Thrutopia and Marketing: Stories From the Edge of a Better Tomorrow

Introducing the concept of Thrutopia and how Thrutopian principles might help us to reshape marketing in support of a thriving future.

Article Info

December 20, 2023 8 mins

What we will cover

The Ostrich in the room

Ok, so let’s be honest. We can’t keep working this way.

Even the longest necked ostrich standing in the softest desert sand can no longer deny that the combined impacts of human activity are changing the world irreversibly. There are now plenty of crises clamouring for attention and many of them seem to be discussed alongside #existentialcrisis.

Imagining the future

If it’s not the gathering pace of climate breakdown or the sixth mass extinction then it’s the swift approach of massive technological change prompted by AI that fuels our doubt and sense of helplessness. As the awareness of these intertwining crises grows it’s easy to envisage the weirdest of futures in which, according to Elon at least, nobody has a job (because Aida the AI robot is doing it all) and everybody has time to contemplate the dystopian chaos left in the wake of the rampant capitalist machine. Either that or everybody has time to vacate that little thimble full of brain that we reserve for conscious thought, jump on our smart phones and watch a live stream of our billionaire overlord’s private rocket ships taking them to their new home on Zargon-7.

I don’t know about you but I’d rather not resign myself to that future. Despite the challenges that these global crises present, there must be things that we can do to turn the metaphorical (and indeed, literal) tide and head in a new direction. There must be a way to help that ostrich lift its head and stare down reality so that we don’t end up in a dystopian tomorrow wondering how we got there. There must be a route through to a thriving future, one that we can consciously choose and collectively walk that results in something better. So what will it take for us to imagine this route and start following it?

Marketing and the power of storytelling

One of the reasons that I run a marketing company is because I believe in the power of stories. Stories shape our lives, our identities, our relationships to people, place and self. We have used stories to transmit culture, meaning and knowledge for many thousands of years and it could be argued that it is the ability to tell stories that makes us human in the first place. Marketing, for good or very possibly evil, has become the frontline of storytelling in our modern culture. You only have to look at the recent slew of product based movie’s (The Lego Movie, Air, Barbie, Tetris, etc…) to see that marketing has taken hold of not just our wallets but also our hearts. We care about products. We care about how things augment and define our own stories. We believe that our shoes say something about us. So do our mobile phone cases, our cars, our houses, our holidays. All of these buying decisions help us to understand our story and our place in the world and that, my friend, is marketing.

Except, perhaps, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Thrutopia and the future that happens through us

Over the last couple of years I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved with a writing collective, gathered together by the bestselling author and Accidental Gods podcast host, Manda Scott around a central idea called Thrutopia (a term first coined by Rupert Read). As well as taking me on a journey that inspired my book Beyond the Brink is the Beginning, being part of the collective has opened my eyes to the importance of Thrutopia as a route to conceiving, imagining and then creating a better future. In Manda’s own words the way forward requires us to ‘write Thrutopias: clear, engaging routes through to a world we’d all be proud to bequeath to future generations’. What would it mean for marketing if we adopted a Thrutopian approach to storytelling?

Firstly, in order to write, film, code or design clear, engaging routes through to a world we’d all be proud to bequeath to future generations, we have to define what that world might look like and what sort of human organisations might thrive there. It’s hard to believe that solely profit driven enterprises can exist in this future and that leads us towards purpose and towards human need. What would marketing be like if instead of helping companies make profit by preying on consumer pain points, we told stories that help people support other people in fulfilling their true needs? What if all marketers got together behind a new Thrutopian set of principles that laid out a vision for telling stories that support a thriving planet. My belief is that marketing is heading in this direction and initiatives like MarketingKind provides strong evidence for this.

Principles of Thrutopian marketing

So, what might such a set of principles look like:

1 – We need to be writing through – this is what ‘Thrutopia’ is about

Every business, product or service is on a journey and we should be honest about this journey from the outset. Some sectors, businesses, products and services will have to disappear as we head towards a flourishing future and it could be a principle of Thrutopian marketing to let them disappear and focus on those that will take us through to a world we’d all be proud to bequeath to future generations.

2 – We need to be writing through to a flourishing future for all life

Marketing is pretty much exclusively focussed on human life and human needs, wants, desires. There is no space in marketing for the needs of nematode worms, bacteria, non-stripy pollinating insects or any form of life that we don’t yet understand well enough to see it’s connection to our own wellbeing. Thrutopian marketing must address how the offer (currently thought of as the product or service) benefits more than just the people receiving the offer.

3 – We need to be writing through to a flourishing future for all life that an overwhelming majority of humanity will feel proud of – or it won’t happen

Marketing must be inclusive and seek to connect. We must aspire to tell stories that transcend the dividing lines of class, race, culture and religion and that focus on the needs we share.

Would you pay to avoid marketing?

These are, to a certain extent,  impractical principles that are challenging to achieve within the existing system, not least because marketing is paid for by companies and organisations, rather than by the people who read, listen, watch or otherwise consume marketing messages. Effectively, it is us, the consumer (otherwise and more respectfully known as ‘the human being’), who pays in the end, sold an item we don’t need for a purpose we don’t care about, and by doing so unconsciously contributing funds to the next marketing campaign. How many of us would consciously pay for marketing if we were given the choice? Would you pay to have a selected set of companies market their services to you? Would you pay to avoid it?

Stepping into the future

To write and then embody a Thrutopian story you have to take a first step and then another and then another. For us at Vu that first step was to work with a mindset coach to understand the purpose and values that underpin our lives. The next step was to do the ‘business as usual’ carbon measurement and reduction work and so we began that journey too, reducing our CO2e emissions by over 60% in 2022. Next we set up a business network called the Positive Nature Network to help other businesses connect with nature. Next we started the process of becoming a B-Corp. The next steps will keep coming, but where might they lead to?

In truth, it may be the case that marketing is exactly the kind of sector that needs to disappear for the world and the things that live here to thrive. Even if this is the case, there is a Thrutopia to write about the transition from storytelling for profit to storytelling that transmits culture, meaning and knowledge throughout our societies. If that is the tale that those who call ourselves marketers must embrace then we are perfectly placed to do so. Few other sectors have the creativity and storytelling ability to narrate their own conscious death and rebirth. Just maybe, as marketers, we can show that such things are possible.

#regenerativebusiness #thrutopia #polycrisis

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