Brand Aid

The advertising industry and businesses have the power to effect social change, and it is a subject that consumers feel strongly about. Three industry figures share their experiences.

Mother's 'Girl Effect' project in Rwanda
Mother's 'Girl Effect' project in Rwanda


By David Jones, global chief executive, Havas and Euro RSCG Worldwide

The social and digital revolution has created a new era for both business and our industry. Business is now operating in what I call the Age of Damage. Whether you are the leader of one of the Arab Spring countries, the ex-boss of BP, a misbehaving footballer or a fashion designer prone to drunken, racist outbursts - if you don't behave in the right way, people will remove you, and the weapon they will use is social media.

We're living in a world of radical transparency. It's changing the rules of marketing and offers enormous opportunity for those who get it right, and a very fast and public humiliation for those who don't. Transparency, authenticity and speed are not just the rules of the social media world, they are the rules of running a modern business. People understand that business needs to make a profit, but they want to know what the business stands for.

And if the world of business has entered a new and dramatically changed environment, then the changes and challenges confronting the marketing world have been even more dramatic. An industry that has spent decades perfecting the answers to the key marketing questions is waking up to the fact that the questions have suddenly changed. Brands are no longer defined by what they say to consumers but, rather, by what consumers say to each other about them. Reality is key.

Today's successful brands create or identify the best possible reality and share that with as many people as possible. Leroy Stick - AKA @BPGlobalPR, the spoof Twitter account that humiliated BP during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill - sums it up nicely: "The best way to get the public to respect your brand? Have a respectable brand." This should be the mantra for every marketer. For today's consumers, actions really do speak louder than words. And, if in the past we built brands through marketing, now we will build them through behaviour.

For any company, taking the decision to act and transform itself is a critical step, but the key challenge, once this decision is made, is to identify and define what it should do, how it should act and where. In certain respects, this is harder than taking the initial decision to be more socially responsible.

The answer comes from looking at the overlap between the company's core competence and what it is that consumers are actually looking for. In simple terms, a business needs to define its purpose beyond just making money and operate at the intersection of what is a genuine, credible role for the brand and what it is that its customers care about.

In the past, some companies made the mistake of only thinking about what consumers cared about and concluded: "Consumers want business to be greener, so we'll say we are." Many companies' reality did not match their nice, shiny image and serious damage was done to their credibility. Others erred by focusing on something that, though important to the company, was of little or no interest to consumers.

Brands are the meeting point for consumer needs and wants on the one hand and companies' sustainable profit delivery on the other. So, if consumers want business to be more responsible, and business wants to continue to make money, then finding a genuine, credible role for a brand that will have a positive contribution to both the world and its own profitability is the way forward.

The next step is to find the idea that can be used as a strategic compass not only to communicate this externally but also to galvanise the organisation itself. An idea that lies between the two biggest trends impacting business today: social responsibility and social media. An idea that aligns the goals of doing well and doing good, otherwise known as the Social Business Idea(TM).

For my own business, the creation of One Young World - a global not-for-profit movement to give brilliant young people a platform to effect positive change - is an example of a Social Business Idea: our own attempt to show that we, too, have a purpose beyond profit. Some great examples of a similar philosophy would be Marks & Spencer's Plan A, Unilever's Sustainable Living Plan and Nike's Better World. A new generation of marketers understands that purpose is incredibly important to consumers and that, in the future, there will be no profit without it. The new price of doing well is doing good - social media has taken corporate social responsibility out of the silo and put it into the profit and loss statement.

Brands that embrace this new honest and responsible world have an exciting future. And agencies that can help their clients understand, navigate and deliver in this new world will be more important than ever.

And to those that don't? Welcome to the Age of Damage.


By Dylan Williams, partner, Mother

There will be a moment in every new-business meeting when some unimaginative dope will ask: "What does success look like?"

And, in truth, it is one of the great questions. One that deserves a bit more consideration than it is usually given. I often wonder what history will make of our answers.

Until recently, it would not be uncommon to hear a young executive speak excitedly about "making kids crave the brand so intensely that they'll steal the ads from the billboards". I haven't heard that one quite so often since last summer.

Perhaps this suggests a moment of reflection in our industry? Our top brains rethinking aggregate effect? The contemplation of a second age of consumerism that avoids the mistakes of the past 50 years? The heralding of a less naive picture of success? That would be good.

To that end, here is an uplifting story that Mother chanced upon while the Foot Lockers of the nation burned.

About a year ago, we met Ben Gallagher, the insight and strategy director at the Nike Foundation, to talk about Girl Hub. It is a collaboration between the Nike Foundation and the Department for International Development that is focused solely on empowering teenage girls in poverty as a means of reducing poverty overall.

Ben started talking about the Girl Effect: a movement that Girl Hub was looking to spark across a number of African countries.

"What does success look like?" I asked.

"We want to invent teenage girls in Rwanda," he replied.

"OK ..."

