In the UK press recently, right-wing tabloid The Sun faced a backlash after columnist Rod Liddle called out celebrities for standing up for causes. While some may agree with some of his points, it belittles a swathe of sincere, intelligent people who reached fame through talent and genuinely want to make the world a better place.
What it also fails to acknowledge is that there’s a large group of people, empowered by the internet and access to information, that now demand a rhetoric of social consciousness from famous people and big business.
The Drum met Adrian Grenier, best known for his TV and Hollywood acting career, at the ad festival Spikes Asia last month. While his Vincent Chase character in Entourage is what he’s known to most for, he also tirelessly promotes environmental issues and has a music incubator and studio in Brooklyn called Wreckroom. Rather than having a rhetoric of social consciousness and authenticity demanded of him, he too sincerely lives and breathes it.
He was invited to Spikes Asia by McGarryBowen founder Gordon Bowen to participate in an on-stage discussion and an event for students about creativity.
A cynical view would be that a social consciousness is the antithesis of big business and advertising but brands like Unilever are spending a lot of money and effort attempting to right its wrongs.
Grenier’s opinion on this flight to ‘doing good’ is it is positive, whether brands are doing enough or not.
“It depends on what enough is. There are a lot of people who might argue one way or the other but I think something is better than nothing. certainly. The fact that we're seeing at least the rhetoric shift towards a more conscientious support of people and communities, not just for profit, is good. It’s ultimately about recognizing that people want companies that financially support or care about their life and what they care about. I think the approach to solving that is first to contribute in it. I couldn't say a blanket statement that all companies are doing better or worse but the fact that there's a conversation, the fact that there's a responsiveness to sentiment and a change of focus and culture towards that kind of demand is positive,” he says.
As well as technology helping spread the information that’s powering this movement to transparency and authenticity in businesses, it’s also driving a different sort of positive charge in the TV world.
Netflix and Amazon, let alone YouTube, have created a wealth of choice for consumers online but, rather than switch people off from TV completely, it’s propelled some TV into a new era of quality. Hollywood stars are flocking to be a part of the small screen.
“It's incredible actually how many outlets there are, and it's not just the Netflix and the online platforms but it's just every individual who has opened up an Instagram account or a YouTube channel. There's just so much content, we are certainly a fragmented audience and we're constantly taking tidbits from a variety of different sources. It has its benefits and challenges. As a performer, as an artist and as an actor I look to the possibilities to connect more directly with audiences. I also have a little bit more control and autonomy over myself and how I am able to communicate to that audience. But it one of the challenges is that you have to wear many hats and really succeed across different platforms, which is not easy. Traditionally actors wouldn't have to think about the marketing or production, they would just show up and do their lines,” he explains.
The new era of talent, like the students he was addressing at the event, he believes has this inherently in them because they have access to high end technology at a young age. At 39, Grenier is perhaps closer to the age of the folks who belonged to the era of showing up and doing lines but the audience he has built over Snapchat and Instagram would beg to differ.