Humanity Raises Its’ Game

Did anyone see Ryan Air’s full page advertisement mocking Gordon Blair’s aviation fuel tax in this week’s Times (Feb 28th edition)? Moreover, did you see within the same paper the advertisement by Virgin Media publicly chastising Sky? Both advertisements reflect a sea change in UK advertising.

I put it to you to you that ads that merely promote products may no longer work. Aspirational creative copy and Œhigh-life¹ art direction that serve to showcase the latest products are not achieving cut-through and more importantly not engaging consumers in any meaningful way. Aspirational advertising that focuses on wealth as a measurement of human value is being subsumed and overtaken by a groundswell movement towards social responsibility, environment and community.

The trigger points for this change are varied but driving the movement forward is digital technology. In an age of MySpaces, YouTubes and with 43 per cent of internet content now user-generated, companies are having to reflect a new culture of openness and honesty. The Internet has levelled the playing field and produced an online society where individual wealth is of minimal importance and, instead, human and corporate responsibility are the issues of the day.

According to insiders, BP now spends about 75 per cent of its annual marketing spend pushing green issues. Ads about high-octane fuel, additives and the latest engine-friendly oil no longer drive sales. Instead, BP only wants to talk about its forays into solar and wind power and how BP will help save the planet. Marketing based on corporate responsibility is being mirrored everywhere ­ Honda, Dove, Chevron, Marks & Spencer, Virgin etc ­they’re all at it.

M&S’ corporate responsibility chief, Mike Barry, came out publicly late last year and said, “M&S’ Look Behind the Label marketing campaign has been our most successful ever”. M&S’ group head of marketing was also quoted as saying the ads have “had a significant effect for a small investment”. The campaign simply informed consumers of the ethical credentials of M&S food and clothing.The advertising industry is not leading the way but simply mirroring what is foremost on consumers’ minds. Social responsibility, the environment, ethical trading and community are now top of the agenda and brands must wake up and acknowledge this mounting consumer pressure. Failure to do so will see brand values disintegrate in the new debates over carbon footprints, world poverty, third world sweatshops, fair trading, advertising to minors, nutritional values etc and, most importantly, communal well-being.

Humanity is raising its game and it is demanding that we, as advertisers, fall into line. Advertising in the future must therefore focus on people’s needs and communal well-being rather than individual aspiration and greed. Address this and the future of your brand will be safe. Ignore it and the future of your brand will be perilous.

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