"When you are a teenager, you have a unique belief in your ability to make change. That is the essence of teen spirit. Girls in Rwanda don't get a chance to be teenagers because of the pressures of living in poverty. So often their spirit goes unlocked. In Rwanda, girls are perceived as either a child in their parents' home or a wife in the home of their husband. They do not have the time, space or tools to forge a destiny outside of this predetermined path," Ben continued. "We want to encourage and inspire girls to have a teenage life. We want to free the spirit that will help them drive positive social change. We want to create the 'Girl Effect'."

Jess Thornley, one of our young strategists, was in Rwanda on secondment to the Nike Foundation about ten minutes later.

Eight months on and Ni Nyampinga, Rwanda's first teen platform created for girls and by girls, is up and running. "Nyampinga" is a word that Rwandan girls said they wanted to reclaim and redefine for today: a strong, beautiful girl who is valued, makes good decisions, is aspirational and in her prime. Not a rebel; Rwanda has had enough of rebellion. But a figure respectful of, and respected by, society.

So far, the platform manifests as a radio show and a magazine. Launched with a 22-day roadshow involving local artists and entertainers, it became a celebration of a new teen spirit. Thousands were drawn to the stage in every village. Girls are starting their own Ni Nyampinga clubs in schools and churches, and signing up to Girl Hub training schemes to become writers, photographers and contributors.

The radio show is broadcast nationally and the magazine, published every two months, already has 12 times the circulation of any other print media in the country. Plans to introduce a Nyampinga character into Rwanda's most popular radio soap opera are nearing fruition.

There is a long way to go until success looks anything like the picture Ben described. And it has not been without hurdles. But remarkable things are already happening among a group of kids born out of one of the worst acts of genocide ever.

And I take huge encouragement from this story. Not just because it provides a lesson in how to set bold, pro-social objectives that look beyond immediate self-interest. Or as an example of how a brand such as Nike can have the confidence to positively contribute to culture without feeling the need to have any presence.

But, thinking closer to home, because it reminds us all that the skills we honed making famous, shelf-clearing advertising campaigns have wider, more significant uses.

At our worst, we've been guilty of deliberately infantilising the population. Softening people up for the emotional sell that has fanned the flames of thinking over consumption.

But, at our best, we are brilliant at empathising with people. And using that empathy to inform how to motivate, move and inspire them. Then going on to make the stuff that changes behaviour rapidly and at scale.

With the right application, we could do a lot of good in the future. We could correct some of the mistakes of our forefathers. And perhaps bring about a happier relationship between commerce and culture than the one we've been witness to of late.


By Robert Senior, chief executive, EMEA, SSF Group

We live in a world characterised by paradox. On one level, a civilian surge has rocked the Middle East in the name of democracy, human rights and personal dignity. And, by striking contrast, we have a deafening chorus of concern about decisive leadership from within the democratic world.

On a more prosaic level, the business world, too, is full of paradox. The collision of the tactical and the strategic; short-term and long-term planning; delivering low cost and high value.

Perhaps the greatest paradox of all is that business is, can and should be a force for good. And on the podium? Advertising. Why? Because ideas are our stock-in-trade and ideas have the power to engage, galvanise and change the world.

This unreasonable power at our disposal is a call to arms to make a difference. An invitation to step into the moral void.

My colleagues in Israel decided to step into this void when they issued "The Impossible Brief" in 2010. A call to creatives all over the world to apply their creativity to the Middle East conflict and provide original, inspiring suggestions for a way to bring Israelis and Palestinians closer together.

From hundreds of responses, Palestinian, Israeli and international judges selected one idea: "mutual blood", an Israeli-Palestinian blood bank, from Jean-Christophe Royer (BETC Paris). It was based on a simple yet confronting question: "Could you hurt someone who has your blood running through their veins?"

Soon after the announcement, we were approached by The Parents Circle - Families Forum, a joint Israeli-Palestinian organisation of 600 families bereaved by the conflict who were inspired to bring the idea to life. Together with the parents, "blood relations" was born.

We worked with the Israeli Blood Bank and an Islamic hospital in East Jerusalem, which agreed to accept the Israeli and Palestinian blood donations. On 14 September 2011, while the UN was meeting to decide the Palestinian bid for statehood, the families came together at the Israeli Blood Bank's headquarters to give their blood to one another as a symbolic act of healing. Later that week, amid increased fears of violence, the families gave blood together again in the main square of Tel Aviv with members of the public.

In November, Muslim, Jewish and other students in London donated blood with Israeli and Palestinian bereaved families. They were joined by the Israeli Ambassador Daniel Taub. He said: "In the Israel Defense Forces, I learned that issues of life and death can help bridge the divide. I am very moved to see people reaching out to each other in such an important and creative way."

The project continues to grow, gaining supporters and collaborators from the creative world, NGOs and all the way to Washington. We have created a space for people to become virtual blood relations (www.bloodrelations.org) and more physical donations are planned this year.

Holier-than-thou, self-important? To some, perhaps. But for the team who spent nine months going beyond the pale, it was close to seminal. And for the people whose plight is being aided? Why not read for yourself: www.theparentscircle.org.

It is a paradox I am humbled to be a part of.