When I look at award-winning creative work, I always head to the Public Service section first. Because this is the work tackling capital “P” problems. It doesn’t make me say “I wish I thought of that” as much as “I’m glad someone thought of that.” It’s advertising’s way of making it up to the world for interrupting all those shows, commutes, and sporting events.
I’ve been fortunate enough to bring this kind of work to life for two causes.
I didn’t choose advertising because I wanted to change the world, and I doubt most people do.
I chose it because 20-something me thought “Hey, an ad is only 30 seconds long. How much work could it really be?”
But a career path borne of such an erroneous assumption turned out to be a pretty good fit.
I liked solving creative problems. And every week brought plenty of new ones.
I was improving brand loyalty. I was reaching broader targets. I was introducing new products. But the world — though duly intrigued by the knowledge that Hidden Valley Ranch was Now 12% Creamier* — remained fundamentally unchanged.
Then, one day, I got my first real crack at Changing the World.
I had the opportunity to work on the Truth Initiative, the partnership started in 1999 by agencies Arnold and Crispin that produced brilliant campaign after brilliant campaign. And I was appropriately terrified.
Not only was the work great, but the work worked. According to Robin Koval, CEO of the Truth Initiative, when truth started, 23% of teens smoked. By 2017, that number had dropped to 6%.
Over four years, I learned that using our powers for good feels good. And I carried that lesson with me to McKinney.
More recently, my current home state was besieged by a different kind of epidemic. North Carolina House Bill 2 was a bigoted attempt by legislative leaders and Governor Pat McCrory to dictate where transgendered people used the bathroom. HB2 also made it harder to sue for workplace discrimination based on race, religion, age, or sex.
In short order, one of the South’s most progressive states was relegated to a national punchline. Companies, entertainers, and sporting events took their business elsewhere, costing North Carolina $500 million in lost revenue, according to Politifact.
At McKinney, we rose to fight HB2. Our CEO, Brad Brinegar, led the charge by writing a letter to the governor, imploring him to repeal the bill. The letter was signed by over 100 CEOs nationwide, including Mark Zuckerberg, Tim Cook, and the heads of Nike, Google, and PayPal.
We launched into a months-long campaign to Stop HB2, keeping the bill and its disastrous effects top-of-mind long enough for people to vote the governor out of office. We printed the “bathroom bill” on toilet paper and sent HB2TP to a protest and to media outlets. We created a YouTube page of nonexistent videos about all of the great things that weren’t happening in HB2-ravaged North Carolina. And we made a film, Boycott Band, about a horribly opportunistic (and just plain horrible) has-been boy band that planned to play the shows being boycotted by real acts.
It was a lot of work, on top of all of our other work. And none of it was mandatory. Dozens of people at the agency (as well as several production partners) donated resources, ideas, and enthusiasm in the name of supporting the cause and bringing down the bill.
And it felt good.
Ultimately, the campaign earned over a billion impressions. And when Election Day finally arrived, voters left their own impression, sending McCrory packing.
Which felt even better.
We as marketers find ourselves, more than most, in a position to bring about change. It’s what we do every day. We change perceptions. And all that time and energy and passion we put toward solving our clients’ challenges? It makes us uniquely qualified to do even more.
The world is full of problems that could use our brains.
Maybe you can help a like-minded client find a cause. Maybe your agency believes in taking a stand in your community. Maybe you’re passionate about an issue but feel like you’re too busy to make a real impact.
Last week, Ad Council President and CEO Lisa Sherman visited our agency and left us with these words: “When you’re driven by what inspires you, every campaign you touch will resonate with real people.” They believe so much in the power of our industry to change the world that they’ve launched Create for Change to connect marketers to the causes they care about.
Volunteer your brain, and you’ll find plenty of others willing to volunteer theirs.
The world will thank you (and forgive you for that pre-roll you just finished).
*This was UNC-Chapel Hill Professor John Sweeney’s shorthand for the notion that what we’re selling isn’t always that interesting, so how we’re selling better be.