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Sunday, 03 June 2007


Charles Frith

Great post Amelia and a topic that has taken up a lot of my thinking for a long time. The good news is that advertising is a brilliant change agent. Almost as good as propaganda. But don't get me started on that one.... Great to meet you there. Look forward to the next opportunity to have a proper chat.

Paul H. Colman

What an excellent question Amelia. At the moment it seems like we are as much part of the problem as the solution.


Amelia, sorry I didn't make it out on Friday.

Building an agency with its 'total role in society' in mind was what the Chiat/Day Project Chrysalis was about all those years back. Even Jay Chiat couldn't make it work, and St. Luke's, who took the plans for Chrysalis and tried to pull it off later succeeded, but only for a while.

The reasons for neither experiment really working could be written off to a mixture of holding company and industry greed and cynicism. But as it is with the stories of martyred idealists (all the way back to the religious ones if necessary) the biggest enemy to change isn't leadership, it's the ability of that leadership to inspire change in the mass. To quote the Rolling Stones, "Who killed the Kennedys? When after all it was you and me." A small, committed group of idealists is not very useful unless its ambition is to get everyone on board.

Few people have been able to create lasting change, for better or worse; those that do appeal to the masses with a clear benefit (e.g., "you have nothing to lose but your chains").

I think that people aren't ready to reject consumerism as a mode of interaction in society. It may be the dominant mode; the theory laid out by the Harvard School of Design's Guide to Shopping (edited by Rem Koolhaas) is that shopping has become the primary interface with culture. Museums, sporting stadia, and even churches are not complete without gift stores. We understand the world through tangible financial transaction.

You could look at recent, successful charity campaigns like the yellow wristbands for The Lance Armstrong Foundation's Live Strong programme (disclosure: I was on the PR team) and say that it was essentially a way for people to buy a visible badge of the charity cause rather than to support the cause itself. The selling of a small, visible token has been co-opted by Make Poverty History, and less successfully by Bono and The Kennedys' Project Red. You see it in the Fair Trade badge.

I'm not saying that this is all bad. I suppose if consumption is the fundamental cultural language of our civilisation, then ethical consumption might at least make us more conscious of this fact. And, all things said, consumption may be better than war, or theocracy, or ancestor worship, though there are cultures globally that might disagree.

Oh, and we are at war, though sometimes our consumerist way of thinking isn't allowing for us to take this in. In America, you could buy a magnetic ribbon for your SUV and call it a day.

All this is a long way of saying that as ad agencies lose their place at the more important cultural table, our industry has a harder and harder time shaping society for the better. With the exception of people like Keith Reinhard and Shelly Lazarus, I don't see a lot of ad agency folk whispering into the ears of politicians and other elites. And it's not so far fetched. If Bono can chat with Warren Buffett at Davos, why can't John Wren, or Sir Martin Sorrell, or Maurice Levy? It's a matter of reaching out.

(As usual, sorry for being a bit ranty, but that's a planner thing, I guess. Also, I tried to do some linking in this comment, but for security reasons it's been disallowed - you can see some of the links at del.icio.us/cubemate)

John V Willshire

I wonder if part of the problem with an agency taking on ethical/moral leadership is that it reflects the way society works.

An agency's behaviour, like that of a large group of people, is essentially an amalgamation of the wishes, desires, thoughts & behaviours of its clients. Until there is sufficient weight behind one school of thought or desired practice, then it will work to fulfilling the requirements of the majority of clients.

Currently, agencies work along the "we sell or else" model because that's the way in which most of their clients wish them to work. I've not yet seen a pitch brief that refers to a client looking for an agency which can make advertising 'maximise sales within a framework of encouraging 'responsible' consumption from our customers'. Though admittedly there's probably been a couple out there.

But by and large the 'sell lots' lives in marketing & advertising, and the 'consume responsibly' lives in CSR departments.

I wouldn't think that it would be cost effective for an agency to provide a service which does this for a small % of their client base. Which is where John Grant's point on Friday about 'breakaway' agencies comes in; if an agency is set up to deliver this to every client, costs of research, experience, contacts & ability are amortised across their entire client base, and they can deliver it successfully.

So, a proposition; large agencies will only ever do this seriously and well when they see small bespoke agencies doing it well and making a profit from it.

(Then of course they'll buy them, and fold them in to their existing operations).

Stan Lee

As Kermit once said, it isn't easy being green.

At the moment I'm working with an with an electricity company to promote their association with Live Earth in Sydney.

And what is their association? They're making the concert carbon neutral.

Like Kermit said, it isn't easy being green, or raising awareness of why you should consider it in the first place.

Iain Tait

I think we're all suffering from a massive dose of collective guilt (and probably rightly so), we're part of a machine that's been designed to make people want more stuff.

If what we're good at is creating desire, surely it must be simple to create a desire for nothing. I just can't work out who the big paying clients are?

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