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Cinema serves an important role beyond its entertainment value. Cinema portends popular thought, identifies emerging trends, and stokes emotional issues. Somebody once told me that you cry at the movies because movies take inspiration from the real world and that’s how you can relate to it.

Managing director of Brandimage Asia, Craig Briggs, writes about Avatar and asks what your brand is doing to be a better citizen.

James Cameron’s epic new movie, Avatar, is a tale set in the future on a planet ominously named ‘Pandora’. The native population are Nav’i – larger than life bi-ped life forms, similar to humans but less “advanced” – yet more spiritual and connected to nature. Humans are present on the planet, mining a precious element appropriately called “unobtanium”. They are doing so without the permission of the local populace, and are hell-bent on protecting their investment, no matter the price.

The movie covers many themes at once, each delicately intertwined into an emotionally moving story. Destruction of nature and cultures is a strong theme. There is love and betrayal. There is the evil, conscienceless corporation, supported tacitly by government (and their military), fueling the corporations’ insatiable drive for profit.

One could even assert that Pandora represents the USA and their partners’ military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today’s oil is tomorrow’s unobtanium. Or, that Pandora represents landowners in China, who are being exploited by savage development (that is certainly a concern of Beijing).

Whilst it would be easy to dismiss Avatar as another visual treat and story-telling masterpiece by Cameron (Titanic, Terminator, Alien), that would be short-sighted. There is a definite lesson here for brands.

Corporate behavior matters. It matters now, and is going to matter more and more in the years to come. The recent Copenhagen Summit may not have resulted in governments agreeing on saving the planet (yet), but it is opening eyes around the world among consumers about the issues we face, and how inter-connected we all are – governments, industry and consumers.

And activism is growing. These same consumers who buy our products and services (or shun them), are becoming part of movements to make policy, change policy, police corporations and products. From Obama’s election in the USA (and the more recent ‘tea parties’), to protests in China about development, to protests for universal suffrage in Hong Kong, to leadership changes in Japan, people are speaking out, and acting out.

Consumers are beginning to reward corporations who embrace earth and human-friendly policies and make it a critical part of their product and service development. Asian consumers will soon begin adding this criteria to their filters when evaluating brands and products for purchase. This kind of activism is already present in the West, one need only look at the grass-roots activism in China, India and other markets in Asia to know that it is coming east.

Brands need to prepare, plan and protect. Moviegoers are flocking to see this film, and seeing it multiple times. Emotions are palpably high. These are your customers, today and tomorrow. This is how they are viewing the world, their leaders, their brands.

What is your brand doing to be a better citizen?

Craig Briggs

How would your brand participate in the golden age of the geek?

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