We are all aware of it. Economic hardship, political turmoil, social turbulence and environmental devastation are all around us, all the time. Data reveals that owing to this, some 41 million consumers have stopped to ask the existential questions in life: Why do we live this way? How do we turn things around?
To date, many advertising agencies have chosen to respond to the widespread disruption by tightening their belts, laying people off, and regressing to the safe harbor of shallow prose, banal imagery, and gimmicky campaigns. On the environmental and social front, certain elements have gone boilerplate. Reference Monsanto’s latest "sustainable agriculture" campaign:
Evidence suggests that most people aren’t buying Monsanto’s planetary message. After the campaign launched this past June, hundreds of negative articles circulated the web, such as this one from Grist:
"The Monsanto ads are quite simply false. The premise of the ad is more or less that Monsanto’s genetically modified (GM) seeds are going to save the world from environmental catastrophe and human hunger. All while the corporation made more than 11 billion dollars in 2008 amidst a world food crisis....The reality of Monsanto’s seeds and the company’s ethics and commitment to fighting world hunger have nothing to do with producing more or conserving more."
Despite Monsanto’s recent marketing misstep, the interesting news in advertising isn’t the growing trend toward greenwash. Rather, it’s how fervently certain ad agencies are resisting greenwash – pulling, sometimes pushing, clients in a more meaningful direction.
The advertising world is undergoing a considerable transformation. About five years ago, many large agencies began investing in environmental, social and cause-related practices areas to capture what they perceived as a growing niche market and to complement their existing core services. Today more agencies (albeit just the smarter ones) recognize that such moves are limiting. What’s really needed is a sophisticated new worldview that incorporates essential social, cultural and environmental intelligence into the core organizational capacity. World-Changing Agencies possess this worldview, and it shows up in most everything they do.
World-Changing Agencies exist for a purpose: to assist clients in reaching positive social and environmental outcomes, thereby helping to create a better future for all. Through groundbreaking creative work, such agencies offer people new ways of seeing the world, and new ways of defining themselves within that world. That’s what the term "World-Changing," originally coined by Alex Steffen on his environmental website WorldChanging.com, essentially means.
To fully appreciate the world-changing concept as it relates to advertising, please take a moment to view this ad from Saatchi Pakistan (click on the link below). Here, Saatchi uses an eye-opening blend of imagery, music and fact to address the issues of political, social and cultural prejudice:
Rather than allowing Pakistan to be equated with fear and terror, Saatchi tells another story: "the one you don’t see on the evening news." The end result? The ad encourages us to reconsider our old perspective, appreciate a new culture, identify with our universal selves and want to call our travel agents. That’s World-Changing.
The reality is that good agencies are a dime a dozen. But great agencies – the kind that transform the way we see, buy and experience things – are few and far between. The World-Changing Agencies described below deserve credit, because what they do each and every day moves the market and improves people’s lives for the better. Their passion and purpose, their goals and strategies, their mediums and messages, encourage each of us to step back and see the bigger picture.
World-Changing Agencies encourage people to think twice before they buy. Through their work, we can redefine ourselves:
When it comes to creating campaigns that move people, help shift planetary conditions and make companies money at the same time, Saatchi S is the master. "Imagine a billion people changing how they live, changing the things they buy," the company says. "Imagine being a part of that." That’s Saatchi S’s goal, and the company is well on its way toward reaching it. Though an unmatched blend of sustainable insights, spot-on brand strategy, thought-provoking creative (check out the new Prius campaign from Saatchi LA), and global reach, Saatchi S takes its clients to a leaner, cleaner, "bluer" future.
Some people have balked at the company’s decision to work with mega-corporations Wal-Mart, General Mills, Proctor & Gamble and Frito Lay, but Saatchi regards these clients as an important asset. "We work with some of the most influential companies in the world a because we care about scale," says Saatchi S CEO Adam Werbach. "Only through their success will we reach our north star goal of supporting one billion people in creating and maintaining their personal sustainability practices." Werbach, who is indisputably one of the sharpest minds in the sustainability field (see his latest book), carefully placed Saatchi S at the epicenter of a budding trend. "The future is coming fast now," he says. "The recession has caused every business to open up its business plan – and sustainability is showing up in every one." Going forward, Werbach predicts that all of Saatchi, not just the ‘S’ division will "go blue." He and and his worldwide team are working on making this a reality, through a new initiative called True Blue. Further announcements are expected later this year.
