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Change isn’t always easy. Particularly if it is tectonic and important. Whether it’s internal change or the change you wish to see in the world, change can be tough. Just when I think I have it all figured out, I get something thrown my way that makes me realize how little I know. But I have learned a thing or two that seem to transcend the smaller bumps in life and that’s what I’d like to pass on in the next few paragraphs.
I am privileged to work with a group of people that believe business can be the most powerful force for positive change. I collect my rainwater, grow organic fruits and vegetables, drive an electric car, and do what I can to protect the environment, but if large scale industry doesn’t get on board, I worry that all the personal responsibility in the world wont be enough. So as an agency we’ve organized around helping companies that in some way are helping to make the world a better place.
The first thing I look for in a positive change company is that the mission runs in the veins of its management. Are they the real deal? One of the reasons Bolthouse Farms is doing important work in the world is that its CEO, Jeff Dunn, had a change of heart. He was a Coke guy that decided he didn’t want to sell sugar water anymore. That was a tectonic internal shift that wasn’t easy. Now he’s leading the Fresh Revolution
for Bolthouse Farms and he has cred as an agent of positive change all the way to the White House.
The other thing that I am coming to realize in life, business, and advertising, is that truth is a multiplier when it comes to positive change. This goes deeper than just telling the truth. It goes all the way to living your truth. Being authentic - now, more than ever in our industry, is critical with brands. Transparency is here. The Millenials are no longer coming, they have arrived, and they expect truth from companies. That creates a marketing opportunity for us in advertising to do work built around telling the truth. When Patagonia launches its own environmental audit and publishes the unvarnished truth about the results, we love them more. Not because they posted a perfect score, but because they told the truth about one of the factories that was less than perfect and what they did to fix it. TrueCar is leading the charge on bringing truth and transparency into automotive retail and it is resonating with both consumers and dealers.
The notion that business can be a powerful force for positive change applies to our own industry as well. Advertising may well be one of the most important centers of positive potential in the world. About 10 years ago I had one of those moments where I asked myself what I was doing with my life. Advertising seemed like a place where truth was perverted in the service of inventing desire for things you didn’t need. I thought I needed to become a documentarian like Errol Morris or join the Peace Corps to have a positive impact on the world. Then I suddenly realized that over a billion dollars had been spent broadcasting messaging I had helped to create. That’s a lot of impressions, and a lot of opportunity to create positive influence.
Google Chrome’s It Gets Better and Dove's Real Beauty Sketches are examples of advertising that is having a powerful impact on lives while making people love their brands and want to use their products. In our recent work with Bolthouse, we wanted to create an engagement solution that demonstrated in real time how junk food dominates the food conversation on the Internet. The Food Porn Index monitors social posts that mention junk food vs. posts that mention fruits and veggies. It’s having a real impact on the Bolthouse mission of getting us to think about the food we eat. It’s also super creative, fun, and getting tons of attention. It is an example of what a positive change company can do to use its marketing might to stimulate the right conversation.
Finally, and this is where the cynics in the industry can roll their eyes, love is a more powerful way. I know, it sounds soft, but its not. I’m half a century old. I didn’t come to this position in temple or church. Or even in meditation. Though I love all three. I came to this realization time over time on the battlefield of running an agency. I get tested daily on this. I’ve used anger, manipulation, bending the truth, cunning, palace politics, fear and intimidation. But love obliterates all of them on the pure basis of effectiveness and efficiency. I can’t tell you how to do it; I can only invite you to start your own inquiry. That’s why I love what we do. The intensity of our industry is a constant invitation to be creative in every aspect of how we approach our work. At the center of positive change in business is an economic concept called creative destruction: "the process of industrial mutation that incessantly destroys old systems, incessantly creating new ones." If you have been using the same operating system for a long time, consider its time to get creative and try a new one. In the end, and believe me I have tried to duck this one, positive change starts right where you are. God bless and have an amazing day in advertising.
Originally published Apr 23, 2014 8:58:28 AM, updated June 28 2019