To be cynical is to be sceptical. To be suspicious of people’s or businesses’ motives. To not trust unfamiliar sources. To not take things at face value. To not believe in hear say or rumours. To constantly question everything, all of the time. To refuse to have the wool pulled over your eyes. To be paranoid. To demand proof. To think independently and not mimic mass opinion. A cynic sees through the bullshit.
So why is cynicism seen as a negative thing? Why do cynics get a bad wrap? Why are they labelled pessimistic? What’s wrong with refusing to follow suit and an unwillingness to be spoon-fed? If we believe all that we see and read, then we’d all be purchasing every brand, product or service we’ve ever seen or had contact with, providing it tells us just how good it is, as they all do. Every single person in the whole world has a cynic sitting on their shoulder when it comes to marketing. People don’t believe that your products do exactly what it says on the tin anymore. And brands, no matter how responsible good-doers they may seem, all have an alternative motive… To sell. To make money. To turn a profit. For most, almost everything else, nearly all of the time, is a masquerade.
Velvet toilet roll will plant a few trees in some field if you buy its toilet roll. Maltesers will donate £1mil to Comic Relief if you buy their sweets. Sainsburys will give sports equipment to kids if you shop there every week. The list goes on and on. Are these Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives? Genuine good deeds? Or a way to boost sales?
Brands that have always been about turning a profit will always be looked at in a cynical manner when they behave out of character all of a sudden and start pulling on our heart strings in an attempt to win our ethical vote. And so they should. Many of these brands can’t differentiate themselves through products alone because they sell commodities. They can’t differentiate themselves with their branding either because no one cares enough about their industry or their products for branding to be important. So they turn to whatever else they can to make it seem to the customer like it’s the brand for them. CSR initiatives, charity work, good deed doing, it’s hard to believe that these brands do it out of sheer good will and not for profit.
If Coca Cola all of a sudden turned around and declared that it’s going to help solve world hunger, would we believe them and start buying more Coke? If it decided to donate 50%, 60%, 70% or 80% of all net profit for the rest of time to the starving, then we might do because that would show some intent. They would be putting something, a cause, ahead of their own plans and agenda. But if it started saying that for every 10 cans of Coke sold, it’ll cook a starving child in Africa some beans on toast, then we’d have to question its motives.
So there’s nothing wrong with being cynical when it comes to brands and marketing. In fact, we should all be cynical all of the time. Only when a brand proves that the cause comes first, when a brand genuinely participates in the conversation and acts in the best interest of its customers and their cause should the guard come down. With so many communication channels opening, we can’t escape brand messaging, and with more and more products becoming cheap, abundant and commodity-like, brands will try anything to differentiate themselves in whatever way they can to persuade us to put our hands in our pockets. With so many companies and so many products to chose from these days, we have the power to decide what we buy and from who, so if a brand can’t show that it takes me and my cause seriously, then I can’t take it or it’s product seriously either.