OPINION: Bored with brands trying to save the world

Adam Ferrier
By Adam Ferrier | 9 July 2012
Naked Communications founding partner, Adam Ferrier.

Okay, I know I shouldn’t say this, but I’m going to. I’m a little bored with every brand I know trying to save the world. I have just returned from a week in Cannes where it seemed the only prerequisite for winning an award was you did something good beyond selling the brand or product you were representing. I thought our job was to sell the brand or product we were representing first and foremost? Take the example of Bundaberg Rum winning an Effectiveness Lion for its ‘Watermark’ campaign. I’m sure it was a well-deserved win, however it was the judges' comments that irked me.

David Jones, Euro RSCG global chief executive and chair of the Creative Effectiveness judging panel said it was a powerful creative idea “with a social purpose”. What? Since when did the rationale for a campaign being effective include whether or not it had a social purpose? I find the moralistic judgement creepy (and it has nothing to do with whether a campaign was effective or not).

Please check the Grand Prix and Gold winners at Cannes – social purposes everywhere. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing that advertisers are now giving a shit, I’m just slightly cynical about the motives – and if the motives are wrong, I can’t help but feel the whole thing will bite us on the bum.

The other social cause trend that I find perplexing is the one where the agency builds its brands doing purely high-profile social-cause campaigns. Again, my cynical self thinks it's a little off. There are a few agencies that have made it an art form to build their brand on cause-related work, while continuing to struggle with delivering the same level of creativity to their more corporate clients.

To me, it’s no longer church and state – of course causes can be attached to commercial products for mutual benefit. However, if I am going to get into the cause-related world, I’m doing it with kid gloves on. I’m doing it with the point of view of, what would Adbusters say about this? That is, judge the work from the most socialist, tree-hugging point of view you can muster, as only then will you be able to completely absolve yourself from the deception we all put ourselves through. Be your harshest, most cynical critic, or someone else will be, and that someone else will probably have a keyboard.

It doesn't take much for bullshit to be called on brands these days. In fact, keyboard warriors and clicktivists – whatever we want to call them – are having a profound impact on the cause and social work brands do. Consumers are becoming increasingly cynical about our motivations (perhaps with good reason).

I know corporations that advertise have the money required to save the world, and largely it’s going to be up to them to spend it in a way that creates shared value between the corporation, the consumer and the planet. However, I worry that if we are too quick to jump on the cause-related bandwagon without sufficient caution, we are going to weigh down the cart so much with expectation that we’ll break it.

I advocate for a little perspective – that’s all.

Adam Ferrier
Founding Partner
Naked Communications

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