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Global First Look: Brandkarma.com Insures That Brands Reap What They Sow

Superstar Aussie ad man Craig Davis has spent his life promoting brands. Now, with his new Web site, Brandkarma.com, he wants the world to weigh in on who’s been naughty or nice.

Brandkarma.com

What goes around comes around, they say in the pen, and it’s as true for brands as it is for people. Just ask Toyota. Or Walmart. Or WaMu. Or the brand called Tiger.

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In an effort to accelerate that karma wheel, today Craig Davis, chief creative officer at Publicis Mojo, will launch Brandkarma.com, a site designed to help people distinguish between the good brands and the ones who deserve a lump of coal.

“We started with the idea, ‘What kind of world do you want to live in–and leave to your kids,'” says Davis, on the phone from his home in Sydney. “That’s a decision that’s too important to entrust to businesses, governments, and regulators.” But what, he thought, if the power of social media could be harnessed to help influence decisions that make that world? What if 100,000 people with faulty accelerator peddles, for example, had expressed their unhappiness about Toyota on a well-known hub for such consumer topics? Might the folks in Tokyo have paid attention sooner?

“More and more people would like to do the right thing,” Davis says, “but the barriers to acting are time-consuming and expensive. Plus: Who do you trust? increasingly, people trust family, friends, and peers more than official sources.”

To participate, users log in to Brandkarma.com, where they’ll seethe day’s news about global brands. “Walmart to Slash Grocery Prices.””Whole Foods Expands Kosher Section in Time for Passover.” If they’dlike to laud–or vent–about a brand, they can click on a varietyof categories–apparel, automotive, health and beauty, oilcompanies, etc.–or use a search box to find the brand they’reseeking. Click on, say, Starbucks, and you’ll see the latest postingsfrom fellow users about their experience with the brand, and acolor-coded rating of compliments and Bronx cheers. “You express youropinion by throwing confetti at the bigger picture,” Davis says.

Fillin a Facebook-style box soliciting your opinion, and a window will popup asking if your comment relates to customers, investors, suppliers,employees, or the planet. You also get to pick a color–green forgood, red for bad, orange for ambivalent. You then click “doo,”evidently an Aussie-like and perhaps too-precious- to-go-global,definition for action. Those ‘doos’ are aggregated to determine yourstatus on the site–from the unfortunately named newbie “Doo’meds” tothe alpha dog opinion leaders, the “Sooper Doo’ds.” In a sort ofwisdom-of-crowds gone Technicolor, the brandkarma flower thatillustrates each brand’s rating is thereby color-coded by users’comments.

Brandkarma.com

So in his off hours and with his own and private money, Davis, who previously served as world chief creative director at JWT, built a site that would aggregate opinion around all of a brand’s stakeholders–not just customers, but employees, investors, the supply chain, and the planet. That makes it different from conventional shopping sites like bizrate.com or shopzilla.com. It has a higher purpose than just helping you find the best camera or a deal on toner cartridges.

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“I’m hoping this will be an accelerant for better business behavior,” says Davis. (If this is a success, we can only hope its political equivalent will be launched soon!)

Fast Company founding editor Alan Webber thinks Davis is on to something. “Brandkarma is another example of the way consumers/citizens are voicing their demand for a new way for business to do business. The old categories of business, government, and non-profit are giving way to more blended categories that reflect reality, rather than old stove-pipes that try (and fail) to keep these parts of our lives separate.”

After a career knee-deep in promoting brands at JWT and Saatchi and Saatchi, Davis understands the true dimensions of a brand’s power. If you think of Shell or Citigroup, Pepsi or Google, you understand that globally they touch millions of customers, thousands of employees, hundreds of companies in their supply chains and millions of investors. And, since we all share the planet, we all have skin in the game, even if we never use a Citigroup ATM, or toss back a Diet Pepsi.

Davis denies that his site is just a place to kvetch. “I’m not betraying clients,” he insists. “Without the 20 years I’ve had working with brands, I wouldn’t be in a position to do this. It’s not anti-business or anti-brand. It’s pro-good business and behavior.”

Fellow Aussie David Droga of Droga5, who himself had a fling at Web development with his social media driven site Honeyshed.com, thinks Davis has got it right. “Brandkarma is genius. Right time, right place, right from wrong,” he says.

Davis hopes those long hours spent away from wife and kids, working on this site, will pay off in an important way. “I’d really like to change the role of marketing in the world,” he says with a hint of exhaustion in his voice. “It sounds very grand, but brands are really far more interesting and important than marketing gives them credit for. Up until now, the conversations about brands have been from the owners point of view–very command and control. It’s time for the greater good that those conversations are held publicly. We need to have fierce discussions around these issues, but out in the open.”

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About the author

Linda Tischler writes about the intersection of design and business for Fast Company.

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