Don’t be a fair-weather brand

Originally published on the Café Create blog. If you’re looking for a charming integrated creative agency outside of London, it would be an excellent place to start. You might even get a coffee made by me if you’re lucky…

A lot of people are attracted to the idea of advertising because it offers a chance to be involved in creating ideas and moments that go far beyond themselves. It’s a chance to influence, spread messages and effect change.

That’s a pretty powerful thing. By and large, those moments are commercial; the bottom line of advertising is always about ‘the sell’.

There’s nothing wrong in that, hey it’s what led to the creative industry contributing £13.9bn to the UK economy last year.  But despite the commercial aspect, or perhaps because of it, any opportunity to focus on a charitable or ‘good cause’ in advertising is often jumped on faster than you can shout ‘incoming bandwagon’. You know what I’m thinking… Sochi.

The intention to contribute to something positive is admirable. Not only that, with today’s focus on customer-driven communications, riding popular sentiment with your brand can be good business sense and a smart way to engage your customers.

When it’s done right.

Every brand for miles had something to say about Mr Putin’s unacceptable stance on same sex relationships. On the face of it, that’s a good thing. More dialogue on important issues raises their profile and gets people thinking.  All good for the cause, but let’s be honest, that’s not the only reason why brands are doing it. Customers aren’t silly; they know that behind every action a business takes there is a commercial motive. But where is the line and how do you draw it?

It was all summed up by a tweet I saw recently:

Unlike the days of old where brand managers would ask creatives if the logo on a print ad could be “just a little bigger”, it really is different this time. It’s about the moment, not the brand; it has to be.

This is beyond tweeting graphics about the royal baby. If brands want to get involved with civil rights movements they have to be damn sure that they’re sincere.

Take the brilliant (and well-received) spot from the Canadian Institute of Diversity and Inclusion: “The games have always been a little bit gay, let’s fight to keep them that way.” Obviously the message was well within their mandate and it’s a well-executed, genuine piece. The reason it has been so successful is because it resonates and people believe it.

Another ad that’s received a lot of coverage is the Channel 4 anthem, ‘Gay Mountain.’ It’s loud, fun and pulls no punches. But is it just me or is it also a little bit self-celebrating? The strapline at the end: ‘Channel 4. Born Risky’ shifts the emphasis from the message of inclusiveness at the games to, well, Channel 4 and how very daring they are to air an ad with a gay (presumably) Russian man dressed all in fur and hotpants. It may be daring, but it gives the impression it’s all about them.

That’s a dangerous message to give to consumers.  It turns brands into fair-weather friends who only help out for the greater-good when they have something to gain. The result? Consumers who are even more cynical and much less likely to engage.

I’m all for a world where commercial creativity is put to a good cause and brands can challenge prejudiced agendas and dictatorial governments, but people best believe them when they do it.

No one wants to buy a fake.

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