Practice what you preach
...but be careful where and how
I recently came across an interesting article about the people behind the Sleeping Giants Twitter account and how it has fought against fanatic, racist and sexist content in certain websites. Its actions started a couple of years ago and the impact has only grown with time. Maybe it is because I am working on designing for shared values, but I think that it is a story worth sharing.
I will try to sum it up. It started after the 2016 presidential election in the USA, when a Twitter account under the name of Sleeping Giants started asking brands to stop their advertisements on Breitbart News. The people behind Sleeping Giants were shocked when they realised how many organisations were advertising in far-right websites such as Breitbart. Their products and services stood close to headlines such as ‘Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy’. The activist thought that those organisations did not support such views and might not be aware of their advertisements in such websites, revealing the flaws of the online advertising system. So, they got into action by tweeting a screenshot of the advertisement, tagging the company in question and Sleeping Giants to track the process.
The way of working spread to several countries such as Brazil and France, drawing attention to the risk of uncontrolled online advertising. So far it has managed to significantly reduce the advertising income of such websites from advertising and inspired a part of legislation in France. This legislation requires companies to publish a list of the sites where they advertise every month.
There are many interesting aspects about this story: the political activism, the way in which it is done, the unforeseen flaws of automated ad placement systems but there is one thing that I find fascinating about this story. And that is that it has to do with values.
I know it is a strong (and probably polemic) example, but have you not seen and experienced something like this? How could I call it, value inconsistencies? Maybe in a different context and perhaps with another intensity. Think about a company that states that simplicity is important to them, but then you need to contact their customer service three times in three different ways (online form, e-mail and ultimately calling them). A public organisation that claims to be transparent but whose accounts are not audited, or only retroactively after a scandal. Or any company that stands for equality and inclusion but advertises (even if unknowingly) in a far-right news website. In each situation the credibility of the organisation suffers.
In most cases, we might notice those inconsistencies, we might get irritated about it, we might share it with friends and family in the next gathering, but we probably would not take it further.
I see this is changing. In the digital and connected world there are more people sharing their own opinions and experiences, or echoing those of others. There are certain risks to this, but I find it interesting to see that organisations are increasingly being confronted with their own inconsistencies. In words of Nandini Jammi, co-founder of Sleeping Giants:
We present information to our brands and we ask them if it aligns with their values. If it doesn’t, we ask them what they will do about it. It is their decision, but we use our leverage to create pressure so the decision is totally visible.
And this is good. As humans we ourselves are full of inconsistencies and contradictions, it would be surprising for organisations to be any different. But that does not mean that they should not strive to be more true to their values. And it should not only be about where and how they advertise, that is the tip of the iceberg. I believe it should apply to how they do business and how they interact with their customers, citizens, employees, stakeholders and environment.
And just as it is good to be aware of our inconsistencies, and to be helped by others pointing them out respectfully, organisations should take this as a chance to work on their values. If they ever want to be authentic and credible that is.
As I mentioned in the beginning, at Informaat we are developing tools and techniques for what we call True experience design. We are doing this to facilitate organisations in breathing and exuding their values through everything they do and thus help them practice what they preach.
Do you have other examples of organisations that (do not) live up to their values? Are you interested in knowing more about our approach? Do you know some methods to research people’s values? Please get in touch with me.
- Sleeping Giants on Breitbart and brand safety: ‘It’s not our job to police your ads’ (The Drum, 4 sep 2019)
- Revealed: The People Behind an Anti-Breitbart Twitter Account (New York Times, 20 July 2018)
- France’s new ‘Sleeping Giants’ law (3 feb 2020)
About the author
Iñigo Otero (/ioolazabal) works as a service designer at Informaat. Educated at the TUDelft, he has experience working for different organisations (SME, corporate and consultancy). He is a design thinker who loves switching from macro to micro problems by involving the customer in everything he does.