologies. Africa also has a fast-growing, young and urban population: four in ten people are under the age of 15 and 37 per cent live in cities. According to Harvard economics professor Ed Glaeser, cities are where we create and collaborate to remarkable effect. Taken together, urban life, internet-savvy young people, the smartphone’s combination of communication and information and micro-renewables, may enable Africa to jump over the industrial revolution and join the knowledge economy. More importantly it’s a combination that drives an entrepreneurial spirit, enabling more people to transact, create and earn their way out of poverty.
Poverty in the midst of plenty
Despite the accelerating growth of Africa and useful and sustainable low cost brands, the world is faced with the problem of growing inequality. In both emerging and developed markets, the rich have raced ahead, capturing most of the fruits of increased productivity. In the UK, the Office for National Statistics has estimated that, in 2011, 14 million people were at risk of poverty or social exclusion. In the USA, the richest 1 per cent now account for 27 per cent of GDP as opposed to 8 per cent in the 1970s. This partly explains the huge rise in debt to compensate for stagnating incomes. And austerity is not working in Europe either. Spain is currently suffering from 53 per cent youth unemployment. Liverpool, one of the UK’s poorest cities, has to shoulder spending cuts amounting to £252 per household when the national average is £60. Austerity will only widen the income gap and it won’t be tolerated forever. So much of the world needs to grow and consume more.
More than ‘enough’ isn’t the answer
When does more growth become too much consumption? When is ‘enough’? In their book, How Much Is Enough? The Love of Money and the Good Life, the economist Robert Skidelsky and his son, Edward, claim that western societies are stuck in the age of consumption—as opposed to the age of abundance and the pursuit of leisure. We are much richer than 100 years ago, but our hours of work have not fallen as much as productivity has risen. We go on consuming more than ever. We are unable to say enough is enough. Why? It can’t be about quantity: ultimately we can only eat so much food, have so many pairs of shoes and drive so many cars. Could it be about better? Better quality stimulates the appetite for serial consumption, so keeps up the hours of work. But real improvements are often negligible and the benefits overestimated—how much better is that retina screen on the Ipad 3? It might be that we go on consuming more because we are insatiable. Having more makes us want more or something different. We are by nature restless and easily bored. We are never satisfied. More importantly our wants are relative. The richer we become, the more we feel our relative poverty. The grass always seems to be greener on the other side and we suffer from status envy. We can’t stop comparing ourselves to our peers, because keeping up with the Joneses (as we say in the UK) counts for a lot. Here, brands are to blame because they fuel our desires and cravings. They make us feel good, however fleetingly, and then they make us want more again.
Can we define ‘enough’?
What to do? Can we define what ‘enough’ means? Might it equate to some definition of the good life and the recognition that money and material gain are just means to it? Can we generalize on behalf of everyone? The Skidelskys have attempted to define it in this way: ‘Human beings need healthy bodies and unfettered minds. They need love, security to plan and innovate, private spaces to “Be themselves”. And time to do as they please, not as they must.’
How might we achieve ‘enough’?
Even if we could agree on the kind of good life that the Skidelskys suggest, which is debatable, who is going to help us achieve it? Who is going to make us change our addictive behaviours: governments, individuals or some form of collective action? The Skidelskys believe that governments should play an important role, at least in the developed world. They suggest measures such as including restoring a full employment guarantee by a gradual reduction of the maximum allowable hours of work for most occupations; and instituting an unconditional basic income for all citizens. They see these measures as a disincentive to work and an incentive to enjoy life more. They also want governments to reduce pressure to consume by placing curbs on advertising and introducing a progressive consumption tax. But how realistic is this? It feels highly idealistic and unlikely.
Are more modest and targeted steps achievable? In New York, for instance, Mayor Bloomberg is trying to introduce a law that will reduce the maximum size of cola people can drink in cinemas. The big corporations object but reframing our choices in this way can help us make better choices, ones that protect us from our worst habits.
In the UK, the government is taking similar measures. David Halpern runs the Behavioural Insights Team, which is a group of academics that are working to subtly alter the ways we act, look after ourselves and obey the law. Their work has drawn inspiration from the influential book Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness by Chicago University professor Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein. Their premise is that government policy can better be executed by employing small, clever prompts. Combining economics with psychology, these “nudges” not only encourage a more responsible population, but also make us as individuals feel happier and more informed about the choices we make. Much of this is about making life easier for people, because we are inherently lazy and we like short cuts. It’s about using basic common sense and tapping into human instincts: our impulses for embarrassment, pride and the desire to fit in. ‘You make it attractive, you make it social and you make it timely,’ explains Halpern. For example, tax letters in the UK were recently changed to include a headline statistic: a percentage of how many people in the local area had already paid their taxes. Repayment rates increased by 15 per cent. Nudging our behaviour in this way demonstrates the same triggers that brands use to create desire and the need to associate and belong.
