It’s not always too good to be true Posted on | The Stable

Originally posted on The Stable.

A while ago I was sent a booklet that MullenLowe Group UK had created for its contribution to the IPA EFF Week satellite events. Its introduction read:

“MullenLowe Group UK was delighted to be named Agency of the Year at this year’s Campaigns for Good Awards.

Not just because we do a lot of “work for good”—for not-for-profit clients and commercial ones too—but because of the way we go about that work, and our unbending commitment to effectiveness.

At MullenLowe, “work for good”—however noble the cause, however notable the idea—does not get a free pass: it’s designed to meet concrete objectives and assessed against the same.

(Fuzzy feelings are nice, but they’re not what we’re counting.) “

There is a lot of talk now about advertising for good. Is its purpose genuine? Has it been done to death? Jo Arden, chief strategy officer at MullenLowe offered to provide her view. [:ed]

Here it is:

It’s not always too good to be true

by Jo Arden, CSO Mullen Lowe Group UK

At the end of the year in which we were named Agency of the Year in the Campaign’s for Good awards, it’s good to reflect on what that actually means.

For me making work that makes a difference has always been about finding the point where humanity and commerce collide. It’s not radical, nor is it new. Brands and businesses have been doing right by people for longer than they have wilfully been doing wrong. Developing campaigns for brands that have a social impact is not a rejection of capitalism; it’s a win-win.

We have many flavours of good in our client base too. For the NHS our job is to play to people’s desire to contribute to society while doing a job they love. The NHS clearly doesn’t need to find a way to give back, but it does need us to help them make giving back feel like the truly inspiring career it is. Our task is to connect to tomorrow’s health professionals as well as those working in The NHS today. Without getting carried away, we’re trying to help safeguard the future of The NHS.

We also have commercial brands that take their societal role really seriously, are incredibly active in that role and do incredible things. Like The Co-operative Bank, whose legacy of campaigning on tough issues lives on today. For them, we need to bring that message into the modern world; to look at what activism means, what people care about and define a contemporary role for a bank that has been on the front-line of making change for over 25 years.

We work with charities too, and there is no doubting that the commercial imperative of our campaigns is essential here. We work closely with the British Heart Foundation which is charming, impactful, emotional and educational too. We do it because we want its brand to shine; want people to understand the breadth and brilliance of the research they fund. Because if people know that, they’ll support and donate, and that’s ultimately what we need.

I think it’s fascinating that, in direct relation to the rise in purpose-led campaigns winning awards, there’s an emerging backlash. After each major award ceremony, somebody suggests that we are growing tired of purpose, that brands are hiding their own stories under that of an issue or a cause. There’s some truth in this. Lots of brands have blundered about in this area – and as a marketing community we’ve all enjoyed the fall-out and the debate. But a wholesale backlash suggests that brands don’t naturally have a societal role. They inherently do. The success of a brand is dependent on the role it plays in people’s lives, so it can’t stand aside from the issues that affect those people.

If there is a justification to a backlash, it’s related to an emerging homogeneity of the type of work that social purpose is wrapped in. There is an over-dependence on a particular flavour of emotional response: pity, sadness, helplessness. Whether it’s that this sort of work has been what caught jurors’ eyes or that we genuinely got stuck in a rut, there was a moment (brilliantly brought to life by the now infamous Saturday Night Live skit, Hard Cut Cheetos) when it all started to look the same.

But that charge can be levelled at work without a social purpose to it too. Cause or not, there is some fairly dull work out there. Work that is “for good” needs not come with creative compromise or cliché; it need not be sincere or worthy, and it can draw on a whole range of emotions to prompt both purchase and civic action.

Notably, Libresse continued to make a profound and unignorable statement to normalise periods and challenge embarrassment. It has done so with humour, joy, sass and surprise. Nike too has continued to change hearts (and footwear) with pride not pity; hope not fear. We think too often about just the films that are part of social cause campaigns but they, for my money, are the ones that are pushing boundaries in terms of placement and partnerships too. These two examples alone have embedded themselves in culture as permanently as any “not for good” brand.

Making work that makes a difference to the world isn’t a cop out, it’s an opt in. It’s opting in to change that which needs changing, to giving voice to that which must be heard. It’s about being cleverer, more creative, more confident that compassion and commerce go hand in hand. It’s about making great work; but why just be great when you can be good too?

Originally posted on The Stable.