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The advertising industry's role in conflict resolution

By Caitlin Ryan, executive creative director

October 19, 2016 | 5 min read

One of the strongest and most important trends that I have seen emerging in the ad industry in the last year is brands' and agencies' roles in conflict resolution, and since becoming president of the promo and activation category at Eurobest, it has really hit home how powerful the work in this area can be.

Caitlin Ryan

Films like License to Operate, which follows the story of how LA's police force worked with former crime leaders in the city to communicate with communities and help bring down murder rates – which was made by ad agency Omelette – show the very real way that conflict resolution has the power to make a change, and how advertising is able to be part of it.

Brands have the reach and scale and understanding of human behaviour that puts them in a prime position to do work that helps people, rather than harming them. We are thankfully not living in a world of Nestle's powdered baby milk scandal anymore and are instead living in a world where Kenco is helping young people in Honduras to learn how to work on and run a coffee farm, in a bid to counteract the economic and social barriers that lead people into gang life.

It is projects like these that show brands are slowly but surely heading towards understanding they have the ability to 'Do as I do – not as I say,' and that there are other (and more powerful ways) to be useful and active in people's lives, instead of just acting like mouthpieces. Once brands accept this, we as an industry can use our creative powers for doing good instead of seeing brands talking about having a higher purpose, which in turn opens up the doors to the industry being used more by governments and charities, and could help NGOs to be able to harness creativity to create behaviour change.

But brands' involvement in conflict resolution is not exclusive to crime intervention, and when you add this sentiment to the industry's acceptance of the role of data and how it can help create relevant messaging to the right audience at the right time, not only can the work be more powerful, but it can be sharper in its aim.

Samsung's work in Korea showed how technology can be used to bring about a life-changing experience with its 'Last wish' campaign, which saw the brand and Cheil collaborate with a number of organisations to bring together Korean families who had been separated by the war. Some had not seen their families for 70 years, but by using 3D ageing technology it was possible to take people's cherished photographs of their loved ones when they were children and turn them into present-day likenesses. It meant the family members could be sought out and reunited with those looking for them.

Relevance is one of my favourite pet topics. Making our work more relevant needs to be our obsession, and not just personal relevance but social relevance, too. This means advertisers getting out of their bubbles and understanding what is important to people in their lives, not just what is important to selling them products. That's why the Always 'Like a girl' campaign worked so well, and why Sport England's 'This Girl Can' work was so impactful. Both campaigns showed an understanding of the challenges women had been facing socially in different contexts – and which women had been voicing – and both campaigns showed the advertisers had been listening to what their target groups had been saying.

When it comes to brands' involvement in conflict resolution, it's not about ticking boxes but about making a genuine impact. And when we're tackling this kind of work, we should remember Maya Angelou's words, because they are still relevant to us as advertisers today: “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Caitlin Ryan is executive creative director at Cheil London

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