Advertising for change: Should marketing budgets be spent on making the world a better place?

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“I can feel it coming in the air tonight,” not only a line that gave Phil Collins one of his greatest hits of all time, but also Fallon London. Created back in 2007, its Cadbury ‘Gorilla’ ad, scored with Phil’s haunting track, was recently voted alongside Guinness’ ‘Surfer’ as one of the greatest ads ever made. But the advertising industry has moved on a lot since 2007 and change is in the air, I can certainly feel it coming too.

Guinness’s latest ad campaign, created for the recent Rugby World Cup, is a prime example. While the TV ad’s look and feel is still as intense and masculine as ‘Surfer’, the message is very much different.

Take ‘Never Alone’, a short spot featuring Welsh rugby player Gareth Thomas. The film revolves his decision to reveal his sexuality to his teammates (and world at large) and the emotional turmoil this caused him. Sitting under Guinness’s ‘Made of More’ campaign, this is an example of a great brand addressing more important issues than just their image.

But whereas as Guinness has always maintained a good brand reputation, McDonald’s latest ad campaign tries to dispel some of the myths that have plagued it in the past, quite literally in fact, and highlight some of the more responsible things they are doing in terms of transparency and ethical sourcing.

Its latest campaign ‘Good to Know’ takes three key products - the beef burger, the chicken nugget, and the humble potato fry - and highlights that they’re more innocent than what the rumours say. ‘The Cow’ in particular emphasises both the British sourcing and high animal welfare standards of McDonald’s beef.

And it’s not just the food industry that is jumping the “good advertising” bandwagon. Microsoft’s latest TV spot revolves around their support on the Special Olympics. A beautifully shot film is black and white, this ad not only gives the brand a slick, edgy feel, but also gives the impressions there’s some substance behind the cold tech giant.

Despite these thought provoking, beautifully crafted ads, earlier in the week Do It Day raised the question should brands be spending this much money on advertising their responsible side, but instead be spending this money on making the world a better place?

Maybe so, and this raises many ethical questions about whether corporate social responsibility and brand responsibility is a genuine, altruistic thing, or is it simply creating fodder for the marketing team. Another interesting point made around this subject was that could brands be using marketing spend to create content that not only advertises the responsible work they are doing, but also encourages the consumer to get on board and support this work, almost akin to the advertising charities do.

Perhaps, and I say this with hope, this is where the industry may start to head as consumers become more used to, and tired of, the current trend in responsible brand advertising.

Matthew Harmer is director at Nice and Serious.

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