Opinion

Is social advertising really helping?

There is a lot of advertising that tries to do a lot of good at this time of year. But, hey; it’s awards season. In this guest post, Ian Barnes distinguishes between what is genuine and what is fake.

There’s been a lot of talk about agencies taking advantage of important social issues. When advertising helps improve the quality of life, that’s wonderful.

unhate is social advertising doing good

I love this campaign by Publicis Singapore. Sometimes the work seems bigger than the actual cause, but that’s not such a bad thing, is it?

“Liking isn’t helping. Be a volunteer, change a life” for Crisis Relief by Publicis Singapore

‘Liking isn’t helping. Be a volunteer, change a life’: for Crisis Relief by Publicis Singapore

Yet how can an agency spend time and money on pro bono work while blue-chip clients get billed at every turn?

Put simply, a small client is willing to take greater risks.

The agency can flex its creative muscle and this encourages big clients to also take risks. When the creative is free of charge the agency has carte-blanche. Creativity can then take great big leaps.

So-called social do-gooders do, of course, have ulterior motives. They want to win awards.

Let’s say you have an idea for an environmental issue. If you can’t get Greenpeace to sign off on the job, approach WWF or Sea Shepherd or the Humpback Whales against Neo Nazis. Or create your own charity, logo and website. It’s unscrupulous and immoral. But once it’s in ‘the book’ it’s as good as absolution.

It doesn’t take much money to make a big impact. Here’s a simple ambient idea from Saatchi & Saatchi Copenhagen.

social advertising liking isnt helping hand towels

There are some great social ads out there. Here’s some real stuff from the folks that brought us Earth Hour – Leo Burnett Sydney and WWF. Every one of the products that use every day, but in natural form (the idea was to offer sustainable alternatives to household products such as detergent, skincare, insect repellent and metal polish).

The ‘Just’ campaign makes me green with envy. It has also changed the way I shop, wash and live. Try it yourself here.

It’s best when the work is real and actually ran more than once. But if you are hell-bent on doing scam charity work, be sure the case study is spiced with dubious statistics and unbelievable results.

And no bogus case study is ever complete without a killer soundtrack. Cummins & Partners, Creative Fuel and Song Zu made this little gem – The Award Show Case Study Song of the Year. It prods at case studies that demand a box of Kleenex and a standing ovation.

Grey Worldwide has recently been accused of jumping on the social bandwagon. In Asia Pacific, ‘Grey for Good’ has tried to stop the spread of dengue fever in Malaysia, used recycled plastic bottles to cool houses in Bangladesh, cleared land mines from soccer pitches in Cambodia and re-engineered a bike in Melbourne so others can experience the effects of Multiple Sclerosis (They could have borrowed my deadly-treadly and saved a few bucks).

Grey’s zero-electricity air cooler

Grey’s zero-electricity air cooler

Grey is pouring creative resources into social issues and it’s paying off in awards. Grey Global’s creative chief, Per Pedersen, stands by his people and their work, as any leader would.

This is the sort of commitment with which Ogilvy Singapore tried to attract travellers to visit East Timor and boost its ailing economy a few years ago.

chickens at the negotiating table east timor ad

Not sure this print campaign attracted travellers to a country drenched in blood, oil and cock-fighting, though. But it’s an example of social advertising supposedly doing good and winning accolades.

Ogilvy has a history of producing award-winning print campaigns for social causes. So too does Y&R. In 2014, Y&R won 25 Cannes Lions, comprising two Gold, one Cannes Chimera, 10 Silver, 11 Bronze and multiple shortlists across 15 offices in Asia Pacific.

Y&R and Wunderman Singapore won the prized Chimera Cannes Lion for helping to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030, which was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. If that‘s not a great social cause, what is?

In fact, all WPP companies worldwide make positive contributions to communities by supporting many charities and NGOs through their pro bono work. Other networks do, too, just not quite so much. For instance, MullenLowe Singapore went to an awful lot of trouble to protect wildlife by eliminating future generations of hunters by asking them to use condoms.

Don’t know why they blurred the faces of the hunters? The idea was to target the bastards, not protect them. I’m not convinced giving away condoms is going to stop hunters from breeding. But thanks for the free rubbers.

Even small shops are tackling big issues.

rumble rashie brisbaneRumble Brisbane designed ugly Xmas swimming tops known as ‘rashies’ to protect against skin cancer from Australia’s unforgiving Summer sun. They also created a new revenue stream for the Cancer Council Queensland. It’s a fabulous gift idea. Buy yours here.

By and large, I would say social advertising is helping. There are plenty of people concerned with doing great work for good causes. Here are some notable case studies that tackle sensitive issues brilliantly. The people behind these campaigns are genuinely skilled at their craft. They can sell risqué work to real clients and make money in the process. Isn’t that the whole idea?

I was touched by this idea from M&C Saatchi, Sydney.

Here’s a fresh approach to tackling skin cancer from down under GPY&R, Melbourne and Brisbane.

Most of these ideas originate from people who genuinely care about a particular social issue.

I’m pleased to say that Ben Coulson (chief creative officer at GPY&R) is fighting the good fight and winning, and Ben Welsh (ex-ECD at M&C Saatchi Australia, now CCO at DDB Australia) has his testicles inspected on a regular basis.

Naturally, there will always be some who do it solely for the awards. And a lot of the creative heads are full of cunning stunts. It’s time to get real, guys.

My favourite social campaign comes from Y&R New Zealand. They successfully tackled a major social issue by simply extending an olive branch to their client’s main rival.

Y&R presented a rather unique concept to Burger King. Best of all, they bought it.

Burger King proposed the idea to McDonald’s via a full-page ad in the Chicago Tribune and The New York Times. In the name of world peace, BK wanted the two fast-food chains to call a truce to the ‘Burger Wars’ and combine elements of the Big Mac and Whopper to create the McWhopper.

CommsCon - McWhopper - newspaper adThe McWhopper would be sold for one day at a store in Atlanta. Sales would benefit Peace One Day and raise awareness of the United Nations Peace Day on September 21.

Fernando Machado, SVP of global brand management at Burger King, said: “Let’s make history and generate a lot of noise around Peace Day. If they say ‘no’, we’ll hopefully have, at the very least, raised much-needed financial support and consciousness for the great cause that is Peace One Day.”

In an open letter shared on social media, McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook declined Burger King’s invitation, and said that McDonald’s executives: “love the intention but think our two brands could do something bigger to make a difference”. Steve Easterbrook called on Burger King to acknowledge that their competition shouldn’t be compared with the “unequaled circumstances of the real pain and suffering of war”.

He then suggested that Burger King officials call him next time instead of taking out advertisements. Steve Easterbrook made this reply on Facebook, not over the phone (read about the story here).

Now see what Burger King did for the deaf community in America. Interesting, right?

So what is the cost of social advertising? The total revenue at this year’s Cannes Lions for 40,133 entries in 21 categories (excluding late fees) is US$22,714,078. You can bet your bottom dollar there’s a shipload of social good in there.

If you want a complete run down of the festival’s balance sheet, go here.

Brands are in a position to help right wrongs and as responsible marketing professionals the evidence is clear that good social advertising does help build brands. Spending your creative resources on promoting social issues is a powerful weapon.

The question is, are you doing it for the right reasons?

Ian Barnes is head of ideas and copy, Free Range Creative. He has previously worked at Ogilvy, Bates CHI & Partners, McCann, Lowe, Publicis and TBWA

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