BusinessWe Interviewed Thomas “Goodvertising” Kolster and Here’s What He Had to Say About His New Book “the Hero Trap”

Mahytab RiyadJune 22, 202020 min

Few days left until the release of “The Hero Trap” book by the author Thomas Kolster. Thomas Kolster is a Marketing Activist and he worked in the advertising field for years. He has the belief that businesses should put people and the planet first, especially when it comes to marketing or advertising.

He made it his life’s work to spread his ideas and that’s when he wrote his first book ‘Goodvertising’ (Thames & Hudson) in 2012. This book turned out to be a global movement with the same title that’s inspired a shift for a better definition in advertising. Also, He’s an internationally recognized speaker who has given talks at events like TEDx, SXSW, D&AD in more than 70 countries. Thomas is a columnist for the Guardian, Adweek, The Drum, and several other publications. He is as well a regular judge at international award shows such as Cannes Lions and D&AD.

So let’s cut to the chase and share with you guys our interview with the advertising genius!

1. Tell us more about the story behind your newly released book “The Hero Trap”?

I was wrong about purpose.  I’ve been in the hurricane’s eye of the purpose revolution the last decade and have been a vocal advocate. Today, I’ve lost my belief in putting brands or leaders on that purpose pedestal rallying for change. If you try to fly like superman, you’ll fall like a can of soup. If we are to create change, we have to put people first. It’s a move from “why” your organization matters in the world to understanding how you as a brand can help people. Helping them to achieve “who” they want to be or making them matter. Simply, we are our own biggest enemies of change. Very few organizations have been able to bridge the purpose gap. They get people to move from buying in the purpose to actually buying the product or changing behaviors for the better. The intention is there, but the action doesn’t follow. Through years of advising leaders and brands on purpose, I finally realized what the missing link was. It was the very people you are supposed to serve and consequently motivate. I looked to coaching methodologies and psychotherapy to understand how to move people from inaction to action. Also, from unfulfilled to fulfilled. One simple but essential question helped spark the needed change: “Who can you help people become?”.  People are no longer simply buying marketing messages or a brand’s good-willed approach; they’re looking for a personal transformation. Anyone can sell them things, stories, or identity, but very few brands can help people achieve their goals. That’s brand heaven as it’s moving the relationship from transactional to transformational. Moreover, this is helping people be more, do more, see more, or experience more. The business case got clear when one commissioned study compared well-known commercials to each other. The study shows that by taking a people-first approach, people are 29.5% more motivated to act on the messaging than the traditional purpose approach.

from: Thomas Kolster

2.  How did you manage to get yourself out of that 8-years writer’s crisis? 

Haha, not sure. I would call it a writer’s crisis as much as I really didn’t have anything important enough to say. There are tons of books out there and it’s close to economic suicide to write a book. So, unless it’s a book that’s going to push the needle forward, I really didn’t wanna do it. This book found me, and it’s been an incredibly insightful journey for me as well. Especially since I had to challenge my earlier-held beliefs.

3. We know that it took you some time to come up with the name “The Hero Trap – How to win in a post-purpose market by putting people in charge” … why that name exactly?

Oh yes, naming this book was like naming a child. Honestly, I did a long list of almost-there, could-be, maybes before I finally settled on one title. Everything from Transformability to Butterfly Brands. I guess that’s part of the lifelong struggle of creating anything. In the cover, I have openly shared those failed titles. The amazingly talented illustrator Edel Rodriguez has done the same with the development of the cover as well. I guess as creatives – or anyone working in marketing – we have to embrace failure and keep trying.  

