In the demise of the News of the World, there’s one villain that has been conveniently overlooked: the consumer.
A number of News of the World executives appear to have crossed the line, but were they not doing it while trying to feed the U.K. public’s insatiable demand for sensationalism? Would they have done this if the revelation of the otherwise private was not a massive seller? If something is rotten in the state of Murdoch, are we not also to blame?
In this world of transparency, we hold that the corporate behavior that sits behind the brands we know and trust is an increasingly important factor in brand management. So is the willingness of the public to turn on its prime source of weekend tabloid tittle-tattle perhaps the key symptom of a brand built on weak foundations? A matter of weeks ago, the national sentiment was one of outrage that public figures were able to claim super-injunctions to protect their privacy. Now, when a handful of journalists cross the line, we look to throw the whole organization onto the altar of opprobrium.
What seems to emerge from this is a timely reminder that brands – especially big, influential brands – need to hold up to a standard that is higher than the low bar of mass market appeal. Not because this drives sales, but because it is the right thing to do. All good brands have clarity and commitment internally that drives behavior and should be strong enough to have given the senior journalists pause for thought before they crossed that line. And should the chips ever be really down, as they surely are at News International, there will be some deeper commitment to the brand that will mitigate a crisis. And here’s the insight: business ethics, CSR, and sustainability all drive longer-term commitment, loyalty, and advocacy, not short-term sales.
But when News International launches the Sunday Sun to fill the huge gap (market opportunity) left by News of the World, will the U.K. consumer boycott it? Or will they have forgotten about what was a sensational but momentary story and moved on to the next headline? Will our well-meaning, corporate citizenry be steamrolled by our inexorable mainstream appetite for the latest celebrity gossip? And will the Sunday Sun be built on equally shaky foundations? Let’s hope News International learns a lesson, and holds itself – and us – to a higher standard.