Is Creative Advertising Good Enough?

11 Jun 2010|Added Value

Some observations on adding more right to the riot, more heart to the smart, getting truly imaginative in the previously pious grey world of corporate social investment – courtesy of South African creative activist, Mike Schalit (Chief Creative Officer, Net#work BBDO).

So here we go again, nagging at the social conscience of the advertising (and marketing) industry to use creativity to generate a symbiotic relationship between their clients’ brands and society to truly make a difference.

Or is it already happening because of the current reality? Well, in our country right now, given the turbulent times (ok, make that vuvuzelent time, doffing a proudly South African cap to World Cup fever), it is interesting to see if enough clients and their agencies are choosing to become more directly relevant by adopting ‘creativity for good’.

Or are they just jumping on another brand wagon?

In a first/third world imbalance like ours, creativity has the power to change things, to put something back with outrageous imagination. In fact I’m pretty convinced that ideas are our most enduring and stable currency, and one affordable way to add value if harnessed responsibly.

The power of Creativity for Good is clearly evident in some of the latest local campaigns across all categories, from leading banks (Nedbank), national retailers (Woolworths and Pick ‘n Pay) to financial services (Cadiz).  And campaigns like the multi award winner ‘trillion dollar’ billboard for The Zimbabwean (TBWAHuntsLascaris) and even an anti-crime campaign by local musicians have captured the collective imagination and spurred people to action.

Telling stories

Nedbank.  You are an elite green bank but want to reach out to the masses? You really want to make things happen? How about billboards that aren’t just visual pollution, but that do exactly what they say. “What if a bank really did give power to the people”?  How about a solar billboard that powers a poor school in a township?  “Introducing a truly green bank”? What about a recycled billboard created solely out of plastic bags from rubbish that the community collects and weaves?

Watch the making of the campaign here:

Isuzu is another example.  They reckoned they didn’t have much product differentiation a couple of years back.  In fact all they had was a project “Operation Rachel” where they were helping clear landmines in Mozambique. Is that ALL? Yikes!  Manna from heaven, this had to be the most competitive demo for any indestructible bakkie (SA utility vehicle).

Off we went to the war zone with a skeleton film crew imbedded with the police and made a doccie. Only hitch was we had to present the cut to the Kommandent and his not so merry men – in cammo gear and packing guns. More intimidating than any CEO presentation. But they cried. And Isuzu had a real compelling ad to touch consumers and spike sales with very little extra investment.

Watch the ad here:

How many other corporates have CSI projects hiding under a bushel?

Going MAL

New agency models are being redefined not only to help cross the direct and traditional above the line divide but to bridge the chasm between old school Corporate Social Investment and corporate branding. In the process creating a wonderful new space: ‘generous’ brands.

Net#work BBDO is in the process of unleashing the MAL Foundation. Society demands a radical response to the challenges facing our sustainable future, and brands must contribute imaginatively. The Foundation is led by myself and Boniswa Pezisa, and works independently of Network#BBO and collaboratively with any agency, consultancy or client for the greater good.

Inspired by Churchill’s wisdom “we make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give”, MAL in essence harnesses the duality of Make-A-Living, Make-A-Life, and is a neat SA twist on the ubiquitous ‘MAD’ or Make-A-Difference (‘mal’ means ‘mad’ in the local lingo). You gotta be crazy tilting at windmills, idealistically unrealistic, so by embracing the colloquialism we keep a lekker (awesome) attitude, as it is certainly not about singing Kumbaya every morning.

MAL is all about harnessing the power of ideas to do good – but in a commercially viable way. Giving brands a heart and an edge.

Already global institutions are pouring trillions of dollars into what they hope will be sustainable investment to help save the planet. But what about brands in the rest of the trust-starved world?  What are they and their ad agencies, with their God-given creative talents, doing to make a difference?

This needs to be a global game, but if it could be kick-started here in South Africa, especially around World Cup, what a cool catalyst for changed outlooks in advertising agencies everywhere, even in countries whose societal needs differ from ours.

Watch Schalit talk more about the MAL Foundation.

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