We arrive on Bronte Beach in the eastern suburbs of Sydney. We park the car and make our way past some beachfront cafés before we access the actual beach. We’ve set a meeting here with Craig Davis, the founder of Brandkarma, a sophisticated tool to influence brand behaviour.

Meeting Brandkarma - CoolBrands Around the World in 80 Brands
Meeting Brandkarma – CoolBrands Around the World in 80 Brands

I take out my tablet and read Craig’s email again. “Follow the beach in a southern direction towards the cliffs. From there take the path going up and continue until you reach a viewpoint. I’ll be the man in the black T-shirt watching the surfers. See you there. Craig.”

On the way we see some surfers preparing their gear and doing warm-up exercises. A young man with long blond hair and a red board is sitting cross-legged on the beach. “The perfect stereotype of a surfer dude,” I say to Maarten, “he’s probably meditating on the perfect wave.”

As we reach the end of the beach, we climb a path up the cliffs, giving us a great view of the sea. “Craig was some kind of hotshot at JWT before he came back to Australia in 2009,” I say to Maarten. “Now he’s Chief Creative Officer at Publicis Mojo Australia.”

We continue to follow the trail along the cliff tops, and suddenly we see our surfer dude with the red board making his way to where the waves are breaking. He dives under the first wave, then paddles for 15 seconds before diving under the second wave.

After a few minutes we arrive at an open space 100 metres from the tide line with a great view of the surfers waiting for the perfect wave. On a bench a man is sitting overlooking the surf scene. Not only is he the only person at the viewpoint, he’s also wearing a black T-shirt, as promised.

“Craig?” I say. The man turns around and a smile appears on his face. “Guys, step into my office,” he says, pointing at the bench he’s sitting on. “It’s a good, somewhat unpredictable, surfing beach, with a strong rip tide and a heavy swell. It can easily sweep you away, that’s why it’s the ‘Bronte Express’.”

“Craig, you started Brandkarma some time ago, what is that all about?”

“When I came back to Australia I wanted to launch a project that had been on my mind for some time already, but I never found the time for it. I had two questions in mind that form the basis of this project: What kind of a world do we want to live in? What kind of a world do we want to leave our kids?”

“Okay, those are good questions,” I say. “What is the answer?”

“The world’s biggest brands run the global economy and have a huge impact on the world. If we want to make the world a better place, it’s no use sitting on the street and demonstrating against governments. It’s by using the force of the big brands that change will be made.”

“I understand what you’re saying, but the goal of brands and companies is to make profits for their shareholders, not to change the world,” I say.

“That’s where Brandkarma comes in,” Craig says, “to make profits, brands need consumers. With Brandkarma consumers can rate the brands; positive rates for brands that are doing good in the world and negative rates for brands that are not. Social opinion has a great influence on which brands we buy.”

“So Brandkarma’s purpose is to influence brand behaviour for the good?” Maarten asks.

“It’s a bottom-up approach to issues that have been considered top-down until now, without much success,” Craig says.

“How do you get people to vote, or to rate the brands?” Maarten asks.

“Brandkarma is a new kind of social network,” Craig says. “You can invite contacts from Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to the platform. The more people who weigh in on brands, the bigger the effect on how those brands do business.”

“We preach this in storytelling as well,” Maarten says, “horizontal influence. More and more people turn to family, friends and colleagues for advice on purchases. Advertising and media are not the first source of information anymore.”

A hundred metres from our conversation, our surfer dude with the red board has been waiting for the perfect wave. Now he has decided that the next wave is the one. He waits for the right moment, starts paddling to gain speed and gets on his board. The wave swells; the surfer finds his balance and glides fast to prevent the wave from swallowing him. “He’s riding the Bronte Express,” I think to myself.

“Brandkarma is open, democratic and transparent. We’re aiming to be a positive influence on brands,” Craig says. “Besides rating them, users can make suggestions to improve a brand’s karma.”

In the background the surfer dude with the red board is caught by the wave and swallowed by the Tasman Sea. A few seconds later he emerges, gets back on his board and paddles to get back into position.

“How does the rating system on Brandkarma work?” Maarten asks.

“Brand ratings are based on the ‘3 Ps’,” Craig explains, raising a finger for each point. “How good are their Products, how well do they treat People, and how well do they look after the Planet? A brand with good karma needs to score well on all three Ps.

“Brandkarma is out to make the world a better place, one brand at a time.”

© 2012 CoolBrands – Around the World in 80 Brands

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By Maarten Schäfer – By Maarten Schafer