We are moving into the ‘Fourth Age of Marketing'. 100 years ago, the front page of the London Times newspaper was entirely covered with advertising. Back then, the business challenge was to be noticed. In the 1960s, creativity was born. The challenge was to be noticed and entertain the consumer. In the 1980s, sponsorship came along heralding the ‘third age'. The challenge was to be noticed, entertain, and ingratiate your brand with consumer interests. Today, there's a new game in town. The challenge is to be noticed, entertain, ingratiate your brand, and be a ‘force-for-good'.
The dawn of the Fourth Age of Marketing was marked by a profound psychological change. Brand owners stopped being coy about leveraging good causes to promote their brands; consumers welcomed those who vociferously championed their campaigns.
But it's very early days. For the most part, corporate support of good causes is stuck in a time warp. It reminds me of the sponsorship industry 20 years ago which back then was dominated by what used to be called the ‘Chairman's Wife syndrome'. Many sponsorship decisions were based on the personal likes of the decision maker rather than any strategic business or marketing reasons. ‘I'm a golf fan so that's what we are going to sponsor.'
Although we are all supposed to be planners now, charity associations frequently slip through the analytical net and are chosen on the basis of personal interest. ‘My mother died of cancer so that's what we are going to support'. In an interesting 21st Century twist, many organisations invite their staff to ‘vote' for the charity they want to support. In these days of political correctness, we might call it the ‘middle manager's partner syndrome'.
Charity endorsements are poorly leveraged compared to their sporting cousins. Too often, responsibility for them sits outside the central marketing function in the Siberian wastelands of ‘Public Affairs' or the ‘CSR Department'. Meanwhile, the vast majority of Britain's 190,000 charities haven't woken up to the idea that like sports bodies, they need to behave like commercial rights holders.
I believe that this is all about to change big time. Like government, brand owners and major communication groups are starting to recognise the voluntary and charity sector as virgin territory offering straight-to- the-heart appeal. For the first time, it's OK to brag about your brand helping to make the world a better place on TV, in press and online.
The pace of change is being accelerated by the growth and increasing professionalism of the voluntary sector. At The Lord's Taverners, we are enhancing our mission of giving disadvantaged young people a sporting chance by becoming more business minded and enterprising.
Where will the Fourth Age of Marketing take us? Compare and contrast Fred Perry and Andy Murray where in less than 75 years, the Corinthian sporting ideal has been transformed into a global consumer brand. But it's still all about tennis and it will forever be about being a force for good.
Matthew Patten is chief executive ofThe Lord's Taverners, a leading youth sports charity
This article was first published on marketingmagazine.co.uk