Too much of a good thing

Some in­dus­try lead­ers have lamented the rise of cause-driven ad­ver­tis­ing, claim­ing it can harm cre­ativ­ity. But a new gen­er­a­tion doesn’t want to choose be­tween help­ing clients and help­ing the world.

Campaign Middle East - - FRONT PAGE - By Brit­taney Kiefer

Is cause-driven ad­ver­tis­ing sanc­ti­mo­niously de­stroy­ing cre­ativ­ity, or is it pos­si­ble to change the world and sell stuff at the same time?

The ab­surd set-up for the re­cent Oa­sis spot from The Cor­ner ex­pertly spoofs the cause-mar­ket­ing genre, lam­poon­ing brands that have jumped on to this band­wagon. In the UK spot, two strangers meet in a sparse room to share a soft drink. But there’s a twist: the bot­tle is spe­cially con­structed with a cap and neck at each end to al­low both peo­ple to drink from it at the same time. They strug­gle at first, be­fore fi­nally find­ing bal­ance and re­fresh­ment, as a voiceover re­peats the words “to­geth­er­ness” and “har­mony”.

It’s a funny ad with a se­ri­ous un­der­ly­ing mes­sage: when it comes to so-called “pur­pose­ful” mar­ket­ing, ad­ver­tis­ers have gone too far. Pepsi’s Ken­dall Jen­ner protest, Dove’s breast­feed­ing ad and McDon­ald’s spot about a griev­ing young son are among the many cam­paigns that have come un­der fire for ap­pear­ing to tackle so­cial is­sues disin­gen­u­ously.

In July, UK TV sta­tion Chan­nel 4’s 4Sales di­vi­sion brought to­gether in­dus­try lead­ers at its first “PL4Y Presents” event to de­bate the mer­its of ad­ver­tis­ing with a cause. “It’s just ad­ver­tis­ing; you don’t have to save the world” has be­come a com­mon re­frain among cre­ative lead­ers who fear the in­dus­try is be­com­ing too wor­thy. Leo Sav­age, an ex­ec­u­tive cre­ative di­rec­tor at Grey Group, be­lieves an ob­ses­sion with cause mar­ket­ing, es­pe­cially among younger em­ploy­ees, is hurt­ing cre­ativ­ity within agen­cies.

“It’s be­com­ing a bit of a hot mess in how to fac­tor this into what we do ev­ery day,” he said at the event, adding that for ev­ery brief he has to sift through “10 or 15 ideas to change the world” be­fore get­ting to the point.

Young cre­atives are be­com­ing too pre­cious about us­ing their cre­ativ­ity for good, Sav­age ar­gued. Ev­ery­one wants to make the next “Fear­less girl” – last year’s barn­storm­ing cam­paign by McCann New York for State Street Global Ad­vi­sors – so ad­ver­tis­ing’s bread and but­ter of build­ing brands is be­ing side­lined, he warned.

“Peo­ple think cause equals cre­ativ­ity,” Sav­age said. “I see an ab­so­lute bore­dom and im­pa­tience with ba­nal work.”

Amid this back­lash, it would be in­ac­cu­rate to paint the younger gen­er­a­tion as a bunch of starry-eyed ide­al­ists with no busi­ness sense.

Cam­paign spoke to a num­ber of young cre­atives who are ea­ger to re­shape ad­ver­tis­ing while also us­ing their cre­ativ­ity for good. In their view, why should they have to choose be­tween help­ing clients and help­ing the world?

Sav­age was not the first scep­tic to speak up. Ear­lier this year, when Adam & Eve/DDB co-founder Ben Priest left the agency, he voiced his worry that the ad­ver­tis­ing in­dus­try is be­com­ing too fix­ated on “do­ing good” in the hope of win­ning awards and, as a re­sult, los­ing the art of en­ter­tain­ing peo­ple. “We’ll end up writ­ing our­selves into ob­scu­rity,” he said.

Sav­age also saw the cause-mar­ket­ing trend as a po­ten­tial threat to the ad­ver­tis­ing busi­ness. “If the mind­set is ‘my cre­ativ­ity is such a sa­cred prop­erty, I would not ap­ply it to your brand’, then the likes of Face­book and Snapchat will be more than happy to take that busi­ness from us. If our cre­atives aren’t happy about tak­ing that work, no won­der we’re los­ing that busi­ness,” he said. “We risk, as a cre­ative busi­ness, be­com­ing bou­tique be­cause we’re re­in­forc­ing that that is the only work worth do­ing.”

How­ever, it’s not just young cre­atives in ad­ver­tis­ing agen­cies who be­lieve in the po­ten­tial of brands to make a dif­fer­ence – they are a re­flec­tion of their gen­er­a­tion. In a sur­vey by

4Sales, more than half of re­spon­dents said brands should be a force for good in the world, rather than just sell­ing prod­ucts and ser­vices. Young peo­ple were found to be par­tic­u­larly re­cep­tive to ad­ver­tis­ing with a mes­sage, with 60 per cent of 16- to 24-year-olds claim­ing to no­tice ads more if they deal with im­por­tant is­sues. Mean­while, 57 per cent of young peo­ple said they think brands should use ad­ver­tis­ing to raise aware­ness of so­cial or eth­i­cal is­sues.

“It’s big­ger than just young cre­atives,” Ben Polk­inghorne, a cre­ative at Ab­bott Mead Vick­ers BBDO, says. “The younger gen­er­a­tion are more mind­ful about is­sues that af­fect the world, and want to make the world a bet­ter place. At the same time, brands are more aware that it’s some­thing con­sumers care about.”

