If you cannot beat them, join them
Anyone who underestimates Brussels harms themselves. This is especially true when it comes to advertising and marketing. The most recent restriction on alcohol advertising is a typical case: the constant outcry from manufacturers, retailers, agencies and associations about Brussels’ ongoing regulatory frenzy has repeatedly come to nothing. Worse still, he is simply unintelligent. Why?
After two decades of ever new bans, restrictions and regulations, one should have gradually learned how Brussels mills grind. And have come up with an appropriate strategy to deal with it. The key word has to be: Pro-active!! What do you mean with that? First of all, one should make an effort to understand the – admittedly wrong – way of thinking and mentality of the Brussels civil servants. And to accept it as their self-formulated mission. They see themselves as the advocates of the citizens of Europe, exposed to and seemingly unprotected by the evil manipulators of industry and commerce.
From this, Brussels derives its moral and functional obligation to protect European citizens from impending abuse. One builds – psychologically very skilfully – on the slumbering suspicion of the people that a powerful industrial and consumer society always tries to imperceptibly dominate the poor, defenseless citizens.
The strategy of proactive action
The Brussels authority as a savior of defenseless, abandoned citizens. In a jungle of cleverly seductive communication. Not a bad strategic place, but for all of us a situation that puts us on the defensive. It compels us to defend ourselves when objectively there is little to defend. Even the perception of this imbalance shows that the economy and especially marketing must change the strategic starting position as soon as possible. Instead of constantly finding yourself in the dock, it is important to become proactive and to actively seek dialogue in the run-up to all discussions. Actually to stage it yourself in order to be able to influence the direction right from the start.
It can’t be the case that Brussels is seriously but lonely in its offices thinking about only allowing car advertising without moving cars. Or not even letting children advertise as part of the family. So that this does not remain so abstract, the current alcohol issue is used as an example to show what a clever, proactive strategy by the manufacturers could have looked like:
You all remember the alcopops – and the big clamor when, after all too great a market success, this low-alcohol category was reinterpreted by Brussels as an illegal and anti-social drug. Imagine: A few years before alcopops were invented, the industry association would have sat down with Brussels and looked for a solution together to effectively reduce the high-proof alcohol consumption by young people. The result, not surprisingly, would have been a product in the low proof alcohol category. As I said, proactive, cooperative and inclusive. Carefully developed and coordinated hand in hand between industry and Brussels. But like I said, that’s not how it was done. And thus missed an opportunity to achieve a socially acceptable result and thus a win-win situation for all sides.
And to quickly get back from the abstract to the concrete: McDonald’s current strategy change, which intercepts the burgeoning discussion about obesity, is a successful example: McDonald’s promptly and consistently opened up a wide range of healthy products from the pure hamburger chain Nutrition from salad to fish dishes to McCafé placed overnight in the store. And thus intercepted possible Brussels activities in the early stages. ideal type.
But now back to the topic pro-active:
Brussels does not arbitrarily pick out certain categories and markets and develop new bans for them. Brussels has a carefully, strategically developed list of issues that are being worked on systematically. This is called the “domino effect”, which determines the order in which the Brussels authorities work from product category to product category. The urgency depends on zeitgeist topics or current events. Brussels has already prepared for all dominoes. By the way: with excellent experts, clever minds, skilful statistics and populist studies.
It would now be important for all associations and interest groups to get involved in talks with Brussels as a preventive measure, even if there is no external reason. The strategic goal is to find a balance between social responsibility and economic interests.
Closer to the decision-makers in Brussels
There is an iron law in life: no matter how different opinions you have, the more anonymously you hit each other, the more aggressively but also without results it happens. And the fronts only harden. The more closely you – preferably personally – deal with the topics face to face, in direct conversation, in an immediate exchange of ideas and in a balanced tone, the more moderate the result will be. Proximity not only saves time and provides insights into the motives of the Brussels experts, it increases the chance of reaching constructive, practicable compromises. Even if it requires endless patience. The balance that allows for high level co-existence is the goal. Today’s “don’t annoy you” has to become an intelligent game of chess. Yes, that takes extra effort and yes, it takes creative ideas that allow both sides to get the job done while saving face. Instead of subsequent mutual insults and accusations, there is constructive wrestling in order to tackle the relevant topics proactively and without wasting time. Intelligence and diplomatic skills are the drivers. The common denominator is “social competence”, which both sides feel obliged to. According to the motto: We did not create the problem, but we want to be part of the solution.
Marketing always thrives on proactive thinking and sensitive action. Why should that be any different in Brussels?
About the author: Bernd M. Michael is the owner of the BMM office for brand architecture
Read all columns by Bernd M. Michael.