The power of habits
David Halpern’s success in the UK highlights the opportunity we have as individuals to change for ourselves. In his book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg examines the choices we make every day that may feel like well considered decision making, but are not. They are habits, choices we deliberately make at some point, stop thinking about, and then continue doing, often everyday, effortlessly and efficiently. As Nike might say, we “just do them”. To change “them”, Charles Duhigg says we first need to understand the habit loop, a sequence of cues, routines and rewards that works like this. First there is a cue that tells our brains to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is a routine that can be physical, mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward that helps your brain figure out whether this particular loop is worth remembering for the future. Over time the loop becomes more and more automatic. The cue and the routine become intertwined until a powerful sense of anticipation and craving emerges and a habit is born.
Charles Duhigg used a weight-gaining cookie habit he developed when writing the book to explain how he changed his behaviour. His cue was time: roughly 3.30 p.m. in the afternoon. His routine was to go to the cafeteria, buy a cookie and chat with friends. Through experimentation he realized that it wasn’t really the cookie that he craved, it was a moment of distraction and the opportunity to socialize. He changed his habit by keeping the cue, changing the routine by cutting out the cookie, and keeping the reward of socializing with his friends. Simple really.
Charles Duhigg then asks whether understanding the habits of societies and how movements happen can help us change collectively. The habits of societies are the unthinking behaviours of many people, which are hard to see as they emerge, but can coalesce to create unstoppable momentum. He examined one of the most successful movements—the civil rights movement in America in the 1960s and the act of defiance by Rosa Parks—to show how new social habits emerge and how social peer pressure, not competitive peer pressure, turned a social initiative into a world-changing movement.
He describes a three-part process. A movement starts because of the social habits of friendship and the strong ties between close acquaintances. Rosa Parks was arrested for violating the bus segregation law. Her arrest triggered a series of social habits that ignited an initial protest from a much larger and more diverse group of people than might have been expected. This was because she was well liked and a generous person, she gave more than she got. Consequently, she had a large, diverse and connected set of friends. The movement grew because many people who hardly knew her then decided to participate. This was because of social peer pressure. These are the habits of a wider community and the weak ties that hold neighbourhoods and clans together and that make it difficult to avoid joining in.
Unlike close ties, weak ties give people give access to social networks where they don’t otherwise belong. They encourage openness to change and create a sense of obligation that neighbourhoods and communities then apply to themselves. So the civil rights movement gained authority through communal expectations. The movement endured because the movement’s leaders, famously Martin Luther King, gave participants new habits that created a fresh sense of identity (individual and collective) and a feeling of ownership. After his assassination, his followers became self-directed leaders. As individuals, they saw themselves in how others acted—they become part of a vast social enterprise.
This kind of political movement doesn’t happen that often. Could it happen again and can brands be a catalyst for some form of collective action on this scale? I’m not sure but here are two examples that demonstrate the possibility of enough and how it feels. One is a client I have been working with and the other example is last year’s London Olympic Games.
Berry Bros, & Rudd: an example of the shared habits of enough
Berry Bros. & Rudd is the UK’s and possibly the world’s oldest wine and spirit merchant. It is a family-owned and run business that is over 300 years old. I have recently helped them reconfirm who they are and what their brand offers to people. We defined this as the British Art of Good Living, which is the reassuring expertise and way of life of a traditional wine and spirit merchant from St James’s London. The proposition is based on a book entitled In Praise of Good Living, an Anthology for Friends, written by the famous wine and food expert André Simon in 1949, in which he outlined the following ethos:
Good living is the gracious way of life, the unselfish and intelligent way, that which is open to all men and women whose sense are disciplined, whose taste is refined, whose perception of and desire for all that is best are genuine and keen: who also realise that excess is fatal to appreciation and that there is no joy like the joy we share with our friends.
Good living is not a matter of rare fare and wines, gold plate and brilliant company, but of artistic temperament, lively imagination, and a truly charitable disposition.
Good living is not the privilege of the rich and the great ones of this world, but for all who are blessed with the full enjoyment of all their senses, and a sufficient share of common sense to make the best use of them.
The art of good living means bringing the same measure of imagination and interest which is needed to enjoy pictures, music or literature, to the harmony that should exist between … food and drink, flavours and savours, colours and textures.
The reward of good living is the joy of living.
What is striking about this book is that it was written only five years after the end of the Second World War. This was a time of austerity when food rationing was still a fact of life in much of Europe. The ethos of good living demonstrates an essential humanity and the benefits of generosity. It is an ethos that promotes an enlightening and enjoyable approach to alcohol and a way of being that encourages curiosity, a wider sense of appreciation and the use of our imaginations to enhance our lives. Berry Bros. & Rudd first promoted this idea in 1954 when they published a biannual magazine called No. 3, named after their address at 3, St James’s Street, London. The introduction read as follows:
The magazine is designed to promote appreciation of wine and spirits and other aspects of good living against the traditional background of St James, London.
Without knowing it they were promoting their brand—before the idea of companies as brands had become established.