“Why wouldn’t you want to make things bet­ter?” Scott Kelly, Polk­inghorne’s cre­ative part­ner at AMV, adds. “It’s hard to un­der­stand the cyn­i­cism to­wards mak­ing some­thing of this job.”

The charge of­ten thrown at ad­ver­tis­ing cre­atives who take up a cause is a greed for in­dus­try awards. Yet on this point, young tal­ent say they are re­ceiv­ing mixed mes­sages: don’t fo­cus too much on awards; but awards still hold ma­jor weight in ad­vanc­ing a ca­reer.

A quick sur­vey of Cannes Lions win­ners in re­cent years points to a trend of award­ing cause-based work, from “Fear­less girl” to this year’s “Trash isles” for the Plas­tic Oceans Foun­da­tion and LADbible. The kind of cam­paigns be­ing recog­nised “af­fects how we be­have ev­ery day in agen­cies”, ac­cord­ing to Robyn Frost, a cre­ative at Poke Lon­don.

This mo­ti­va­tion goes back even fur­ther, all the way to ad­ver­tis­ing schools, where Frost says there is a big fo­cus on win­ning awards in or­der to break into the in­dus­try. And later on, a prize can make all the dif­fer­ence for cre­atives seek­ing a new job or pro­mo­tion.

It’s easy enough for cre­ative lead­ers to tell younger peo­ple not to try for awards when they’ve al­ready won their tro­phies, Frost points out: “That’s the ben­e­fit of hind­sight, a pow­er­ful thing that young cre­atives don’t nec­es­sar­ily have. Lead­ers need to put them­selves back in our shoes. There are so many of us com­ing through and we all have to stand out.

“It’s weird for us to go through a sys­tem where we’re taught [to aim for awards], and then told later not to fo­cus on awards. If you don’t want us to do that, come and men­tor us at ad school and tell us what you want to see in our books and how to stand out.”

Sav­age sug­gested that young cre­atives should pay their dues and learn to solve more mun­dane briefs be­fore tack­ling a big­ger cause. Frost and oth­ers found this pa­tro­n­is­ing.

“It’s like say­ing to peo­ple you can only make a dif­fer­ence when you reach a cer­tain level. That’s rub­bish,” she says. “I wouldn’t want to work for some­one who told me not to do some­thing for a cause. Do you want to die and say I just sold crisps to peo­ple and got them to drive ex­pen­sive cars? Or do you want to say I made a dif­fer­ence?”

Yet of the cre­atives in­ter­viewed by Cam­paign, all recog­nised the im­por­tance of only sup­port­ing causes when it makes sense for the brand. At the 4Sales event, Ais­ling Ryan, chief strat­egy of­fi­cer for global clients at Grey Group, main­tained that “young peo­ple have a more so­phis­ti­cated ap­proach. They re­alise [ad­ver­tis­ing] is not go­ing to sur­vive if it’s not prof­itable”.

And it would also be un­fair to say that young cre­atives have lost the ap­petite to en­ter­tain. Wil­liam Black­burn, a cre­ative at A&E/DDB, says he got into ad­ver­tis­ing be­cause he “liked the idea of mak­ing peo­ple laugh”. Black­burn and his cre­ative part­ner, Lily Scar­lett Hurst, won gold, sil­ver and bronze Lions at Cannes this year for The Cy­bersmile Foun­da­tion’s “#TrollingIsUgly”. The cam­paign high­lighted the is­sue of cy­ber­bul­ly­ing by dis­tort­ing an In­sta­gram in­flu­encer’s ap­pear­ance in line with trolls’ neg­a­tive com­ments about her body. The idea started as a side project for the duo, which they then made pro bono for the char­ity.

It is hard to imag­ine a cre­ative team pour­ing their time and en­ergy out­side of work into a brief with the sole pur­pose of sell­ing a prod­uct. But be­yond the char­ity’s cause, it was the prospect of “do­ing some­thing that peo­ple haven’t seen be­fore” that mo­ti­vated them, Hurst says. “Peo­ple fil­ter out ad­ver­tis­ing now. You have to get them in a way they’re not ex­pect­ing,” she says.

For all the de­bate about mar­ket­ing trends, Hurst and her peers un­der­stand this re­al­ity: most peo­ple out­side the in­dus­try are in­dif­fer­ent to­wards ads, and it’s eas­ier than ever to skip them. “It would be fool­ish to think peo­ple are analysing the re­cent surge in cause mar­ket­ing or won­der­ing why there aren’t enough en­ter­tain­ing ads,” Polk­inghorne says. Sav­age took it a step fur­ther at the 4Sales event, declar­ing: “No-one is look­ing to ad­ver­tis­ing for in­spi­ra­tion.”

But walk into any agency’s cre­ative depart­ment and there will still be many voices, new or ex­pe­ri­enced, who rail against that. What would the fu­ture of the in­dus­try look like if cre­atives lost faith in their abil­ity to in­spire, whether through tack­ling a so­cial prob­lem or mak­ing peo­ple laugh?

Frost re­calls: “At ad school, the dean would ask us, ‘What’s your pur­pose? What’s your north star for when you leave?’” Like a brand’s brief, there are many ways to solve that ques­tion.

McCann New York’s ‘Fear­less girl’

Clock­wise from left: Oa­sis ‘To­geth­er­ness’, Plas­tic Oceans Foun­da­tion and LADbible ‘Trash Isles’, The Cy­bersmile Foun­da­tion ‘#TrollingIsUgly’

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