Telling the story behind the surface.
In a recent article on the Creative Review, Naresh Ramchandani, a leading and influential creative copywriter, asked the entire industry if it is now time to introduce a ban similar to the one on cigarettes, on products that harm our planet, saying:
“By being production-heavy, or CO2-intensive, or non-reusable or non-recyclable, many of the products we’re paid to promote have an irrefutably negative effect on the environment. When an ad sells another one of these products, it advances its client’s profitability, but also harms the prospects of humanity. Which brings us to an extremely inconvenient truth for our industry that wasn’t raised at Cannes – in fact, I’m not sure I’ve seen it raised anywhere: that products like these shouldn’t be allowed to advertise.”
Two years ago, when I asked myself why I was so concerned about advertising and branded content & entertainment I had a clear and profound epiphany: responsibility. Leading the BC&E Association in Italy made it clear to me that there are no longer limits to brand persuasion, as now their messages are perfectly crafted as contents; which is a big opportunity but also implies a greater ethical responsibility. That led to considering how companies could play a ‘better role in the society. For example, if they used their efforts (investments, know-how, human capital…) to ‘do good’.
Purposeful communication is the way to tell a true unique story far behind the product or even the company history. There are many ways to tell a story, but not all of them are always the right fit.
#CreActivism is a term I borrow from Pascal Gielen meaning a form of action, a critical process of reflection on the problems that afflict contemporaneity with an active approach to improve conditions on a daily basis through creativity. It is the perfect portmanteau of #Creactivity (which is a primordial act, physical birth, even before abstract speculation) and #Activism in its most contemporary and pacifist meanings.
Applied to advertising, CreActivism combines perfectly with a couple of other marketing trends: brand purposing and brand activism; the first concerns the corporate goal, mission and vision, the second regards its concrete actions.
What I consider CreActivism is a perfect unison between brand purpose, brand actions, brand communication.
And to have a better understanding of what CreActivism is, let’s take Patagonia as an example. CreActivism for Patagonia has meant the creation of a disruptive advertising campaign “Don’t buy this jacket”, and at the same time the implementation of substantial actions to protect the environment (investments in R&D against the polluting C8 polymer after being criticized by GreenPeace). Although their approach was risky, the message was intended to encourage people to consider the effect of their consumption practices on the environment. As a result, Patagonia managed to establish a strong community of consumers who appreciate the brand’s products, but most importantly, their values.
Of course, it’s not always easy to find an authentic and credible ‘why’ behind a product/company. And this can mean a potential backlash for brands that don’t walk the talk.
Look at the textile sector– the most polluting after the Oil & Gas industry – and campaigns like ‘Conscious Exclusive’by H&M AN example of ‘alternative facts’, given that only 1% of recycled clothes become new H&M clothes.
Or the food industry which is responsible for more than 25% of greenhouse gas emissions and the epic fail of Chipotle Mexican Grill, for not demonstrating its sustainable agriculture and anti-GMO claims were supported by actions (remember the multi-award winning ‘Back to the start’ campaign in 2012?), as well as the operational failures leading to E-coli pandemic and a collapse in #reputation, which is still having to be rebuilt several years after the crisis.
In Chipotle’s case, study advestising declaiming sustainable agriculture was in total contradiction with the consumer perception after pandemic of E-coli.
As we all know brands are ultimately trying to sell more products, if they also ‘monetize’ human values it is a big ethical issue.
When a company has, difficulty finding its ‘good side’ instead of purposeful communication, one of many solutions can be ‘cause related marketing 2.0’, when the cause supported by the company is not necessary the one of a charity’s, but it’s one of marketing.
Take for example hackvertising, a strategy of several award winning CMO Fernando Machado, who launched some of the most interesting campaigns in the last years, including Dove’s Real beauty sketches. For instance, Burger King and its “Net neutrality” prank:
Burger King played the role of ‘facilitator’ on a subject of public interest (the neutrality of the web) creating awareness with a range of citizens not used to taking part in such conversations and raised public attention on an issue that threatened to overshadow. With this project, Burger King underlines that bands, thanks to their share of, their ability to be heard, can direct the gaze of citizens towards urgent current issues plating a role well beyond the pure player within their market.
Look at the new Barbie’s strategy as described by Alaina Crystal from AMV BBDO because they dig deep into the reason why Ruth Hander created Barbie with such a contemporary purpose:
“the little girl could be anything she wanted to be”
Starting from this, in 2016 Mattel transformed Barbie’s shapes in response to the scorching criticism of an ideal model now widely surpassed, communicated a positive message of girl empowerment with Imagine the possibilities and in 2017 their Dads who play Barbie campaign aimed to broaden their audience and broke machoist prejudices. All this couldn’t be done without a responsible plan for Mattel suppliers to fight against Chinese factory workers’ poor labor conditions and toxic products.
Although I appreciate Mattel and Burger King efforts towards a more conscious consumer, all of this is not without risks, because there is a potential danger that the brand’s commercial aims (selling more burgers for example) can end up simplifying the very issues that they are supporting.
If we don’t start seeing brands for what they really are, instead of only seeing what they want to show us, we won’t be able, as consumers and concerned citizens, to demand respect and responsibility towards our planet. The only way companies are going to change is if they see a reaction from us towards a more sustainable production and consumption. Let’s change the talk.
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