When Ad­ver­tis­ing be­comes a pos­i­tive force

Ad­ver­tis­ing that can help save the world from it­self has risen in im­por­tance. But is it com­ing from a gen­uine de­sire to do good?

ArabAd - - CONTENTS - By Iain Ak­er­man

Can ad­ver­tis­ing be a force for good? An in­creas­ing num­ber of brands and agen­cies seem to be­lieve so.

Im­prov­ing prof­itabil­ity while bet­ter­ing so­ci­ety is flavour of the month, with con­sumers not only ex­pect­ing brands to re­flect their ideas and prin­ci­pals, but to be so­cially and en­vi­ron­men­tally re­spon­si­ble in an era of un­prece­dented change.

This con­cept is noth­ing new of course, but the var­i­ous monikers avail­able to help de­scribe this swing to­wards benev­o­lence has in­creased. ‘Ad­ver­tis­ing for so­cial good’, ‘cause mar­ket­ing’, even ‘goodvertising’. The lat­ter – what Paul Bar­rass, chief cre­ative of­fi­cer at Dubaibased Face to Face, de­scribes as “a toe­curl­ing port­man­teau” – was first coined by Thomas Kol­ster, a Dan­ish strate­gist. It is es­sen­tially the de­sire to cre­ate ad­ver­tis­ing as a source of good.

“Nowa­days, con­sumers ex­pect brands to make a dif­fer­ence in the com­mu­nity and make a pos­i­tive con­tri­bu­tion to so­ci­ety be­sides sell­ing goods and ser­vices, and ad­ver­tis­ers are re­spond­ing to that shift with an in­creased adop­tion of so­cial brand­ing,” ex­plains Nadim Khoury, chief ex­ec­u­tive at Grey MENA.

There are, how­ever, many facets to the topic. Firstly, what can be de­scribed as ‘mean­ing­ful mar­ket­ing’. That is, cam­paigns that con­front so­cial is­sues as part of a com­pany’s brand mar­ket­ing. Al­ways’ #Likea­girl, which chal­lenged gen­der stereo­typ­ing, or Dove’s ‘Real Beauty’, which chal­lenged per­cep­tions of beauty, are ex­am­ples.

Then there are agen­cies that work for

char­i­ta­ble or other or­gan­i­sa­tions to cre­ate work for the greater good. Think the road safety cam­paign ‘Meet Gra­ham’, a Cannes grand prix win­ner for Cle­menger BBDO Mel­bourne and Aus­tralia’s Trans­port Ac­ci­dent Com­mis­sion, which imag­ined what hu­mans would look like if our bod­ies evolved to with­stand car-crashes. Some of this work is done pro bono.

Re­gion­ally, Leo Bur­nett Beirut has done a lot, most re­cently with ‘Un­dress522’ for women’s rights NGO Abaad, which tack­led an ar­chaic ar­ti­cle of the Le­banese pe­nal code that states that if rapists marry their vic­tims they will be ex­on­er­ated. Ar­ti­cle 522 was abol­ished by the par­lia­men­tary ju­di­cial com­mit­tee and now only needs to be rat­i­fied by par­lia­ment.

“More than a decade ago, Leo Bur­nett Beirut put its con­vic­tion and its ‘Hu­mankind’ phi­los­o­phy into ac­tion,” ex­plains Rana Khoury, cre­ative di­rec­tor at Leo Bur­nett Beirut and lead cre­ative on #Un­dress522. “One of the agency’s first cam­paigns, AMAM05, stood against sec­tar­i­an­ism, fol­lowed by sev­eral cam­paigns sup­port­ing women’s rights causes with ‘Khede Kasra’, ‘No Rights No Women’, nu­mer­ous cam­paigns for KAFA, but also against child abuse for Hi­maya, or ‘Bil Alb ya Watan’ and many oth­ers.

“This strat­egy is not only a deep be­lief in the pos­si­bil­ity of chang­ing hu­man behaviour through com­mu­ni­ca­tion, but it is also a strat­egy driven by man­age­ment, where our skills are put at the ser­vice of good.”