Cone’s original "cause branding" approach has spawned an industry of imitators, but agency founder and chairman Carol Cone welcomes the competition: "Imitation is the highest form of flattery," she says. For over twenty years Cone has engineered public-private alliances that serve worthy causes, from Avon’s Breast Cancer Crusade to Reebok’s Human Rights Awards, The American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women Movement, PNC Grow Up Great and Western Union Our World, Our Family. While Cone’s signature cause branding programs have raised more than $1.2 billion for worthy crusades, each and every relationship has been built on a foundation that Cone describes as: "Better Business: Greater Good."
"We never want any of our clients to be the cause du jour," says Cone. "It’s crucial that everything we do is authentic and sustainable – that we make a real and measurable difference in people’s lives, the social issue and our efforts have a positive impact on the business and the brand." Blending social justice with business opportunity and personal passion comes naturally to Cone, which is exactly how she got her business of the ground in the 1980’s. "It all started with Rockport. We tried to do traditional marketing, using the usual mediums and messages, but it just didn’t work," says Cone. "Then we realized the essence of this company’s shoes – they were great for walking. So we linked them to walking for health and fitness in authentic and novel ways. They grew from $20 million to $150 on that positioning. And America embraced a new fitness regime. Sometimes the solutions are right there in front of you, but you have to look through a certain lens to see them." At present Cone publishes original research and offers a full suite of strategic services including cause branding, corporate responsibility, brand marketing and crisis management to clients including Timberland, Ben & Jerry’s, Starbucks and eBay.
"Global change is a tall order," the agency acknowledges. "But our clients are doing just that by addressing poverty, creating energy out of garbage, and empowering women." Comprised of some of the most passionate and politically astute communications experts in business, the Global Change Network (GCN) works with organizations and corporations for whom social and environmental issues are core to their identities. Recently GCN has waged such world-changing efforts as encouraging G8 leaders to invest in extreme poverty; promoting recycling by branding waste as a valuable renewable resource; raising awareness of HIV/AIDS as a preventable and treatable disease; and repositioning reproductive rights as a fundamental human right.
"Our mission is to help our clients make positive change – for their companies, communities, and the environment," says Global Change Network Principal Arlene Fairfield. "We do that by telling stories that combine human insight and creativity with astute policy and political acumen." What separates GCN from the pack is the team’s unparalleled depth and breadth of expertise – over two decades of experience assembling groundbreaking campaigns for clients including The ONE Campaign, The David and Lucile Packard Foundation and Energy Star. "It’s our understanding of brand value and audience motivation that makes us different," says Fairfield. "By combining consumer insight and creativity with astute policy and political acumen, we’ve been able to move the needle on some of the most important issues of the day."
This San Francisco start-up was recently founded on a revelation. "Branding efforts that ignore trust and reputation are waste of money," says company co-founder Tracy Lloyd. "That’s why we’ve pulled together an award-winning team of designers, strategists, and experts on everything from sustainability to social media to help companies build foundations that people can rely on." Lloyd draws an important distinction between brand and reputation. "Think about it this way, branding is what you tell people to feel about you," she says. "Reputation is what people actually feel about you." Emotive Brand’s services, which include a cathartic strategic process called "Reputation Lab" as well as social media, interactive, advertising and corporate communications services, are offered up to clients including UPS, TED, VMware.
"In order to help clients shift their reputations, you need to stop the PR spin cycle and start to advocate behaving in the right ways," says Lloyd. "Our goal is to help clients face the truth about themselves and then focus strategic and creative efforts on the areas most in need of attention." Want to put a band aid on that environmental catastrophe and walk away? Then perhaps Emotive is not for you. "If clients are willing to openly work through the rough spots, then stakeholders will most likely be supportive. Proactively engaging people in the right way is a huge strategic advantage," says Lloyd. "The bottom line is that we’ve got our client’s backs, whether or not they face challenges in the reputation arena."
"We are fanatical about improving the world," says Frog Design. "We choreograph cultural change through design. We strive to change minds, touch hearts and move markets." As one of the world’s leading global innovation firms, Frog Design’s "humanizing solutions" emerge from a globally diverse team of more than 400 designers, technologists, strategists, and analysts from around the world. The company’s multidisciplinary process – which over the years has grown to include research, industrial design, digital media design, and brand strategy – reaches such clients as Disney, GE, HP, Logitech, Microsoft, MTV, Seagate, Yahoo! and others.
