A few months ago I had coffee with a marketer who was reviewing his agency.
The one thing that had stunned him about the whole process was a general air of apologetic defeatism that had tinged almost every meeting he’d had with his shortlisted agencies.
The agencies spent a lot of time talking with passion about purpose, fairness, the environment and a host of other important and emotive levers that businesses need to build in to their processes. What they didn’t talk about much, the marketer told me, was what they would actually do to sell more of his product.
"They seemed almost embarrassed to be in the business of helping to sell stuff," he mused.
Naturally, I pointed out that climate change, inequality and political and economic uncertainty mean we all need to work hard to drive positive change. "Yeah I get that," he said. "Of course.
"But I’m paying them to grow my market share and build my profits. If they can do that and save the planet, then I’d be extremely happy. And I’d always appoint an agency that had ambitions to do both, rather than an agency that didn’t worry about the social and environmental impact of what they do. But the one thing I absolutely need from them is help growing my business and they seemed almost ashamed to be in the business of growth."
It’s easy to see how we got here. Too many agencies for too long have failed to properly address issues like environmentalism and inclusion that are now core values for so many inside and outside the industry.
Now they’re scrambling to get on board and struggling to square it all with the capitalist endeavour of advertising.
But, as we move into a new decade, these social values should be a given in any business, allowing companies to focus with confidence on what they actually exist to do.
If there’s one hope I have for the industry in the decade ahead, it’s that it learns to love again what it does.
There’s no question that advertising now has to be held accountable to the highest standards of social and environmental responsibility. But love it or leave.