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Brand Facts

FROM: Jake

What NEED does this meet?
We live in a branded, logo-fied world. Brands are used to enable economies of scale and there is nothing intrinsically wrong with them. However, what we need is 'perfect information' which economics tell us is the key to free markets. Without this, we are constantly being duped into buying products we netiher need nore truly want. Or what if we don't agree with a company's ethics, policies and history? We need information about products other than the marketing and PR talk the companies want us to hear. And we want to find it fast.

What is the APPROACH?
Introducing brandfacts.org. A database of brand names, companies and products. Make a search 'colgate' and the site will find user-submitted text about the brand. There's information about the company: who owns it, what other products it makes, its profit or loss, its ethical practice. There are also several categories enabling scores out of ten such as 'environment', 'ethics' and 'innovation'. Search for 'toothpaste' and you can rank the results by numerous categories such as those just mentioned. Prices are listed too, but hopefully will not be the most important issue to most people.

Ideally, whilst being based around a main website, it will also be possible for citizens to get the information when they need it: whilst shopping. i.e. by texting 'toothpaste ethics top 10' they'll get a list of the top 10 toothpaste brands/companies by text. Or maybe a small-browser version of the site for other mobile devices.

What are the BENEFITS to people?
When shopping, people will be able to make decisions not just based upon price and adverts they've seen. They can shop ethically, or environmentally, or perhaps boycott companies which pay ridiculous fat-cat pay checks, or those which invest in weapons or oil. This will encourage companies to clean up their acts and act as socially responsible entities.

What is the COMPETITION?
Let me know if I'm wrong, but I haven't found another site that does this yet. Corpwatch.org and others do features on certain companies or industries, but importantly they aren't targeted at the casual shopper who needs information on something they're about to buy right away. On all products, not just the major brands.

What BUDGET & LOGISTICS are required?
Most submissions to the site will be made by users and moderated by users who have different rankings and warnings based upon quality and accuracy of information they provide. A system for making this work without any/too much 'staff' admin is crucial to the working of this project and will be the most expensive issue in terms of development costs. Some full time staff will be required to promote the site and moderate user submissions (sometimes by thorough and expensive investigative research) - however it is hoped that in the long run algorithms and systems will be developed to enable greater autonomy.

October 31, 2003 in Corporate Social Responsibility, Empowering Consumers, Reputation Systems, User Created Content | Permalink


Great idea.

Might encourage business's to make a little less profit and do better for society / enviroment, other peoples societies even.

and help consumer awareness of the realities of capatolism :) well probably not but hey.

be great to make the site global, and to encourage business to advertise the fact people can rate and view the companies details here.

perhaps you could publish results in a regular slot in a new paper (yeah real paper), which would really help with site promotion / visibility.

Posted by: Richard Thomas at Oct 31, 2003 7:08:59 AM

Fantastic idea and sorely needed. For those consumers who vow never again to buy a product from one brand/manufacturer/retail chain it will help them keep to it - for example; you get bad service at PC World - brandfacts tells you that PC World is part of the Dixons Stores Group chain so you can avoid them also.

It would also nice to be know who's who with the Sony's, Matsushita's, JVC, Panasonic's etc. as when one delves you find part or cross ownership everywhere.

Posted by: Adrian Cotterill at Oct 31, 2003 9:29:20 AM

Sounds like an excellent idea, i'm all for a consumer regulated retail market where actual quality of business practices and goods are put before advertising campaigns and media hype.

If i ever get any spare time i'd be more than willing to lend a hand..

Posted by: Ben Smith at Oct 31, 2003 9:50:22 AM

This is a real need answering a problem of complexity and confusion.

Lots of the data exists of course in ethical and consumer publications, and it will be very difficult to separate fact from opinion. You'll have to combat an in-built bias to only collect bad news about brands, and also represent vested agendas rather than a rounded ethical view which enables people to make trade-offs.

What I love about this idea is that it intrinsically adapts to changing needs. As fat cat salaries become an issue you can build an index on that. As GM rears its head, as human rights etc etc. I'm sure you would find NGOs ready to supply evidence on various criteria, however much of it won't be susceptible to 'top ten' style analysis and will be difficult to check. You should certainly include some right of reply to corporations whose brands are being rated.

Here's a random brand name suggestion for you.


Posted by: Tim Kitchin at Oct 31, 2003 9:54:54 AM

Tim - quite right about the bias, and this is why the greatest amount of time and effort will need to go into building a self-moderating system which gives both sides of a story. Often I expect, people will link to and quote from articles on brands/companies on activist websites. How do you verify these? Well, you can rate different sources, and people can 'vote' on integrity etc. And as you say, companies must be alloed a right to respond.

I'm glad a few of you seem to like this idea. It came to me two years ago during a lecture in consumption whilst studying Sociology at Nottingham uni. It just makes so much sense.

Posted by: Jake at Oct 31, 2003 10:20:24 AM

This is a great idea - you've reminded me that I was thinking about somthing similar a year or two ago, and have some notes.

There are so many ethical issues, the service could give an "ethical profile" questionnaire to work out what you care about most. Important to have issues interesting to people across the political spectrum (e.g. Fair Trade for liberals, Buy British for conservatives).

Possible issues: fishing methods, buy British, buy local, vegetarian, vegan, kosha, halaal, organic, farm assured, fair trade, not animal tested, forest stewardship, ethical financial product, energy efficient (bulbs, fridges), energy source (power companies), recycled (paper), low pollution fuel, honest labelling, non-GM, good design (usability), non-sweat shop labour, health conscious. Use types of airline food (there are 29!) for inspiration of more ideas.