The London 2012 Olympics: ‘All the rules of life were suspended and magic ruled the earth’
This quotation by the writer Giles Coren perfectly captured the feeling of last year’s London Olympics. Like many people I was disengaged before the event. I didn’t feel well disposed to the games beforehand, largely because of an irrational but heartfelt dislike of the London 2012 logo, which shows the power that symbols can have on our emotions. But Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony was both inspirational and transformational. It was a foretaste of two weeks that demonstrated the feeling of enough, personal and collective fulfilment and how movements can create powerful and potentially transformative social habits.
The Olympics gave the United Kingdom a renewed sense self and belief. The opening ceremony enabled us see ourselves anew. The journalist Caitlin Moran described us as, ‘Not Great Britain but Greatest Britain—not titanic or muscular, but multicultural, moral, clever and free’. During the following two weeks, we experienced the collective euphoria of a nation, or nations—a genuinely united kingdom. People everywhere talked spontaneously to each other in the streets, on buses and on the Tube—a normally very un-British trait. Why? There are a number of reasons. First, because of the ethos of the Olympic movement, which promotes the idea of competing with yourself and collaborating with the human race. The athletes’ competitive instincts and the ecstasy of winning combined with their generosity and humility in defeat. Then there was the generosity of the volunteers (the Games’ Makers) who demonstrated the pleasure of giving rather than getting. Finally, we the audience, felt a collective feeling of being part of something bigger than oneself and of believing in something worthwhile—the idea of human achievement through sport, the importance of family ties and friendship, and the pleasure of giving. However short the feelings, the memory lives long in the hearts and the minds of many people.
Choice, desire, association
In conclusion, can we adopt new, shared habits of enough? Charles Duhigg says that the will to believe is the most important ingredient in creating belief in change. The real power of habits is that your habits are what you choose them to be.
I think there are two questions to ask: whose habits will be the most important to influence; and how benign will the impact of technology be on all of our lives? Look at the generation of educated 24-year-olds around the world and there is cause for both optimism and realism. The internet has brought on a new cosmopolitanism whether you are experiencing austerity in the west or new possibilities in emerging markets. But it is also creating a global élite where competition for jobs comes from everywhere and from the growing power of machines. In a recent editorial, the British newspaper, The Observer voices these concerns.
We could be heading for a world of acute and growing inequality that provides untold riches and satisfying lives for technologically adept and educated elites—and lives of demoralising unemployment or underemployment for everyone else. A world in which high streets have been comprehensively hollowed out by online commerce, in which personal privacy has been obliterated and in which young people find occupations only as unpaid sharecroppers on the online estates owned by the feudal lords of cyberspace … This dystopian possibility is not just morally repugnant. It would also be economically catastrophic, for without meaningful employment there is, ultimately, no economy. Robots don’t buy stuff.
This is a pretty bleak view. I think our future behaviour and the choices we make will come down to how our instincts for survival will combine with the power of peer pressure. It seems to me that there is a constant tension between competitive and social peer pressure: the instinct to compete against each other, to acquire more and to win on the one hand; and the opportunity to compete with oneself and to create and collaborate together. My optimistic side would like to believe that our enquiring minds and our better social instincts will harness the benign influence of technology and the urge to explore and innovate that our survival demands. At their best brands have an important role to play in this “dance”. They can shape our future behaviour for good or for bad because they help us choose, they make us feel good about the choices we make and they help us associate with like-minded people. I may be naïve but I want to believe Google’s famous dictum, ‘You can make money without doing evil,’ and that we’re better together. We are social by nature and born for relationships.
1. ‘World Bank Sees Progress against Extreme Poverty, but Flags Vulnerabilities’, press release from the World Bank,
2. C. K. Prahalad: Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty through Profits. Philadelphia: Wharton School Publishing 2004.
3. W. Wallis: ‘Africa calling’, The Financial Times, March 11, 2013.
4. Indigo, http://www.azuri-technologies.com/indigo/.
5. R. Skidelsky and E. Skidelsky: How Much is Enough? The Love of Money and the Case for the Good Life. New York: Other Press 2012.
6. E. Skidelsky: ‘We Need the Good Life, Not Pre-washed Salad Leaves’, The Guardian, July 24, 2012.
7. G. Rachman: ‘The Backlash against the Rich Has Now Gone Global’, The Financial Times, August 7, 2012.
8. Poverty and Social Exclusion in the UK and EU, 2005–2011. London: Office for National Statistics 2012.
9. ‘53% Youth Unemployment in Spain’, The Financial Times, July 27, 2012.
10. ‘A little faster, George?’ The Economist, March 9, 2013.
11. C. Duhigg: The Power of Habit. London: William Heinemann 2012.
12. A. Simon (ed.): In Praise of Good Living: an Anthology for Friends. London: Frederick Muller 1949.
13. D. Brooks: The Social Animal. London: Short Books 2011.
14. G. Coren: ‘All the Rules of Life Were Suspended, and Magic Ruled the Earth’, The Times Magazine, August 18, 2012.
15. C. Moran: ‘It Was Top-shelf Old Smoke Pornography for Two Weeks’, The Times Magazine, August 18, 2012.
16. ‘Time to Question Our Love Affair with New Tech’, The Observer, March 10, 2013.
17. J. Ball and T. Clark: ‘Generation Self’, The Guardian, March 12, 2013.