Power comes with responsibility. How do you see yours?
A couple of weeks ago, the Big Mac Coke Can was launched in Latin America – a promotion that’s part of McDonald’s 50th anniversary celebrations for the Big Mac throughout the world. Strategically and creatively, it’s brilliant. It has “sure-fire hit with young people” in its DNA. It’s a powerful idea. It’s great work.
The industry doesn’t always have to do great work for good but is this great work for – well…evil?
A few days later, following a bid to regulate junk food OOH advertising in the UK, the MD of an anti-regulation campaign group stated, “Advertisement bans are a significant step towards censorship. Everyone wants to fight childhood obesity, but limiting the freedom of expression of the food industry and trampling on consumer choice isn’t an appropriate solution.”
This chat is not about running down specific work or vilifying individual’s comments. It’s about power and responsibility. The Stable asked some of the world’s top creatives, “What’s your view?” about that.
[cover image provided by Kalle Hellzen]
Kalle Hellzen, executive creative director, 180 Kingsday
Every morning when I have my coffee at the kitchen table I look up at this David Shrigley poster (above) called Time to Choose and I wonder what the day is going to throw at me.
The poster features three different characters – it’s GOOD, a knight in shiny white armor, EVIL, with big angry eyebrows and horns, and this scruffy weasel/cat/dog with sad hanging teats called DON’T KNOW. That last one, that one is me and I’m proud of it.
I don’t know much, but I do know that life (and work) would be boring if it was GOOD or EVIL, but also that it would be dangerous. Because, people that are GOOD or EVIL tend to treat other people like they’re GOOD or EVIL, too. And when that happens truth, respect and fun times go out the window.
Instead, when we choose to DON’T KNOW, we tend to treat each other with greater respect, because other people that DO KNOW might give us a nugget of wisdom if we’re nice enough.
So, should we fear “good” work for “evil” things? I DON’T KNOW. But I do know that the future looks brighter for those brands that recognise and respect that a burger and a fizzy drink now and then is a tasty thing, but that two a day probably is a killer.
Ben Peacock, founder, Republic of Everyone
Are we responsible for the impact of what we sell?
I can’t see how we aren’t.
It has always frustrated me that, as an industry, we are full of caring, interesting people who like to camp, surf, recycle, buy organic and travel to crazy places.
Yet, in our day-to-day work, we are prepared to destroy what we love in the pursuit of a bigger pay packet or a shinier award.
How is it that agencies are proud to work on brands like McDonalds and Coca-Cola when they wouldn’t go near Phillip Morris?
We consider the impact of what we do when it comes to cigarettes then leave our values at the door on pretty much everything else.
I’m not saying it’s easy. The big money rarely comes from the brands that make the world better.
I’m not saying it’s wrong to work on whatever you want. Hey, you do what you want.
I am saying be mindful and honest.
Advertising is powerful. It changes demand. It changes behaviour. So when you choose to be the spokesperson for a product, you enrol yourself in the world that product creates.
Should marketers or brands be banned from advertising things that do damage? No. Should we shun those who choose to work on these products. No.
But should we consider our own values and whether they match the brands and products we sell before we do take their money? 100%.
It will change the industry, it will change your job satisfaction, it will change the world for the better.
And that’s what responsibility is all about.
Ant White, chief creative officer, CHE Proximity
We’re all grown-ups, aren’t we? Unless you’re 13. Or under. And then you should have grown-ups telling you to eat your peas, don’t eat too much junk food, and maybe have a glass of water instead of a Coke.
The thing is, Coke exists, Big Macs are awesome and if you’re a responsible human grown-up you should know everything is good in moderation. A can of Coke every now and then isn’t a bad thing. It’s really good with dumplings. And burgers.
Yet, not all people know this. They get addicted to the sugar hit and they too regularly resort to cheap, fast and easy. Then they get fat. They get diabetes, and a raft of other illnesses.
That’s not advertising’s fault.
It’s society’s fault.
Education and information about the benefits of a balanced diet and nutrition need to play a major role in overcoming childhood obesity. It needs to be taught in schools, it needs to be reinforced by parents.
Brands like Coke and McDonald’s have a responsibility to be major drivers of this change. They can get kids moving to burn calories, and they can fund education platforms for kids to better understand the benefits of a moderated diet.
If we could do this better, then when those kids are grown-ups, they too will be able to make responsible decisions, and enjoy the occasional coke and burger. They’ll also be able to watch ads, unless they’ve installed an ad-blocker.
Kim Pick, executive creative director, Y&R New Zealand
With big brands’ revenues larger than some countries’, it’s not a stretch to say that brands can wield more influence and power than governments.
(The Australian Federal Government’s expected revenue this year is AU$486 billion, Walmart’s is US$500 billion.)
Brands’ messages have massive reach. Their products, and their behaviours, have huge scale and impact, on society and the environment.
And when you add to this that transnational corporations can operate outside of national law*, which means government regulation may not be enough, it’s definitely time to talk about the great power brands have, and the great responsibility that needs to go with it.
(*In a case in New Zealand this month, Google was accused of “thumbing its nose” at New Zealand law, because it didn’t comply with court orders to take down online content revealing the name of a murderer accused and granted name suppression. Google said (a) it was “not in the business of censoring news” and (b) because its search engine was a separate legal entity incorporated in the US, New Zealand’s courts and laws held no power over it.)
But the fact is, brands don’t have morals. People do.
And what we choose to do – as the marketers and advertisers responsible for shaping and crafting and amplifying brand messaging and behaviours – matters.
So, will we create more throwaway plastic collectibles to push sales; generate more single use packaging to add “perceived value”; distribute more “junk mail”? Will we “machine-harvest” people’s data; put “consumer” in a “purchase funnel”? Will we “target” and “retarget” to sell things to “demographics” who can’t afford them, or to “psychographics” who are vulnerable?
Or will we use the reach and scale and resources we have, for good? (And not just because we fancy a Glass Lion.)
Joost Berends, creative director & founding partner, mortierbrigade
How responsible can we be?
Talking about responsibility with creative people is always a difficult one. Because, let’s be honest, it’s not by being responsible and following all the rules that you make the most outstanding work. And the most responsible people aren’t always the funniest either.
As advertising people, we have to produce work that stands out, that’s bold and daring. Work that is looking for the limits and tries to change old habits. At our agency, we have at least one complaint every few months because of the campaigns we run. There’s always somebody that is shocked or feels offended by the things we do. In response, we always say that we never have the intention to make fun of people, but that it’s very often our goal to make people laugh.
We have an enormous responsibility towards our clients and their clients to make the best work possible. And doing so, we will always ask ourselves: “Is this what the brand needs, is this relevant and does it make a difference?”
We are afraid of political correctness, because it very often becomes an excuse for creating boring work. And as I said before, our greatest responsibility is to create work that is not boring. All this said, I think there’s one big issue where we all – advertisers, agencies and consumers – do have an enormous responsibility, and that’s the wellbeing of our planet. Because, if that one’s gone, we won’t be able to discuss responsibility anymore.
So maybe there should only be one rule for everyone working in advertising. The that answers will what I do, help to preserve this planet, or not? But for the rest, let’s have fun and create wonderful work that inspires and makes people happy. What a responsibility is that!