It would be important that it offers obvious direct benefits to the user - for example as an easy way to find great nearby shops like independent record stores, or farmers markets, which the user otherwise would not have found. Just ethics wouldn't be taken up by many people.

Obvious partners: Co-operative bank, co-operative retail, ethical consumer magazine. I have www.shopethical.co.uk written down, but it doesn't seem to work right now.

Out of This World in Newcastle have a Worldly Wise database in store, with barcode readers.

The service could target businesses as well as, or instead of, consumers. Also target organisations - ones like churches and NGOs would be interested.

Posted by: Francis Irving at Oct 31, 2003 3:47:14 PM

This may be a useful starting point :


Posted by: phil jones at Oct 31, 2003 4:32:54 PM

There are a few already out there:

Posted by: surly at Oct 31, 2003 5:14:34 PM

I recently wrote to the Research Director at Google suggesting an ethical filter (letter below). Some of the ideas might prove useful here:

Hi Monika

We are part of a collection of UK and International ethical networks (with almost 1000 members) working towards greater Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and a more sustainable lifestyle. We believe that adding ethical criteria to the Google search algorithms would further improve searching for websites and provide a significant incentive for organisations to adapt their working practices to become more ethical.

Consumers are becoming increasingly interested in the integrity of the companies they buy goods and services from. At the same time filters are needed to sift through information on the internet. Google is in the exciting position of being able to bring about a major societal good while increasing the range of services offered and their position as market leader.

We recognise that Google needs to protect impartiality so we are suggesting the provision of an ‘ethical filter option’ on the Google search site allowing users to search normally but with the results page indicating an ethical rating (using gold star ranking) for each link. The advanced search would also allow for searching according to each star rating. A fun way of introducing the filter, could be to have an 'I'm feeling ethical' button, trialled on a World Human Rights day or World Environment Protection day.

The extent to which a website met ethical rating criteria would be calculated using an ethic algorithm. Measurement criteria might include
- links to and from key ethical organisations (such as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Oxfam)
- mention of environmental, human, animal protection policies
- accumulation of certain keywords such as ethical, socially responsible etc

As you can appreciate, the existing network of ethical organisations would immediately add value to search results using the ethic search algorithm, especially as their sites are usually well linked. There are also well established CSR rating methods such as the Dow Jones Sustainabiltiy index and the FTSE4GOOD and other indexes that could also be used to measure each site, reduce subjectivity and act as a counterbalance.

We believe that this would be an interesting challenge for Google as well as making searching for ethical organisations on the internet much easier for people like ourselves.

Please contact us if you would like to discuss further

Posted by: Jessica Symons at Nov 1, 2003 7:24:18 PM

Why would "innovation" be a category ?
Isn't it too subjective ?
Haven't you ever heard of something supposedly innovative and thought something like "well that's just one of those whatjumacallits with a doodah attached" ?
Of what relevance is a products innovative qualities anyway, surely the fact it fills a real need/want, and that does so with a minimum of penalties to the user/environment/etc are the only necessary concern of such a service ?

Posted by: Mike at Nov 2, 2003 1:03:21 AM

Check out www.theyrule.net

It's a bit outdated though. Maybe we can work with the creators of the site with inputs from Jake and the rest.


Posted by: Nishad at Nov 3, 2003 6:11:31 AM

Nishad - I've seen that site, and a great idea. Unfortunately like you say, its a bit outdated. Also, I'm very keen on functionality over 'bells-and-whistles' which theyrule.net appears to use.

There's a lot of information out there in the public domain already - what we need to do is to collate it all into one easily-searchable and user-friendly repository. For example, opensecrets.org is extremely handy and we'd have to find a way to data-mine from there or help them open up their data as XML or someting simliar.

Posted by: Jake at Nov 3, 2003 1:40:20 PM

This is a terrifyingly risky idea. If it were to be at all successful, it would spend all its time fighting off libel lawsuits. See Godfrey vs. Demon (http://www.cyber-rights.org/reports/demon.htm) and the "McLibel" case for why you would have to do this somewhere not under the jurisdiction of UK libel law. Or you would have to spend a lot of money fact-checking all your submissions very carefully.

Posted by: Pete at Nov 17, 2003 5:52:20 PM

Hey Jake, Great idea! We are working on a similar site for people here in Australia. Please check it out at www.ethical.org.au for some useful links of existing sites. It's soon to be updated in time for for our Sustainable Living festival in Melbourne next month. Would be good to stay in touch with further developments & thoughts. Cheers, Nick (PS. This Other Eden is one great book!).

Posted by: Nick Ray at Jan 22, 2004 3:04:26 AM

This is a great idea; if nothing else we need somewhere to check that the stories you hear about specific companies are either well-founded or still accurate; I often wonder if I still can't buy kit-kats because of Nestlé's actions (have they stopped what they were doing that was wrong?) and is there a single oil company I can trust?

Secondly, would the site accept 'corrections' from the firms themselves? If Nestlé wrote in to say that they'd cleaned up their act, would people take their word for it? Every article/posting would need some sort of editorial review with data to back it up if the site as a whole was to be trusted rather than becoming just another anti-capitalism rant.

Posted by: flameproof at Mar 3, 2004 10:28:24 AM

Great site.

Posted by: cam girl at Sep 7, 2004 11:40:59 PM


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