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Despite the negative public perception, advertising can be a force for good

Despite the negative public perception, advertising can be a force for good

Figures from the Advertising Association’s Lead conference recently made for rather chilling reading, with advertising’s public favourability standing at a record low of just 25%.

The reasons for this are more complex than an increase in the amount of “bad” advertising. While favourability levels may have nearly halved since 1992, this was a time when multichannel TV was still in its infancy, Channel 5 hadn’t launched and Mark Zuckerberg was still learning how to use Atari Basic programming.

Since then, the number of media channels has proliferated beyond recognition so it’s little wonder that consumers now feel bombarded, with advertising that is both good and bad. We all have a responsibility to be more sophisticated in our targeting as well as improving standards.

But it wasn’t all bad news – the Credos report also revealed that some respondents viewed advertising as a force for social good and for representing progressive social values. In recent weeks we’ve seen several examples of these, and not all of them have been viewed favourably by the commentariat showing a further disconnect between the industry and our audience.

The most recent comes from Carling, which has launched a grassroots campaign that celebrates local community and local pride. It is backing up this celebration of ordinary and extraordinary life in small communities with a ‘Made Local Fund’, which commits to a multimillion-pound investment over the next three years into sustainable, grassroots projects that boost local communities. Actions and words and social good.

Gillette attempted to perform a spectacular volte-face with its admission that today’s modern masculinity isn’t anything like it had purported – and perpetuated - it to be. Putting aside the questionable execution of “We believe: the best men can be”, isn’t it good that it acknowledged that it had perpetrated a damaging myth for decades good? Well, maybe. While Gillette said it would contribute $1m over the next three years to non-profit organisations that work to combat “toxic masculinity”, this is just a tiny percentage of its annual profits. Gillette may have the belief, but it hasn’t backed it up with behaviour – it made a bold step but more committed action is required if Gillette can really be a force for social good.

Iceland was lauded as having won Christmas with its “Rang-tan” rebadged Greenpeace ad that highlighted the link between palm oil production and deforestation, and its own commitment to stopping its use in the own-brand products its sell. Just weeks later it faced opprobrium when it was discovered that in 17 products where it had failed to do so it had just removed the Iceland brand name. A sleight of hand? Well, maybe but in its defence, it had successfully changed the formulation of 450 of its products. It matched its beliefs with its behaviour and so are deserving of bouquets and not brickbats, particularly by the ad industry.

The importance of this is clear – as the Credos report showed, audiences value advertising that is a force for social good and that’s what Carling, Gillette and Iceland have tried, to varying degrees, to do. If we want to encourage other companies to follow suit by doing good in a committed and genuine way, and therefore help restore that trust deficit, then matching behaviours with the belief is key.

Zaid Al Zaidy is chief executive and co-founder of independent creative group, The Beyond Collective

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