THE CURSE OF AWARDS

And then there is work cre­ated purely to win awards. Much of this work is done proac­tively and fre­quently for ob­scure char­i­ties. And be­cause char­i­ties are by def­i­ni­tion non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tions, agen­cies know they will be will­ing to run ad­ver­tis­ing that has been cre­ated with­out a brief (with the in­ten­tion of win­ning awards), which tends to raise aware­ness of the agency rather than the charity’s cause. It is this work that gives ad­ver­tis­ing for good a bad name.

“CSR and charity briefs are re­garded as award briefs by cre­ative de­part­ments,” says Bar­rass. “They are not sub­ject to the same rig­or­ous scru­tiny by mar­ket­ing de­part­ments, who see it as soft and fluffy com­mu­ni­ca­tion and not about

In an ever-chang­ing world, where cruel voices are get­ting louder year af­ter year, those who do be­lieve in good need to do more to be heard, and cam­paign­ing is one the most efà­cient ways to spread your mes­sage. Rana Khoury

sales fig­ures. This means the cre­ative depart­ment has more cre­ative free­dom, more lat­i­tude to be sur­pris­ing, thought pro­vok­ing, shock­ing or un­ex­pected – which are the qual­i­ties awards ju­ries look for… [But] there are many cases where agen­cies pig­gy­back on hu­man­i­tar­ian causes for their own self pro­mo­tion.”

Nadim Khoury adds: “Ev­ery agency has its own views about the is­sue, but from what we can see, many ad­ver­tis­ers and agen­cies are sim­ply start­ing to re­alise the greater value that ad­ver­tis­ing brings to the ta­ble and they have a gen­uine de­sire to cre­ate good in the com­mu­nity and make a pos­i­tive change.

“Yes, agen­cies have to be more cre­ative and fo­cus on as­so­ci­at­ing their ad cam­paigns with the re­al­i­ties and emo­tions of their spe­cific tar­get au­di­ence in or­der to achieve their clients’ sales and mar­ket­ing goals, but they can now do so while mak­ing a dif­fer­ence in the world. It’s like, for lack of a bet­ter metaphor, hit­ting two birds with one stone and feel­ing good about it. It just makes sense. Do more good, and you’ll get it back man­i­fold. Such ad­ver­tis­ing sim­ply res­onates with how the world works in a way. Brands cre­ate pos­i­tive change in the com­mu­nity, and they get re­warded with an in­crease in mind share, cus­tomer loy­alty, and sales.”

Prob­lems arise when this de­sire to do good is not per­ceived to be gen­uine. Rather, it comes from a de­sire for self­ad­vance­ment in­stead.

“This is a ques­tion of where the mo­ti­va­tion comes from,” says Bar­rass. “When the mo­ti­va­tion is in­tended to bring about good and al­le­vi­ate suf­fer­ing or pri­va­tion, it is life af­firm­ing and ben­e­fi­cial to ev­ery­one in­volved. How­ever, when the mo­ti­va­tion is to hang on with ca­dav­er­ous fin­ger­tips to the coat tails of war, star­va­tion, and tsunamis for a free ride to the awards podium, it is de­grad­ing and cor­rupt­ing.

“A lot of brands’ mes­sag­ing in cor­po­rate so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity gives the im­pres­sion that ‘I’d like to make an anony­mous con­tri­bu­tion to your great cause, but just in case you’re in­ter­ested, here’s my logo’, which is in­her­ently disin­gen­u­ous. Much of the lan­guage of ‘goodvertising’ is self-con­grat­u­la­tory. ‘We do­nated’, ‘we helped’, ‘we as­sisted’. The pub­lic eas­ily de-codes these phrases as brands look­ing for a ‘pat on the back’.”