"Improving the world is the key motivation for every creative person and should be the main mission of every business," says Tim Leberecht, vice president of marketing and communications at Frog Design. According to Leberecht, "green thinking" is now central to every design project at Frog, and something the firm’s designers think about on a daily basis. "For us, innovation means imagining the ideal and making it real. We consider it to be our responsibility to see ideas through, from insight to market. We’re seeking to find design-driven, unorthodox, and holistic solutions to key challenges of our time – from sustainable mobility to rich communications to human-centric health care." Recently, Frog teamed up with Intel in order to rethink the future of the traditional cash register. The result? A 70 percent reduction in energy use with just a few repurposed chips. That’s good thinking.
Stonyfield Farm’s Gary Hirshberg calls them "remarkable, knowledgeable and dedicated." Office Depot’s Yalmaz Siddiqui considers them "true partners." GreenOrder offers business strategy, environmental science and policy, and marketing and design services to clients including GE, GM, BP, DuPont, Ralph Lauren and Hines. As with Saatchi S, the general viewpoint is that mega-corporations are our friends, and that such companies should profit from their sustainable endeavors. "GreenOrder helps companies build a culture of environmental innovation that creates long-term competitive advantage and business value," says Green Order associate Ted Grozier. "We don’t believe in going green for green’s sake, nor do we believe companies should limit green initiatives to one-offs like carbon footprinting or marketing, for to do so misses key opportunities to capture value."
GreenOrder doesn’t really consider itself an "agency," per se. "We’re more of a management consulting firm," says Grozier. "First and foremost, we are strategists." Apparently, the company’s marketing-related services are viewed as more of a side dish. What GreenOrder is most proud of is the broader impact that its strategic offerings have had on the marketplace as a whole. "A decade ago when GreenOrder was founded, sustainability was not part of the corporate discourse," says Grozier. "Through the efforts of our team and other experts in our growing field, sustainability has now become a path to business value – and a key part of a larger cultural conversation."
According to the New York Times, the recent ads spun out of DiMassimo Goldstein (DIGO) might be doing to the bottled water industry what antismoking ads did to the tobacco industry back in the 1990’s – causing major headaches. In case you’ve missed the unfolding "Tappening" campaign, the interactive and print ads are designed to encourage consumers to drink tap water whenever possible. They are deliberately outlandish, poking fun at the bottled water industry’s environmentally wasteful and often misleading nature. One poster claims: "Bottled Water Causes Blindness in Puppies." Another reads: "Bottled Water: 98% Melted Ice Caps. 2% Polar Bear Tears." All the ads are supported by an informative website, Tappening.com, where people can learn about the hazards of bottled water and what they can potentially do about them.
"We’ve spent these two years using our marketing and public relations abilities to un-sell bottled-water hype," agency head Mark DiMassimo recently told Brandweek. "But I still see cascading waterfalls on labels that do not list the source of that water." The agency is on a mission to help reverse the tides, and is using its arsenal of social media, web and advertising tools to do just that. In addition to promoting unbottled water, DIGO also helps organizations like Memorial-Sloan Kettering and ThinkorSwim to reach people with messages that resonate at the deepest levels.
In the world that is social and environmental marketing, Little Big Brands has the secret sauce: temperance. "Our work is insightful, inspired, never frivolous," the company says. This non-frivolous attitude translates marvelously on the company’s blog, which simply reads: "If we have time to blog, then you shouldn’t hire us." Evidently, LBB (which is what their friends call them) has been busy at work, drumming up eco-friendly packaging and clever advertising for clients including Born Free eggs, Yardley Natural soaps and Vitamin Water.
"It’s really exciting for us when we have the opportunity to work on a project where we can be a true partner, adding value every step of the way," says Pamela Long, Director of Client Services. One recent LBB project entailed a facelift for Pennsylvania-based brewery, Lionshead. "They asked for a step up in quality, but a step down in cost," says Long. "We went a step further by bringing substantial environmental savings to the table." What stands out through most of LBB’s design and advertising solutions, including the Lionshead work, is that less can often be more. While the new Lionshead packaging uses 40 percent less material, it sends a motivating message to consumers about the importance of environmental conservation and recycling. "It would be pompous to suggest that we’re out there doing something that other agencies can’t or don’t," says Long. "What I would say is we really care about what we do and what our clients do. We may be a little design firm, but we work for some of the largest companies in the world, and by helping them use resources as responsibly as possible, we can really make a positive difference."
Amen to that.