Vox pop: Should brands like McDonald's act as creative crusaders? (part 2)

From left to right: ifour, Rapp, The Clearing, Isobar

In last week's editor's overview, our editor Stephen Lepitak talks about the recent McDonald's street artist scandal where the fastfood giant illegally used New York street art in their most recent advert. It has since received huge backlash from the business and arts worlds alike.

“I don't believe we see many true acts of bravery in this business any more but I have to admit some admiration for MullenLowe Boston president Geoff Cottrill for doing what most agency chiefs never do - calling out a major brand's behaviour, in this case McDonald's. Cottrill has sided for a group of street artists in New York who are suing McDonalds for using their work (without consent) in a video to promote their new sandwich and called on it to do more for the creative arts.”

So following on from that, we asked some of our esteemed member agencies; should brands play more of a role in nurturing creativity?

Damon McCollin-Moore, strategy manager, iFour

Aside from questioning the wisdom of anyone connected with marketing taking the moral high ground over the theft of ideas, I think that Geoff Cotterill’s point is a good one. Brands, especially global ones, should be falling over themselves to find appropriate ways to support creativity. Quite apart from the obvious CSR and brand association Brownie points creativity is just another name for problem-solving and if a brand isn’t hungry to find new ways to do that then, it may not realise it but it is drifting inexorably towards the dustbin of history.

Julia Earthrowl, art director, RAPP UK

Imagine, you wake up tomorrow and the world is completely devoid of artists, musicians and creators. Streets and screens are clean and sanitised of any culture. Brands, well they wouldn’t be f**ked, but they’d certainly have to work a damn lot harder and pay a lot more money for people to generate their ‘cool’ for them. It simply wouldn’t be there to piggyback. And like it or not that’s exactly what we do – we attach our brands to what’s popular and refer to the urban rather than the oxford dictionary. A brand that truly believes what so many claim, will see nurturing creativity as standard.

Oliver Bingham, consultant, The Clearing

IKEA has proven it can be done. Their Dining Club was set up to encourage people to be more creative in their kitchens. After gathering insights that people spend less time eating together because of lack of space, they ran classes on how to plan and host dinner parties in the same space as an average two-bedroom London flat. Brands do need to be careful about jumping on the creativity bandwagon, but the point is that IKEA kept their eyes and ears open, and were prepared to go beyond simply asking people to buy a new product. They tried to understand how people live, and then had the imagination to try to do something about a cultural and creative shortcoming they uncovered.

Simon Gill, chief creative officer, Isobar UK

The answer is of course, yes. A big yes. Especially if the brand is trading on any semblance of being progressive or creative themselves. Which of course most are.

Brands have to get over their one-way thinking - where they push out their corporate, unrealistic, avoid the jeopardy, keep it only good (fake) news clap trap. They have to realise people don’t buy brands anymore, they join them. Which means brands need to inspire or entice people to join their tribe. A tribe, where the customer gives something of themselves, be that attention, allegiance or love, to get something meaningful back. There should always be payback, even if it’s a pay it forward, and without meaning there is nothing. Brands can’t expect to vigorously protect their own IP, while blatantly stealing ideas from others (creative people) without appropriate recognition and increasingly support.

In Cottril’s open letter he calls out McDonald’s (as many brands do) for cynically co-opting culture for commercial gain. We see this all the time, an audience affinity exploited with a distortion of truth or tenuous connection to seem relevant and authentic. It’s a ploy to sneak into our eye line, to seem relevant, and to grab attention like a lame chat up line that can only ever work if followed by something of real value, of meaning and authenticity.

There has been much talk about brands needing to have a definable purpose that stretches beyond purely making money. This need for purpose, combined with the much welcome push for diversity and community, provides a clear north star for brands. However, since much of marketing has been about creating an illusion, it’s often deemed easier to make it up than actually do it.

Change isn’t difficult it’s just hard – and in the world of the instant hit of feel good, talking about it, in variable is all that happens. To be truly standout, brands are going to need to do, make and deliver creative ideas. And as the more enlightened know – ideas need to be nurtured through their often difficult inceptions. What better way for brands to start recognising their future existence by actively supporting creativity as their ticket to transformation. It would of course be prescriptive of me to say what brands need to do to support creative, other than to appeal to them, to start by supporting creativity in their own back yards; their employee and supplier relationships, and in the key areas that their customers will notice, appreciate and love. Brands need to create value and meaning. When said like that, what the f*ck is holding them back?!

To find out what other agencies thought, read part one.

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