4. What will this book offer to help revolutionize the marketing industry?

Today, it’s not about selling but about satisfying people’s different urges. Their urge for painting, shouting, dancing, or however else they want to realize themselves. As more and more marketers are complaining about the lack of engagement online and declining engagement numbers, one has to ask whether it’s simply because the marketing industry in itself is to blame for not offering enough possibilities for engagement. The diagnosis is clear: marketers are stuck in a mass-marketing mindset. So how can you give people a part to play across the marketing mix from product to promotion? We’re entering a new era of marketing where it is not about what you say or what you do. This era is about how you can enable others to sing your praises. It’s truly about time we begin respecting people as individuals with dreams and passions rather than a target group of dumb sitting ducks waiting to be force-fed. In my years in advertising, brands have spent billions to get people to wear a T-shirt with their name and logo on it.  Now it’s changing, and people can proudly wear their own accomplishments on their chests. The challenge cannot be ignored, so what’s your response?

from: Thomas Kolster

5. Do you recommend your book to entrepreneurs and marketeers in the MENA region? 

Most definitely. The tendency is as clear across MENA. This is because brands and leaders there time and time again run into the hero trap and get criticized. For entrepreneurs, it’s also a great way to find a meaningful role to play in people’s lives. This could be done by answering the one question: WHO can you help people become? Rather than relying on the typical founders’ story – I hated or loved this and did this!

6. The book “Goodvertising” has literally taken the industry by storm, but do you think that the Goodvertising movement will ever be the norm of advertising? 

Yes, most definitely. It’s ignorant to think that movements like #MeToo #BlackLivesMatter or #ClimateEmergency will go away. Each and every year, I do see more and more Goodvertising work from across regions and especially in the award shows.

7. Do you think creatives can make an ad that balances commercial purposes and serving real needs?

For sure they can. I believe our industry still has lots to learn. However, I do see more exciting work coming from the client-side these days. For example, Carlsberg experimenting with Green Fiber bottles and its launch of the Snap Pack avoiding the plastic six-pack rings. And for the skeptics out there, I might add, the business case for balancing commercial benefits with serving real needs is pretty clear. Nike and Apple have a clear “WHO” they serve and a clear role they play in their customers’ lives. Think about the unhindered creativity when working on an Apple MacBook: you are truly creative. It’s not about the product, it’s about who you become.

8. You have been a speaker in a lot of worldwide events, tell us about the most remarkable talk you have ever given?

I feel blessed that I can travel around the world and meet and interact with many different cultures. It never really feels like work. I do have so many great experiences from speaking at Creative Industry Summit in Cairo to Quito in Ecuador. But at the end of the day, it’s really not about the country, the city or the landscape, it’s always about the people. In these challenging times, we have politicians and movements trying to build walls between people. Walls based on skin color, sex, religious, or political beliefs. So, it’s encouraging for me to see and experience humanity everywhere I go. It makes me optimistic that we can prevail!

from: Printing in Cannes

9. In your opinion, will the COVID-19 affect how people/companies perceive advertising in the future? 

I don’t think so. COVID-19 has in many ways been an abnormality or a period where we could rip the usual marketing rulebook apart. Also, we could see how many companies and individuals decided to do what they could in the fight against this horrendous and deadly disease. That said, I do think the way we consume will be affected. As many stores have been closed and people have been stuck at home, it’s been a global experiment in non-consumption. People have had the chance to discover that the best things in life aren’t things. Furthermore, they have taken time off to pursue new hobbies like playing the guitar or enjoying chores like baking.

10. What’s the one global award you enjoyed judging the most?

I wouldn’t pick one over the other. I do feel we have more and more award shows honoring creativity for good. They are important as they serve as lighthouses for our whole industry and serve an important role in society. As they do show that brands and advertising are more than selling and creating wants. Brands and advertising can serve needs and be part of the solution. There are worth checking out awards like “D&AD Impact” awards and Cannes Lions newly inaugurated award “Sustainable Development Goal Lions”. It’s a good starting point for everyone passionate about making a real difference with their creativity.

from D&AD

11. What would you advise the younger generations who’re aspiring to take marketing/advertising as their line of career?

I’d say, go do it. We need you. And if you don’t like working at an ad agency or for some company, go do your own shit. Spending time with marketing and advertising is never a waste of time. Use what you love or hate to create the change you want to see in this world!

Mahytab Riyad

She is a curly head haunted by a writer’s ghost, and definitely the go-to person when it comes to skin, hair, and makeup. We bet she would be fun to watch Netflix with!

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