Much of the lan­guage of ‘goodvertising’ is self-con­grat­u­la­tory. ‘We do­nated’, ‘we helped’, ‘we as­sisted’. The pub­lic eas­ily de­codes these phrases as brands look­ing for a ‘pat on the back’. Paul Bar­ras

‘TELL ME WHAT YOU’RE ACHIEV­ING’

As a con­sumer, I re­ally don’t care about how much Àrm A or % have given to charity (un­less it’s my money). What I do want to know is what have you achieved? How many fam­i­lies have you helped? Peo­ple ed­u­cated? Dis­eases pre­vented? Alex Maalouf

Alex Maalouf, chair of the In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Busi­ness Com­mu­ni­ca­tors for Europe, the Mid­dle East and North Africa, agrees. “Don’t tell me what you’re spend­ing on oth­ers, tell me what you’re achiev­ing for oth­ers,” he says. “As a con­sumer, I re­ally don’t care about how much firm A or B have given to charity (un­less it’s my money). What I do want to know is what have you achieved? How many fam­i­lies have you helped? Peo­ple ed­u­cated? Dis­eases pre­vented?

“I should be able to un­der­stand the pos­i­tive im­pact of a brand, and the causes that it stands for. For ex­am­ple, there’s the Body Shop, which pi­o­neered the sale of cos­met­ics, which weren’t tested on an­i­mals. Then there’s In­no­cent, the mak­ers of no-sugar added fruit smooth­ies. There’s not only the cause that the brand stands for, but also the cause that it sup­ports. Take Toms shoes, which do­nates a pair of shoes to an im­pov­er­ished child for ev­ery pair sold.

“What’s the com­mon thread that runs through these brands? They’re trans­par­ent in their char­i­ta­ble goals, they clearly state what has been achieved, and they talk about long-term out­comes. They don’t dan­gle dol­lar amounts in front of the con­sumer in the form of a press re­lease. They don’t talk about the

good work their money is do­ing. Rather, they just get on with the hard work in a trans­par­ent fash­ion.”

There is a clear dis­tinc­tion to be made be­tween ad­ver­tis­ing for so­cial good and com­mer­cially-minded cause-re­lated mar­ket­ing. The lat­ter largely in­volves band­wagon-jump­ing, or trend fol­low­ing, as Kol­ster re­cently pointed out in an ar­ti­cle for The Drum.

“It seems like most agen­cies and mar­keters are treat­ing the big­gest is­sues of our time as a new trend, as if do­ing good is sim­ply the ‘new black’ or per­haps pink (judg­ing from the num­ber of fe­male equal­ity cam­paigns on show),” he wrote. “Like ev­ery brand in the 90s was all about lifestyle, it seems like brands to­day are firmly on the so­cial is­sues band­wagon like bees around a honey pot (even though the bees are also a cause we should worry about).”

For Thomas Kol­ster, the big­gest is­sue – that of over-con­sump­tion (which brands are the big­gest pro­po­nents of) – is not be­ing ad­dressed.

“We need more de­bates, we need more key­notes, we need more cre­ative so­lu­tions em­brac­ing sus­tain­able trans­for­ma­tion, cir­cu­lar con­sump­tion, the shar­ing econ­omy, new ma­te­ri­als, re­new­ables and eco­nomic equal­ity,” he said. “So­cial and en­vi­ron­men­tal en­trepreneurs are solv­ing things, while ad land per­pet­u­ates more stunts with lit­tle to no ef­fect.”

We need more de­bates, we need more key­notes, we need more cre­ative so­lu­tions em­brac­ing sus­tain­able trans­for­ma­tion, cir­cu­lar con­sump­tion, the shar­ing econ­omy, new ma­te­ri­als, re­new­ables and eco­nomic equal­ity Thomas Kol­ster

AC­TION, NOT JUST WORDS

For any brand to be viewed favourably and not as a cyn­i­cal band­wagon-jumper only in­ter­ested in com­mer­cial gain, words have to be meant. And they must be fol­lowed by clear ac­tions. In other words, sub­stance is a pre-req­ui­site.

“For a so­cial-cause ad to be ef­fec­tive, it has to be gen­uine and has to sit at the heart of a pop­u­lar cul­ture,” as­serts Nadim Khoury. “Con­sumers are not naïve. They’re smart and well in­formed and they can tell the dif­fer­ence be­tween a mere at­tempt to drive sales or il­licit ac­tion and a real de­sire to cre­ate pos­i­tive change.

