The collective mindset of the advertising industry is often mired in insecurity and a sense of being superfluous to the real issues of the day. It’s a rare occasion when advertising is recognized for anything other than fueling the consumption engine of the free market economy.
This potential epitaph leaves agencies and individuals feeling a nagging disconnect. A fear and frustration that their considerable skills and talents are not leveraged in a way that allows them to make something better, or do something worthwhile.
I’d like to report otherwise. In our role as the agency review consultants for the American Heart Association, the largest non-profit organization in the country, we had the unprecedented opportunity to immerse ourselves in a paradigm of advertising work, pro bono and paid, that has had a tremendous effect on societal issues. When asked, a vast number of agencies could share stories of work they had done that had inspired, motivated, educated and even intimidated people on issues and causes as diverse as literacy, racism, health and wellness, preservation of wildlife, blood donations. The list and effort was endless.
The “Wow” factor comes in not just by being emotionally moved by poignant and empowering creative work on agency reels, but by reading evidence of tangible results of advertising that makes a difference in many lives. From boating safety to 9/11, the agency community responds to issues both remote and universal.
Of particular note was the impact on reaching youth, influencing attitudes and inspiring behavior that allows for better choices. Who can’t respect advertising that reduces school drop out rates, unwanted pregnancy, smoking, drug use, alcoholism and teen suicide?
This journey also gave me an appreciation for the contributions across all agency functions: the behavioral insights surfaced by planners, the efforts of production people to produce work below cost, the magic of media people extending advertising dollars and securing PSA’s.
Another under published fact is that agency people are social activists, pledging significant man-hours to build houses, tutor children, mentor small businesses, and walk, run, bike or jump rope for a good cause. And while certainly many corporations offer similar avenues of giving back, agencies personalized these opportunities in a way that only an industry steeped in passion and creativity can.
It’s important for the industry to acknowledge and take credit for societal contributions on our collective radar screen. Yet perhaps we need to move them more from the footnotes of agency history to the center of agency life. Corporately, agencies should continue to harness the power of an industry equipped with life changing communication and persuasion skills. Individually, advertising professionals should stand a little taller, employ their gifts more often, and breathe greater depth into their calling. They can also rest assured that the commercialized industry they are a part of, indeed strives to make the world a better place.