‘Ads are the way you wish it was’

Leo Bur­nett’s Ah­mad Abu Zan­nad ar­gues that pur­pose­ful ad­ver­tis­ing can make the whole world a bet­ter place.

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It has been proven by mul­ti­ple sources that a brand an­chored by a hu­man pur­pose – one that gives it a mean­ing­ful, ac­tive role in peo­ple’s lives and stems from a strong con­vic­tion on how peo­ple ought to live their lives – does in­deed de­liver as­ton­ish­ing busi­ness re­sults. For ex­am­ple, Unilever claims that ‘brands with pur­pose’ are grow­ing at twice the speed of oth­ers in its port­fo­lio. In Jim Sten­gel’s book Grow: How Ideals Power Growth and Profit at the World’s Great­est Com­pa­nies he an­a­lysed re­search con­ducted on 50,000 brands in 40 coun­tries, ul­ti­mately cre­at­ing a list of 50 pur­pose­ful brands. He showed how these pur­pose­ful ones not only built loy­alty but also out­per­formed the S&P 500 by more than 400 per cent over 10 years. A 2015 Havas Me­dia study showed that pur­pose­ful brands out­per­form the stock mar­ket by 133 per cent, gain 46 per cent more share of wal­let and achieve mar­ket­ing re­sults that are dou­ble those of lower-rated brands.

At Leo Bur­nett, we con­ducted a global study in 11 coun­tries, across 155 cat­e­gories, in­clud­ing 778 Brands, with 37,900 re­spon­dents, and it re­vealed that on av­er­age brands with pur­pose had dou­ble the mar­ket share and fol­low­ers across all their so­cial me­dia plat­forms.

Yet the po­ten­tial of the ad­ver­tis­ing ef­forts com­ing from these pur­pose­ful brands may go way be­yond busi­ness re­sults and can ac­tu­ally play a crit­i­cal role in the well­ness of the over­all hu­man race.

Upon ac­cept­ing his hon­orary 2014 Clio award, the co­me­dian Jerry Se­in­feld made what sounded like a harsh cri­tique of the ad in­dus­try by stat­ing: “In ad­ver­tis­ing every­thing is the way you wish it was; I don’t care that it won’t be like that when I ac­tu­ally get the prod­uct be­ing ad­ver­tised. Be­cause in be­tween see­ing the com­mer­cial and see­ing the thing … I am happy, and that’s all I want: tell me how great the thing is go­ing to be.” He con­cluded with a def­i­ni­tion of the hu­man race as a “hope­ful species”. Now, I am un­sure if he is ac­tu­ally aware of all the sci­en­tific re­search and facts that back up his state­ments, but there are plenty of those.

For in­stance, both neu­ro­science and so­cial sci­ence ad­vo­cate that hu­mans are more op­ti­mistic than re­al­is­tic. There is also sci­en­tific ev­i­dence for Se­in­feld’s state­ments on how peo­ple are happy to en­joy the process of an­tic­i­pat­ing how an ex­pe­ri­ence will be, even if in re­al­ity their re­alised ex­pe­ri­ence is be­low their ex­pec­ta­tions.

Sci­en­tists call this optimism bias, de­fined as: “The belief that the fu­ture will be much bet­ter than the past and present.” Ap­par­ently, this can be found in ev­ery race, re­gion and so­cioe­co­nomic bracket.

Through­out our evo­lu­tion­ary his­tory, we have de­vel­oped this optimism bias as a sur­vival tech­nique. The optimism to­wards the fu­ture, with some bias to­wards one’s own in­di­vid­ual fu­ture, is needed for our own ba­sic sur­vival. It is also needed for our own well­be­ing and hap­pi­ness.

The scholar Tali Sharot ar­gues that even if the bet­ter fu­ture hu­mans op­ti­misti­cally imag­ine for them­selves is fre­quently an il­lu­sion, optimism has ap­par­ent ben­e­fits in the present. Re­search has shown that this hope­ful think­ing keeps the hu­man mind at ease; it low­ers stress and im­proves one’s phys­i­cal health. Fur­ther re­search has shown that be­ing ac­cu­rate about an­tic­i­pat­ing your fu­ture leads to mild de­pres­sion.

Now ac­cord­ing to the above, within the con­text of the mar­ket­place, where peo­ple are of­ten in the process of buy­ing prod­ucts and ser­vices, we can con­clude that with­out ad­ver­tis­ing (that is to say, with­out cre­ative, orig­i­nal, en­ter­tain­ing and en­gag­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion, mes­sages and ex­pe­ri­ences that give peo­ple an op­ti­mistic out­look to­wards their fu­ture, to­wards a fu­ture where they will look, feel, and act bet­ter than they do to­day), all hu­mans might end up be­ing mildly de­pressed. And this is when pur­pose­ful ad­ver­tis­ing comes into play.

When Nike draws a fu­ture for you where you will ex­er­cise like a pro­fes­sional ath­lete; when Spe­cial K mo­ti­vates you to feel vic­to­ri­ous when try­ing to get in shape; when Al­ways boosts the con­fi­dence of women hit­ting pu­berty; when Sam­sung pushes peo­ple to do what they can’t do; when Johnny Walker in­vites peo­ple to keep walk­ing; when Dove show­cases to women how they ought to em­brace their real beauty; when Emi­rates air­line in­spires peo­ple to wel­come a more joy­ful to­mor­row;or when McDon­ald’s proves to peo­ple that feel-good mo­ments can be made easy. Not only has such pur­pose­ful ad­ver­tis­ing proven to de­liver on busi­ness re­sults; ac­cord­ing to psy­chol­ogy, it might as well be of crit­i­cal ne­ces­sity to the well­be­ing of the hu­man race. As hu­mans, if we do not have such an op­ti­mistic out­look to­wards the fu­ture, we are prone to suf­fer from mild de­pres­sion.

AH­MAD ABU ZAN­NAD Re­gional strat­egy direc­tor, Leo Bur­nett MENA

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