“What mat­ters is that a so­cial ad cam­paign brings about the de­sired change, be it raise aware­ness about a par­tic­u­lar is­sue, pos­i­tively shape pub­lic per­cep­tion, or more di­rectly em­power and con­trib­ute to en­hanc­ing the sit­u­a­tion and lives of an un­der­priv­i­leged seg­ment in so­ci­ety.

“Ad­ver­tis­ers who un­der­stand that ‘ac­tions speak louder than words’ and that their ad cam­paign needs to do more than just raise a cul­tur­ally-rel­e­vant is­sue have a good chance of achiev­ing re­sults and cre­at­ing a last­ing change. The ones who do suc­ceed go one step fur­ther and di­rectly cre­ate pos­i­tive change by of­fer­ing a real so­lu­tion to a so­ci­etal-level is­sue and – even bet­ter – con­trib­ute to mak­ing it hap­pen.”

How­ever, Kol­ster be­lieves nowhere near enough of gen­uine value is be­ing done. He ar­gues that one-offs like the Cannes grand prix-win­ner ‘Fear­less Girl’ for State Street Global Ad­vi­sors by Mc­cann New York are not cre­at­ing last­ing change. Some cam­paigns he dis­misses as mere gim­micks.

But, as Bar­rass points out, the hon­ourable mo­ti­va­tion to do good can come into con­flict with most mar­ket­ing de­part­ments’ view on profit.

“Ad­ver­tis­ing for good, when it is most ef­fec­tive, has al­tru­ism at its core,” he says. “Al­tru­ism is some­times de­fined as ‘the in­ten­tional and vol­un­tary ac­tions that aim to en­hance the wel­fare of other peo­ple in the ab­sence of any quid pro quo ex­ter­nal re­wards’. This is where cre­ative ad­ver­tis­ing be­comes con­flicted. ‘The ab­sence of quid pro quo ex­ter­nal re­wards’ is at odds with the am­bi­tions and in­stincts of brands and cre­ative de­part­ments who crave praise, recog­ni­tion, profit and re­ward.”

He adds: “Since the ex­pres­sion ‘mod­est boast­ing’ (a state­ment in which you pre­tend to be mod­est but which you are re­ally us­ing as a way of telling peo­ple about your achieve­ments) has en­tered our vo­cab­u­lary, con­sumers are sus­pi­cious of brands who pro­claim to be forces of good, then hit us with their hubris­tic lo­gos. Con­sumers’ scep­ti­cism and abil­ity to de­code brands’ in­ten­tions will dic­tate how ad­ver­tis­ing for good will evolve.”

That said, Rana Khoury hopes more brands are re­al­is­ing the im­por­tance of their role in mak­ing pos­i­tive change.

“In an ever-chang­ing world, where cruel voices are get­ting louder year af­ter year, those who do be­lieve in good need to do more to be heard, and cam­paign­ing is one the most ef­fi­cient ways to spread your mes­sage,” says Khoury. “The least a great cam­paign can do is change opin­ions or the sta­tus quo. But it can also go fur­ther by chang­ing per­cep­tions and be­hav­iours, or by cre­at­ing a move­ment, like ‘No Law No Vote’ for KAFA, or by lob­by­ing for a law, like #Un­dress522 for Abaad.

“A good idea can in­flu­ence minds, its im­ple­men­ta­tion can im­pact be­hav­iours, and its re­sults can lead to change.”

The multi-awarded ‘Meet Gra­ham’ cam­paign by Cle­menger BBDO Mel­bourne, Aus­tralia, for Trans­port Ac­ci­dent Com­mis­sion Vic­to­ria.

Al­ways’ #Likea­girl chal­lenged gen­der stereo­typ­ing and Dove’s ‘Real Beauty’ chal­lenged per­cep­tions of beauty.

Abaad’s Un­dress522 was the most awarded cam­paign from the MENA re­gion this year.

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