Advertising and the bushfires

Daisy Huang, Strategist at OMD
By Daisy Huang, Strategist at OMD | 17 January 2020

Business, not at usual.

One moment you’re at the lunch table, you and your closest colleagues, discussing the disastrous state of our beloved country. The talk is filled with concern, sorrow, desperation to help. Australia is burning, and we just want to do something about it.

The next moment, you’re at your desk. Taking calls – “Hey, how was your break?” – setting campaigns live, selling shoes, plans, services, watches, ointments, cereal, whatever.

For those of us safe from the fires, we empathise in our personal time, but we’re professionals and we must carry on. In work time, we disconnect, and it’s business as usual.

For those of us who have personally felt the unforgiving rage of these wicked fires, either first-hand or through beloved friends and family, there’s no such thing as “business as usual”.

As a lucky Australian unaffected by the fires, I wanted to understand what those less lucky were feeling. Amidst a flurry of articles and videos, it was Dr Rob Gordon’s work, well-renowned for his study of trauma psychology, that helped me understand.

Victims of natural disaster enter a foreign state of mind. It’s them against world, against Mother Nature herself, no one else understands, everything is different, the rest of life disappears. Their entire identity transforms, from their usual complex identity, to a simplified survivor identity.

A victim’s ability to comprehend and retain knowledge or communication depletes immensely, even the ones that they need to hear. Formal systems of recovery feel slow, bureaucratic and disorienting.

Recovery is long, physical and mental. People are hurt, lives lost, houses destroyed, our cherished flora and fauna burnt in seemingly unbelievable numbers. It’s this destruction, accompanied by a sense of helplessness and a dash of privilege, that powers your concerned discussions at the lunch table.

Herein lies the conundrum we face, coming back to work, keeping the wheels going, guiltily disconnecting from the harsh reality that is our burning nation. Because the reality is, we need to. Advertising isn’t going to stop.

Amidst all of it, sprinkled throughout our trade press, social media, news updates and the like, we see displays of public disappointment, outrage, frustration, at insensitive brands. Nike calls Melbourne conditions “fiery” in an ad for Nike Court, content publishers post idealistic images of pristine pools that are far from our ash-filled reality, Jeremy Clarkson jokes of our tragedy and calls Australia a place for God to “house all his experiments”, ignorant companies attempt to leverage the nation’s desperation to drive revenue – “For every sale, we’ll donate $1!”

It simply isn’t good enough. Not for those of us feeling the wrath of the fires, nor for those of us empathetically safe from the fires either.

Yet it’s each of us who are responsible, from assistants to CEOs, for putting these brand messages out. If we can be sensitive in our personal time, we should be sensitive in our work time, too. While we try and make a difference in our personal time, why not try and make a difference in our work time, too.

You don’t need to be a member of the executive team to be responsible, mindful or make a difference.

Be sensitive. Check your ad copy, even if you didn’t write it. Rethink that fire emoji.

Be brave. Brands and organisations have the power, resource and scale to help. Use it. Start a conversation with your agency, clients, partners, brands, teams. It could lead to something.

Be genuine. The worst thing that could come out of this is a brand looking to profit from Australia’s pain. You cannot expect anything back for doing good.

Finally, be realistic. Brands still need to run campaigns; this isn’t about stopping all advertising. We each work within our own professional parameters, so it’s each of our responsibilities to make the best we can, with what we can. Even if it’s simply deleting an emoji.

This is a call-out to all of advertising.

Business is not as usual.

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