Is your brand a doughnut?

By Robert Jones

Oxfam has come up with a neat model for thinking about good economic growth.

Picture a doughnut: good growth is the kind that doesn’t damage the planet (the space outside the doughnut) or people (the hole in the middle of the doughnut).

Outside the doughnut are things like climate change, biodiversity loss and ocean acidification. In the middle are things like jobs, income, health and equality. It’s an unprecedentedly comprehensive model, a great tool for policy makers.

But the model has implications for us branding people too.

After all, branding was invented to create growth – to get people to buy things. And while the western world, particularly Europe, is searching for growth, most people also recognize that we need a different kind of growth from the last ten years or so – more substantial than a credit-based bubble, and ideally something less destructive of the planet’s resources.

So what kinds of brands generate good growth? What would a doughnut brand be like? Is your brand a doughnut?

It would be easy to imagine some external, planetary factors. For example, doughnut brands might encourage re-use of resources, like eBay. Or sharing of resources, like ZipCar. Or encourage use of local resources, like CittaSlow. Or make things digital rather than physical, like iTunes.

And then you could imagine internal, people factors too. For example, doughnut brands might make worthwhile things more accessible, like Tate. Or make work more purposeful, like GE. Or just give people decent jobs, like Fairtrade. Or support small businesses, like Grameen. Or bring people together, like Facebook. Or simply raise money for a worthwhile cause, like (RED).

Interface is a brand that takes both parts of the doughnut model very seriously, with both EcoMetrics and SocioMetrics tracking.

The model needs much more precise definition, like Oxfam’s. But as the world searches for the right kind of growth, and as brands play a role in that, this thought-experiment might just turn out to be essential.

Robert Jones is visiting professor at University of East Anglia and Head of New Thinking at Wolff Olins.

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