Let's Play in the Grey


I remember the first time I was taught about communism while at school and it blew my mind, it just seemed so simple and obvious. Everyone has an equal share of everything and we all just get on with each other. I ran home from school (more metaphorically than literally) excited about being able to tell my Dad about this great plan I’d learnt in a half hour class. In a slightly resigned manner he indulged my childhood politics and then explained some of the complexities I maybe hadn’t thought about. As part of this conversation my Dad said something that has always stuck with me; that the vast majority of politicians on all sides are good people that go into politics genuinely believing they can improve things. But when confronted with the reality of the system realise it’s way more complex than they thought.

I’ve been thinking of this conversation a lot recently as we seem to be living in a time where the imperfections, complexity and give-and-take of life are becoming intolerable to an increasing number of people. Not just in politics but more broadly. Society is completely polarised, everything is yes or no, good or bad, all or nothing. What happened to the reality that life is played in the grey, not everything is black and white. Many people have described it as the football-isation of society- we’re operating like tribal football fans in relation to major issues. I agree.

Even the thing that surely everyone can unite around- the threat to the planet we all live on has become tribalised. Just witness the abuse directed at Greta Thunberg online. Yes, the root cause of climate change is complicated, and yes, different countries have different responsibilities but isn’t it simpler to just accept all of this and work on what we can do about it all? Increasingly, it seems that society feels the need to take a side. To be for or against something completely. If you disagree with David Lammy's description of the ERG as Nazis that doesn't mean you have to disagree with his whole life's work, if you are on one side of the Brexit debate you can still be open and understanding of the thoughts of the other side. Sorry, I tried so hard to avoid the "B" word.

We’re living in a time where social media algorithms are ensuring that we only hear views that echo ours unless we work hard to subvert them by actively seeking people that present differing views. This is leading to a polarised view of the world. If everyone you are exposed to agree with your world view then surely everyone does? And you can double down on it all.

I work in marketing, my day-to-day job is to advise brands on the best way to prove themselves to their customers, so naturally I look at this whole issue with an eye on what it means for this job. The reaction to the Gillette campaign earlier this year showed this whole issue in a microcosm; you couldn’t move for industry experts queueing up to say it was the worst/best thing in the world ever, when it clearly wasn’t ether of those things. So what can we do?

Three things for a start:

1. Stop measuring brands with daft measures like “brand love”. The idea that people have extreme feelings like “love” towards brands, other than in extreme cases, is nonsense. People love their friends and family. A brand’s aim should be for people to be open to them, a positive familiarity, maybe a bond that encourages repeat purchase. It’s not about love or hate.

2. Embrace imperfection and own your mistakes. Inefficiency and mistakes are what separate us from machines yet increasingly nothing but perfection is acceptable. Let’s shake this. Not everything is great or awful.

3. Seek out views on the world that are different to yours and stop proclaiming “the death of (insert the latest buzzword here)”. If you are a dedicated influencer marketing advocate force yourself to learn about the benefits of TV advertising, if you work for a big publisher embrace disruptive new media companies, read articles by journalists you instinctively disagree with.

This isn’t a piece about political philosophies. This is a call for us to revel in the grey, to accept that things are rarely polarised issues but something more complex. And isn’t complexity a lot more interesting?

Will Worsdell