The Naked Brand’s Director Jeff Rosenblum on Advertising’s Role in Corporate Transparency

Article contributed by Katie Bronnenkant, Director of Product Marketing, Namely

Jeff Rosenblum is the producer and director of The Naked Brand and a founding partner of Questus. Having co-founded Questus in 1998, Jeff has significant experience in digital marketing. We recently spoke with Jeff about The Naked Brand.

The Makegood: The Naked Brand focuses attention on how corporations should be transparent with stakeholders and give back to the community in order to be better, more profitable, companies. Can you tell us where it all began – what inspired you to work on this project?

JR: We created The Naked Brand because we recognized that a revolution that is going take place in the world of advertising.  For over sixty years, companies have been able to use the same tactics for creating their brands.  But, over the past 10 years, consumer communication has gone through a complete revolution thanks to search, mobile and social technology.  This revolution has made brands completely transparent.  Companies can no longer create crappy products and market them as new and improved.  They can no longer behave unethically and cover up their behavior with a fancy advertising campaign.  In fact, most of the lessons that marketing executives learned about how to create a successful brand have become completely antiquated over the past decade.  So we started the film development process with a clean canvas and only one simple question:  “What’s next?”

The Makegood: In the documentary, you investigated corporate practices of many major brands. What did you find most unexpected? 

JR: What we found that was most unexpected – and what made the project exciting for our team – is that the advertising industry can in fact help save the planet one small step at a time.  That’s a revolutionary concept because the advertising industry has historically been known for obfuscation and duplicity.  But, brands are transparent and are now defined by what they do, not what they say.  So the only way to create a breakthrough brand is to focus less on creating great messages and focus more on great behavior.

When brands focus internally, they start investing in things like environmental responsibility, social responsibility, better corporate culture and even simply better products so that customers get a better return on investment for their purchasing dollars.  When corporations behave in that way, they start moving the planet forward one small step at a time by taking care of people and the health of the planet.  This shift will start with advertising, because our industry creates the connection point between corporations and trillions of dollars in commerce, but it will be about a lot more than advertising.  It will be about the entirety of corporate strategy.

The Makegood: The Naked Brand highlights Zappos as an amazing place to work. Do you think that every company has the potential to successfully achieve a great corporate culture?

JR: Zappos is truly one of the most amazing places I have ever been.  I think the film does a good job capturing the essence of Zappos, but it is impossible to capture how truly happy the people at Zappos are.  It is literally the happiest place that I have ever been.  It is a nonstop party, yet people are also working very hard and providing true value to customers through their unparalleled customer service.

I strongly believe that any company can benefit from better corporate culture.  As Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, says in the film, “a company’s culture and brand are really just two sides of the same coin…the brand is just a lagging indicator of the culture.”  Because we’re at a time of exponential change in the business world, the only way to capitalize on the rate of change is to take risks.  This requires a strong positive corporate culture to empower people to fail quickly, learn from those failures, and move forward to turn those small failures into major wins.  Business as usual is a recipe for disaster nowadays.  As the Founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouindard, says in the film “People who are unwilling to stick their necks out, unwilling to change, unwilling to accept risk, eventually lose it all in the end.”

I think any company can improve their corporate culture.  I know that at Questus, we have re-launched a task force to improve our corporate culture.  It is an absolute critical ingredient to success.  It takes care, nurturing, money, and resources.  It has to be done in perpetuity — creating great corporate culture is a process, not an event.

Candidly, I don’t think that companies can really match the corporate culture that is at Zappos.  It’s a unique breed and I wouldn’t recommend that most companies try to match that culture.  The goal of the Zappos chapter is to provide an example of great culture and to give lessons for how to obtain it.  Zappos does not provide a strict template.  Corporations are complex organisms and all are unique.  Zappos simply provides an example and some guidelines.

The Makegood: The Naked Brand features well-known advertising figure, Alex Bogusky, highlighting his recent change in work.  For you, what was the most important take-away from his story? 

JR: I am a huge fan of Alex Bogusky, not only for the work that he did while leading his agency, but more importantly, for the work that he did after leaving his agency in regard to starting Common and helping heal the environment.

The most important lesson that I learned from Alex – who through his interview helped us shape the story arc for the film — is that transparency has created a need for revolutionary change in corporations.  My favorite quote from Alex is “What I always say about transparency is it’s not a choice.  It’s going to happen.  The only choice is, does it happen to you or do you participate in it?  And when it happens to you, it’s proven to be really ugly.”  He then introduced us to a brilliant guy named Dara O’Rourke, who helped out Nike in the 90’s for their bad labor practices, which cost the company $2 billion in its valuation.  A couple of decades later, all of that transparency is moving at the speed of light.  That’s why we see things like Apple, at the first hint that mainstream people are going to be upset about Foxconn changing their labor practices in China.  The outcome of transparency can be devastating to brands.

When companies embrace transparency, they can create a competitive advantage.  As Alex notes, “Being a great company is the new brand because there’s not going to be anything between the consumer and the reality of that company.” Patagonia is a great example of a company that embraced transparency by creating The Footprint Chronicles, a site enables users to follow the supply chain for products created by Patagonia. This site clearly outlines some of the negative impact on the environment and lets their customers make an informed decision about whether they truly want to purchase a product and its manufacturing by-products.  In the short-term, this may lead to decreased sales for Patagonia.  In the long term, however, it helps create a strong brand foundation – one that clearly puts more emphasis on honesty and environmental responsibility than pure profits.  This creates brand evangelists much more effectively than paid advertising.  One of my favorite quotes from the film is when their Founder, Yvon Chouinard says “every time we invest in the planet, we make more money.”  That pretty much summarizes the film:  It’s not about taking care of the planet just for altruistic reasons.  That’s not sustainable.  It’s about taking care of the planet because it leads to healthier brands and  long-term profitability.

The Makegood: Thanks, Jeff.