Anger is an energy
That’s what John Lydon said. Then again, he did also drop the C bomb on live TV, so don’t copy everything he does.
Anger is the driving force behind some of the world’s greatest creative works, though. I’m not a tortured artist so could never write adland’s response to Anarchy in the UK, but I’ve seen the red mist employed with sublime effect across numerous marketing campaigns.
Anger can help achieve incredible things when used as a catalyst in advertising, achieving results other sectors can have a hard time nailing.
For example, the fundraising arena reached peak anger in the 80s before slouching into sofa-dwelling comfort. Many would say it's too corporate now, and wheeling Ed Sheeran into a third world country is exactly what people expect and that’s it.
The injustice of poverty and famine hasn’t dissipated – the anger has. We’ve been fatigued by compassion. The anger and sorrow present around Live Aid 1985 return for fleeting moments – the One Love Manchester concert earlier this year was a celebration, a defiant stand in support of terror victims – but these moods soon subside, onlookers returning to normality after ‘doing their bit’. We’re content with watching some Mrs Brown’s Boys skit and hoping starving children eventually get some clean water.
Advertising can be used to incite anger
Not anger at the ad – looking at you here, Go Compare Man – but at the world’s wrongs.
One of my most vivid memories of anger being used in this way was a door drop by the NSPCC. An envelope was posted through your letterbox, containing a small plank of wood. You then broke the wood. That’s the force it takes to break a baby’s arm.
That makes you angry. These sorts of charity drives do more than just raise money for a good cause. They impact society, changing the way we’re wired, altering our worldviews, our decision-making. They take responsibility for this change by refusing to be unheard. You can’t switch the channel or go make a cup of tea. It’s right there, in your hand.
This is anger serving a higher purpose, shouting out, giving a voice to the voiceless.
The feeling can be directed at ills more relatable to the average Joe, too – the ‘Let’s Kick Racism Out Of Football’ campaign of 1993 was a damning indictment of abuse that happens on and off the pitch. Its success led to it becoming its own organisation, Kick It Out; now partnered with the FA, it continuously campaigns to end intolerance against members of ethnic and LGBTQ+ communities, women, the disabled and anyone else receiving unjust treatment in football.
And you lead by example – if all offenders in sport changed their attitudes, then so would most other people with that mind-set. The anger would be widespread, seeping into mainstream consciousness on a level that you just wouldn’t be able to ignore.
As creatives in advertising, we should be using anger as an energy. In 2017, we should be taking the idea of brand purpose beyond a few Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives, instead directing it through the funnel of our creativity. More people see the campaign, the product, than they do the ‘corporate sustainability’ tab on your agency’s website. It’s not about the ad winning loads of awards and being deemed ‘ground-breaking’, ‘heartfelt’ and so on – it’s about rupturing the status quo.
Look at the things that you think aren’t right.
Try and make them right
Resham Khan, the victim of an acid attack in June this year, recently launched a zero-tolerance campaign from her hospital bed. She wants to change the law surrounding the commercial purchase of these dangerous corrosive substances; a petition now stands with over 530,000 signatures.
This is a real response born out of anger. Anger at the situation she’s been put in. Anger at the ease of which her attacker obtained these life-changing chemicals.
This tragic event has resulted in people getting angry for Resham, for all the other victims of such heartless attacks, and doing something about it. It’s not spiteful. It’s not hateful. It’s productive.
So surely, as marketers, as people whose jobs are to basically find new ways to sell, we can use this anger as fuel to inspire great work. Not in a cynical, bandwagon-hopping fashion, but as a means to initiate positive social change.
Because we can
Remember that Irish road safety ad a few years back? If not, remember the headlines? ‘So shocking, it was banned until after 9pm’? The threat of hitting children is one of the only things that’ll instantly slow a driver down, so naturally this ad had a car hurtling into a group of kids at terrifying speed. It addressed a real issue, and given the furore surrounding its curfew, it reached a much wider audience than a ‘normal’ car safety campaign ever could’ve done. Anger drove this ad to its shocking denouement, and anger is what made it so poignant, so effective and widespread in its delivery.
As long as this feeling is harnessed for something positive, then it should be considered an asset just as any other emotion. As long as it’s not negativity masquerading as a force for good, as long as it’s not just some people in an office with a foosball table venting about things but not actually doing much about it, then go for it.
Anger is an energy
Energy is the key to movement. Use it conservatively and don’t overspend it; if you slap a ‘purpose’ on everything, people will see right through it.
As cheesy as it sounds: advertising can change the world. It has done before and it will again. Use your anger, channel it within your work, and do amazing things for others.
And for the love of god, don’t drop the C bomb on live TV.
Ian Haworth, chief creative officer at Wunderman UK & EMEA
John Lydon features in The Drum's latest magazine issue, which this month focuses on Anger as its theme.