Adland needs to be less serious about serious issues

By treating serious issues so seriously, adland is contributing to the problem, according to Magnum & Co's Carl Moggridge. Because when everything we buy - even a can of Coke - reminds us of how shit the world is, and therefore how shit we are, it doesn't actually help make the world any better.

Adland, and the people who work in it, needs to have more fun. Even those crazy people in agencies. We need to rediscover a culture of silliness, where we can break some rules and have a laugh. Even about serious things. In fact, serious things have never needed less serious people more.

I’ve recently found out I’m going to be a dad, and that’s made me think. A lot. What sort of life will she have growing up? What can I do to make it better and easier? I’m thankful she’ll be born in 2019 rather than 1980. Because, for all the doom and gloom, life is heaps better now than when I was born (with the exception of the environment).

But what’s this got to do with marketing and having fun with serious things? As the movement of brand purpose grows, and our desire to promote it grows even faster, I wonder how much our community actually contributes to positive mental health. After all, brands shape culture as much as culture shapes brands.

A teenage boy cried on me in a focus group not too long ago. Under pressure to do well at school, he’d given up sport, his mates and put on weight. I don’t know where that young chap is now. I hope he’s okay. But when brands like Gillette are laying it on thick with ads like ‘The Best Men Can Be’, they’re intentionally triggering negative emotions to get a reaction. On top of the pressures of just being young, it’s easy to see why stress, anxiety and depression are all on the up.

That’s not to say these campaigns are bad. (Although I think Gillette’s is.) Or that the brands behind them are disingenuous. (But I think Gillette is.)

However, as people working in marketing, we only look at the world through the lens of our own brands. Instead, we must collectively take responsibility for the industry. If the biggest portion of marketing is negative, surely that isn’t a good thing?

If everything people buy reminds them of how shit the world is, and how shit they are, instead of how good it could be, that can’t help.

Water? Soap? Razors? Deodorant? Sneakers? Coffee? Even cans of Coke are reminding me about the need to do something about equality. If people really do consume 3,000 messages a day and they’re increasingly, heart-wrenchingly purposeful, it’s a fair assumption to make that brands are actually contributing to these issues, even if the intention is to make the world a better place.

Important issues might be better solved by using optimism, a bit of rebellion, and even the disarming emotional lubricant that is humour. Of course, it isn’t always appropriate, but we seem to favour communicating serious things in very serious ways.

I’ve never met the people who came up with Ladbible’s Trash Isles, but I reckon they take the environment seriously. However, they probably don’t take themselves too seriously. After all, you have to be odd to put Grant from Eastenders, Ladbible and the United Nations together.

It’s weird. But that’s why it works.

The concept of serious issues being tackled by unserious people isn’t new, of course. UK charity Comic Relief has been using entertainment for years to raise money for important causes. Most recently, Taboo, the TV show by Harvey Breen, used stand up to talk about, and tackle, very sensitive issues.

As a sign of the serious agency times we live in, I was very sad to see my former employer Naked Communications close its doors in May. Naked’s unserious culture created an environment that allowed us to come up with ideas like live-streaming Simon Griffiths, founder of Who Gives a Crap, on a bog, for 24 hours.

Steve Jobs said: “Why join the navy when you can be a pirate?”

Serious issues have never needed more pirates.

Because if my daughter wants to work in our industry, or just take important stuff on and change the world, I hope she can do it with a smile on her face and the hope that everything will be alright in the end.

Carl Moggridge is the managing director of Magnum & Co


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.