From Sales to Advocacy and Change, the journey of ‘an Idea’ in Advertising

Ever wondered what is the single thing that transformed once upon a time corporate and serious business of advertising into creative, clever and crazy advertising industry during the late 1950s of Mad Men era? From hard sell and repetitive advertising to witty, artistic and sophisticated ad campaigns, it was the introduction of an ‘Idea’ into advertising that glamourized the likes of Doyles, Bernbachs and Ogilvys to re-engineer a creative breed of advertising professionals who pledged by the idea as their primary source of fame and fortune. It was the ‘idea’ that became eponymous with creative advertising culture. Both agencies and clients swore by the ‘idea’ to upscale their sales graph. The tradition still continues strong in its fifth decade albeit with a difference. Ideas that have been selling ketchups and automobiles are now increasingly selling knowledge and advocacy in their latest avatar. From big corporations like Vodafone who did a campaign to address domestic violence in Turkey, Unilever’s deodorant brand, Lynx who raised awareness about male suicides in London to ITC’s Savlon that promoted hand washing through chalk sticks in India, every brand is exploiting the power of ‘idea’ to sound sustainable and resonate with their consumers’ conscience.

When ‘idea’ took reins over advertising business during Mad Men era, it practiced narcissism, competition outsmarting and wit with vengeance. In last few years, the ‘idea’ however became more nonchalant and started designing subtle but strong communications targeting brands’ commitment towards innovation, sustainability, and enhanced engagement. The leading beer brand Heineken since 1970s has been proclaiming itself with wholesome vanity as world’s number one beer brand. The same brand in its 2016 campaign urges its target users to ‘dance more, drink slow’ advocating responsible drinking. A beer brand advocating less consumption of its product is unprecedented and a bold move. The same year, Heineken also launched a campaign Brewtroleum where it created bio-fuel from the beer waste to power cars in New Zealand which had won Grand Prix- Outdoor in Cannes. Another shocking campaign came from REI, a major retailer in the US who shut its store on one of the busiest shopping days of the year, telling people instead to get out and enjoy nature, at the cost of its business!

What is inspiring and channelizing the course of the ‘idea’ from profit to philanthropy centric that is making brands go more humble, honest, humanitarian and eco-conscious?

  1. Persuasion is passé, Empathy is in: There has been a paradigm shift in audience’s emotional, social and intellectual quotient which has increased exponentially with exposure to media, knowledge, processes, and entertainment. Today, if a brand tries to claim its supremacy with perfect creative finesse, it will still sound like hard-sell to this new breed of an over-fed target audience. Brands are now using the ‘idea’ to penetrate within the conscience of their target audience and do things that they always wish for with the help of their products/services. Ariel’s ‘Share the Load’ campaign urging men to share the load of household chores especially that of laundry with their wives is an example of brands intruding in the lives of its target audience albeit benevolently.
  2. More Media at no to less cost: Advocacy and social good act as catalysts to attract media to review the ad campaigns that appear more as acts of benefaction rather than promotional content. Moreover, advocacy and social good being universal in their appeal have the more organic reach and appeal to larger audience breaking the barriers of nationality, race, religion, and ethnicity. This gives a competitive edge to the brand in the scenario where every brand is boasting about the social media fan lineage running into millions. The campaign to stop the sale of acid in retail counter by non-profit, Make Love Not Scars featuring acid attack survivor Reshma garnered huge PR across media like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC World, Mashable, Mirror, The Huffington Post at no cost and personalities like Amitabh Bachchan, Ashton Kutcher, Sherly Sandberg and Sachin Tendulkar too shared their support for the campaign, making it an award campaign.
  3. Sustainable Policy: Some marketers are restructuring their businesses to accommodate sustainable business practices and are making investments in research and development of new technologies that can help them achieve their sustainable goals. Unilever, for instance, has committed to half its environmental footprints by 2030. P&G plans to replace 25% of petroleum-based products with sustainable ones by 2020. Branding sustainability also helps marketers to target consumers, investors, vendors and employees at one go in a single communication campaign.
  4. Awards: Cannes advertising festival, the most sought-after festival amongst the advertising fraternity branded as ‘field-trip to future’ for agencies, start-ups and marketers has been generously awarding campaigns that are packaged with social good and those that promise to address environmental, psychological, health and lifestyle issues. The festival has also introduced new award category-, Glass Lions: the Lion for Change to challenge gender biases. In a bid to stay ahead and bag awards at prestigious awards festivals, brands are making use of ideas that force their way to the jury’s shortlist.
  5. Ease of Execution with Technology: Technology and data have given power to the ‘idea’ whereby they not only help in the adequate execution of the idea but also help in measuring the effectiveness of the campaign in real time. This has encouraged agencies and brands to dream big, invent without fear and set as challenging goals as possible and experiment upon their hypothesis. Never before brands and agencies were so confident about putting into practice everything that they ever dreamed of without the fear of sounding impractical and unrealistic. Toyota has launched i-Road, an ultra-compact electric vehicle which helps to resolve parking issues in congested cities of Japan by utilizing small and unused spaces with networking parking and charging spot stations. This project would have been unthinkable a decade back in absence of tech-driven infrastructure that works in unison with the advertising agencies.

As the evolution of ‘idea’ took from being a piece of communication to transforming into products, experiences and engagements, advertising businesses that were earlier lauded for their creativity now have to be multi-faceted with innovation, technology, research and empathy. We can expect Flipkart as a part of its festive sale campaign to introduce invisible packaging that replaces cardboard cartons loaded with plastic bubbles with certain sonic wave’s technology that secures the products without causing any damage. This can save the country from the generation of tonnes of plastic waste as well as from deforestation which otherwise forms an inevitable part of the delivery process. Or can we expect a fertilizer brand to develop high yielding solution that brings back the fertility of the barren soil that can solve the problem of food crisis and waste lands. While the earlier Mad Men saw advertising going glam and aristocratic, this age of idea revolution is making advertising mad with innovation and social consciousness.

About Author:

Nirali Vaidya is the Creative Director at Muse Advertising, creative agency behind many social innovations like portable dispenser for condoms in Madhya Pradesh for Population Services International to combat the hesitation encounter at POP; interactive and on ground engagement programmes for imbibing sanitation within rural slums population for Government of Bihar; initiating developing 7 senses cinema viewing experience for visually challenged population, mobilizing constructive communication for Kashmir youth just to name a few. With more than a decade of experience in advertising as a copywriter and later as a creative director, she has been writing on consumerism, branding, social behaviour, digital revolution, content curation, entertainment and contemporary affairs. As a freelance writer, she writes on politics, spirituality, environment and entertainment. She serves as guest faculty to many renowned media and management institutes.