Creatives: This Is How You Can Be Conscious Capitalist Catalysts
The more I work in this industry, the more I believe that creatives are best placed in changing the attitudes and behaviour of big business. We have the capability and opportunity to provide ideas that can be transformative within the brands we support. We can inspire moral behaviour from our clients through a real consumer demand in this era of technological transparency. And we can hear “no” more than any other profession and be OK with it.
When I first entered the advertising world, I did so because I had a genuine interest in harnessing my creativity as a career; making good cash with a fun bunch of (frankly) nutters, whilst creating cool stuff - but this quickly raised some ethical dilemmas. Like many of my peers, I come from a left wing background. I wanted to follow the path my design/arts background gave me and advertising was (and still is) a very exciting route to do this. However, I was aware that my craft, when attached to capitalist motivation, could be harming the world rather than making it better. That’s a scary thought; that your talents at making powerful messaging or beauty can be out in the world, doing indirect damage to people’s lives.
When you start looking, there are few industry verticals that are void of a tainted morality and many that wear their lack of ethics openly. You’ll be hard pushed to find an agency without an oil, alcohol, gambling, pharmaceutical or automotive brand on their books. Prior to the maturing of digital and social media channels, assignments with ethical ambiguity would feel beyond interrogation. It was above my seniority and out of my remit to question the business practices of clients. You keep your head down and try to make something that delivers their message to a consumer with as much impact as you can.
As factors in our industry and culture have shifted, so has our role as thinkers and makers within mar/comms. The push methodologies of marketing in which we create and peddle sophisticated brand mistruths from corporation to consumer are over. It’s not received, trusted or welcome. It’s been called out. When asking Andy Sandoz (Creative Partner at Work Club) he commented; “The promise that technology makes is that we'll do things differently.” and that “the creative mind is imperative, as simply following the prescribed path will not do.” In the new era of pull methodology we can swim upstream. We are duty bound to introduce our clients to the expectations, behaviour and beliefs of the consumer. We can work with them and design their products and experiences to reflect the people.
It’s important to say that my argument isn’t about becoming a revolutionary but about understanding that as a creative there is a level of morality you can bring to a client.
More and more digital and social spaces are opening up as core marketing rather than existing as peripheral channels. For this reason, being authentic and true as a company is not only good marketing but entirely necessary for future development.
At R/GA in New York I was working on a notorious, multi-national retailer, who had approached the agency with a brand problem; looking for a better perception in the world. We jumped at the challenge, researching, theorising and gathering insight from many sources. In the end we came to the simple conclusion. If they wanted people to have a better perception of them, they had to start actually being an ethically led company. A number of different initiatives were implemented but there was one that resonated with me: The economic crash in America had resulted in a food crisis for lower income families. The company had lots of excess stock that was essentially being binned when it passed sell-by-date. After teaming up various charities, we began a program to start donating the leftover food, raising awareness via ATL, driving participation via social and being a partner in changing internal corporate behaviour. The results were tenfold: We saved millions in the disposal of food waste. The food donated was a tax write-off as a charitable donation. There was a big perception change for the company across the US. And most importantly we made a real impact on supporting those going hungry. In the two years following they’d made approximately a $2 billion donation to charity (one of the biggest in history). The point? This ethical idea was spearheaded via marketing.
Alex Bogusky recently launched an agency that only works for ethical clients and I think it’s a smart start. It’s becoming apparent that there will be a pre-requisite for brands to ask: ‘How do we actually get behind something of value to the world?’
Many believe that companies employ these initiatives because they need to rather than want to – and frankly they might be right. But we live in a culture where values are becoming more and more important. It’s part of our job as marketing partners to provide authentic tools, strategies and ideas to make these initiatives achievable and viable. I was discussing this with Logan Wilmont (Logan Wilmont Consultants) who mentioned; “Communications is no longer a smoke screen for corporations, but the conscience of the consumer within client organisations”. With ethical marketing, we have to effect actual change not just superficial change. That’s the action-item for marketing creatives. That’s your empowerment.
Having this outlook at the back of our minds when working on projects allows us to continuously adapt and instigate change. It’s not hard to move that needle of morality in the right direction. Conscious Capitalism should not be considered a paradox. Making money and doing good are not mutually exclusive. It is fully achievable and is something that will become a necessary consideration for all brands in the not-so-distant future. Looking at marketing as an avenue for betterment is not just good for your business, it’s good for your soul. Get your hands dirty. Be inventive.
Cyrus Vantoch-Wood is Head of Creative at Naked Communications
Category: Corporate and social , Environmental