"I want to help change the world...," I said, in not such an alarming statement from a socially-conscious millennial with big ambition. "... so I’m going into advertising." The latter part of that sentence is perhaps not the best or most obvious way to go about it. And so started my journey into the world of media and marketing.
Thankfully, in the years that have followed our industry has seen a paradigm shift in the role that brands play in enabling and driving positive social change. In the UK we’ve seen brands tackle issues such as physical activity, social inclusion and food waste, previously reserved for government and the charitable sector - and they’ve managed to make a tangible impact.
We’ve seen Unilever move from quarterly to annual reporting in a bid to move away from industry short-termism and Barclays start to measure success in campaign terms by what positive impact they can have on communities alongside marketing KPIs.
From working with Lynx to break down barriers around men’s mental health, to supporting Disney in its ambition to use its brand to help families live healthier and happier lifestyles. I’ve worked with Skoda to help champion young adults to learn new skills to help their communities thrive and found Age UK corporate partners who can help shine a light on the UK’s loneliness epidemic.
I’m proud to say I’ve worked alongside industry stalwarts who want to make a difference; people who, like me, want to challenge the archetypal role that advertising, media and marketing is playing within society.
I’ve heard polemical talks from industry leaders and inspiring CMOs speak about valuing social impact alongside profit, they talk about transparency, the "new CSR" and unlocking growth through brand purpose.
What I’ve learnt is that from both top down and bottom up positive change can happen at every level. Be it small or large - the account execs and aspirational twentysomethings can impact the companies and industry we work in and drive real change within the sectors that our clients represent.
I believe there’s an opportunity and challenge to my cohort: to create a shift change within our industry. A change that no longer asks for compromise between ethics and brand growth or for marketing performance without measurable and positive social impact. And I’m excited to see an industry that’s starting to sit up and listen.
My rallying cry is to champion other men and women who share this ambitious goal to shape what we do as an industry - don’t wait for your boss to do it, your clients to ask for it or for the CEO to demand it, we can all challenge what marketing success looks like, by asking what ROI and media performance really means, in both economic and social terms.
And ultimately, whatever our level or cohort, we can all be driving this agenda forwards.
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