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Vox pop: Should brands like McDonald's act as creative crusaders?

By Andy Black, Editorial Account Executive

Rooster Punk


The Drum Network article

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May 2, 2017 | 12 min read

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.

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Clockwise from TL: Rooster Punk, Media Bounty, Sagittarius, Mando, NMPi, RBH, BWP Group, Intermarketing, ClearPeople, Harvest

“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 McDonalds. 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?

Claire Van der Zant, business development director, Rooster Punk

To nurture creativity is the foundation that every brand should be building. A business that supports creativity is one that accepts the inefficiencies of the creative process – that you won’t get it right every time, but that failure doesn’t signal the end, just another point of learning.

Wouldn’t we all sleep a little bit better at night knowing that making a mistake at work wouldn’t be frowned upon, but rather celebrated… because those that are trying new things, that may or may not work, are the ones truly innovating. Everything else is just BAU or at the very most, improving.

Automation is here, machine learning is here, robots are here. Anything that requires efficiency; data processing, reporting, tracking, analysis will be the computer’s role now and in the future. That leaves the inefficient, the innovation, the creativity to us. The reality is, any brand not nurturing creativity is going to struggle to galvanise a workforce amidst rapidly changing conditions.

I’d take this a step further to say brands (and businesses) need to play a bigger role in nurturing people. Your brand is your people, and the defining link to better products and services, better customer and user experience, better loyalty and consequently bigger profits. It’s time to nurture creativity, but the foundations of this need to be in carving a more purposeful path and putting people first. Time to #jointhehumanrace

Jake Dubbins, managing director, Media Bounty

Yes, brands should absolutely play a bigger role in nurturing creativity. Creative people are best placed to solve some of the world's biggest problems. Brands are sitting on piles of cash. There should be less focus on relentlessly selling more shit to add to the cash pile and more on fostering creativity, solving problems and adding genuine value to people and the planet.

Kris Boorman, digital marketing executive, Sagittarius

There needs to be more education about usage rights in the industry. You can’t just right-click and save. Speaking from experience, I’ve had my creative work stolen by brands before, and I’ve seen it happen to many other artists, designers and photographers, without credit or compensation. These brands may understand the value of creativity, but they simply aren’t willing to shell out for it.

I believe that with so many stories like this, any brand that visibly nurtures and promotes artists - not just their art - will greatly reap the benefits from that goodwill.

Sean Crosslind, art director, Mando

I think the most successful brands are nurturing creativity; supporting original content in ways that express their unique point of view. In a recent report published by Google, creative brands like YouTube, Tesla and Netflix were most associated by millennials with joy, happiness and being unique. These brands have innovation at their core, and their success is in no small part owed to their eagerness to invest in creativity.

The key difference between brands like Netflix and McDonalds is in their relationship with the creative community. Where McDonalds chose to co-opt the work of New York graffiti artists, Netflix and YouTube provide platforms to enable creativity. A moral case for brands to patronage creativity will always be subjective, but the benefit of doing so to their bottom line and public perception is far more measurable.

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Paul Risebury-Crisp, account director, NMPi

Yes, brands should nurture creativity – for three reasons. One: your customers enjoy creativity. Every time they have a positive experience with something associated to your brand through your advertising or sponsorship relationships etc, it is beneficial and will likely in itself generate word-of-mouth spread or “water-cooler moments” that expand your reach and awareness. Two: your employees enjoy creativity. Let them challenge themselves, be bold and have the freedom to push the envelope and truly great work can emerge (and satisfied employees). And three: best summed up in one of my favourite quotes by David M Ogilvy, “the best ideas come as jokes. Make your thinking as funny as possible.

Craig Wood, creative director, Rees Bradley Hepburn

While the recent McDonald’s example involves the arts, this question is too creative-industry-centric for me. Big businesses should take more of a role in creating a better society in general. Keener environmental performance, greater involvement in charity fundraising, sponsoring youth and school activities and the like are all at least as important as championing the arts and culture.

CSR programmes are growing all the time but the best are more than simply a reaction to public weight of opinion or an attempt to boost share price. And piggybackers beware: social media now guarantees that any business attempting to merely stick its logo on a cause will be named and shamed almost immediately. As the McDonald’s example shows, if you don’t live it to the point where you’re beyond reproach, don’t attempt to do it. Brand relevance can’t simply be bought. Because people can’t simply be bought.

I’m reminded of one of my favourite quotes from the business world, on the subject of whether profitability should be its driving force: “Money motivates neither the best people, nor the best in people. It can move the body and influence the mind, but it cannot touch the heart or move the spirit; that is reserved for belief, principle, and morality.” – Dee Hock, Visa

Adam Wilson, business director, BWP Group

Damn right, they should. It’s fair to say that we’re living in some strange, uncertain times, but a bi-product of this turbulence is a huge opportunity for brands to make the conscious choice to be brave. Brave enough to bring positivity to the fore and aim for a positive cultural impact beyond selling their wares. Taking the easy route and seeking memorability through irritation (I’m thinking of nonsensical ‘epic’ ads…) only adds to the misery. Give people a reason to feel good, to do good, to know there is still some good. Ironically, brands probably never more needed creativity to nurture them.

Simon Long, creative director, Intermarketing Agency

Robert H Schuller once asked: "What would you do if you knew you could not fail?" The fear of failure often stops agencies doing their best work. The misguided fear of rocking the boat. The fear that clients will reject ideas if they are ‘brave’ or not what we 'normally do', when the biggest risk is the client not being noticed at all.

We're living in an age of hyper-change. The rules of media engagement are being rewritten almost daily and consumption assumptions constantly challenged. This is clearly not a time to hang back for both agency and brand. We should let fear do the talking. Be a little scared by new ideas. Be afraid to explore new approaches to old problems.

If you’re not scared, you can’t be brave. And we all know what fortune favours…

Kellie White, head of UX and design, ClearPeople

I am left feeling bemused after reading Geoff Cottrill’s open letter to McDonalds and watching the video. I must agree with Geoff, in that it’s an obvious exploit of street art, hip hop culture which makes McDonald's appear a little desperate but isn’t this just what always happens to true creativity? It gets lifted, popularised, watered-down, taken, stolen by the masses?

Artists and creativity get supported by brands purely for self-promotion it seems and this incident is no exception. I must admit though, watching the video made me want to go Bushwick but definitely not eat a bagel, that’s a good thing, right? It would be refreshing and appropriate if brands supported creativity by sponsoring young artists and creativity in schools for no self-gain, but is business ever truly philanthropic?

Felicity Gerrard, senior account manager, Harvest Digital

Creative Confidence argues that everyone is born creative, but we’re taught to unlearn it. It might be at school or work but over time we repress our natural creativity. Therefore, brands need to do more to nurture creativity. A great example of this is GiffGaff. They brought creative in-house, and they’ve had great success purely from nurturing their own talent. The 'Hey You, Let’s Fly' campaign was inspired. However, there’s still a role for agencies here. Brands can very easily get too wrapped up in their own good intentions and completely miss the mark. Pepsi is the obvious example here.

In order to nurture creativity, brands need to place more trust in their employees. Don't let brand guidelines tie you down to boring ideas. Let your employees create new ideas alone, away from management. A great example here is Google’s Culture of Innovation. It can sometimes be hard for managers to relinquish control, but that’s often when the best ideas come about.

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