A main source of insights into the world of advertising, for me, is one Deke the Geek (nickname), @dekebridges on Twitter, known as Derek to many neighbors.
He reads and follows top advertisers, both individuals and agencies. Today, at Peet’s and Fred’s (a coffee shop in a supermarket), I asked him to tell me about Rebecca Black.
Actually, no, Rebecca Black had just been by, for an interview, to that very Peet’s. She’s guest starring with a band, Man Man, and played across the street at Hawthorne Theater just yesterday. Derek let me know. I could see the marquee from our supermarket window.
However my question for my ad man was whether Companies of Conscience had ever tried to make a go of it.
Let me describe the business model, and thereby what I mean.
Sure, it’s fine to have people care a lot about a product, its quality, its features, if it’s high end and expensive. Anything from a suit, to a set of luggage, to a fancy luxury sedan, might be sold on its merits.
However it feels belittling, at least to me, to have advertisers try to sell me on the merits of one toothpaste or bar soap over the next. They’re just not that different. Why should I care? Could I buy your soap for another reason?
Another reason for buy the soap, goes the model, is because Soap & Toothpaste Company X plows a significant percentage of its profits into advertising, and the advertising sends a message that consumers like and are willing to sponsor.
“Ending Hunger: The Time Has Come” might be one of the campaigns.
“Provide medicines to people unable to afford them on their own” might be another.
The Hunger Project took this approach, focusing on the PR itself as critical, raising money for advertising in particular. Many found that strategy cynical, as if PR were unimportant. Yet persuasive messaging through media is the potent invisible weapon of just about any campaign, including military (especially military).
Soap & Toothpaste Company X might also adopt a Refugee Camp, a specific one. Buying X’s products helps to fund the real life “soap operas” that stem from real life scenarios. I won’t say the campers are “unpaid actors” as why should any acting go unpaid?
Living in a refugee camp is a paying role, and the private profits of a soap company might help with the bottom line. The very public charitable giving gets people wanting to buy the soap.
And watch the shows.
Some might want to donate directly to the camp, helping to make a positive difference.
Some of you may recognize my Peace Caravan model lurking in the background here (“Chinese Peace Corps” meme). That’s where a fleet of land vehicles converge to a site for the purpose of offering clinical services, educational opportunities, designs for ongoing communications, once the caravan moves on.
The business utility vehicles (BUVs) or “business mobiles” play a role, scouting out locations ahead of time, providing on the road bookkeeping and logistical services.
The film industry knows what I mean.
We’re mixing global development memes (village level) with film industry tropes (because development is a kind of theater).
What decals do we see on these Peace Caravan vehicles? Is our favorite Soap Company helping sponsor the action? If so, good for them, I’ll stay brand loyal.
Deke thought this model had indeed been tried from time to time. We talked about the genre of Coca-Cola commercial strives to express a cheerful globalism. In Italy, the TV show Carosello, was all about companies sponsoring movie shorts. The two minute commercials were often as not art films, never mentioning the product. Company reputations were based more on their tastes in PR than on the absorbency of their paper towels.
Newman’s Own is another such product line, with 100% of its profits donated to charity, it says on the labels. But what charities? I haven’t seen a lot of advertising about what those are.
Besides, I’m not talking about donating all profits to charity. I’m talking about championing causes, and people supporting those causes buying the products precisely, because they support messages.
Don’t leave it to the nonprofit sector to shape our social agenda.
I’m suggesting garden variety capitalism could embrace this practice, and become a little less cowardly in the process, a little more willing to take a stand, to support a cause or causes. Not with political donations to candidates, but by appealing directly to consumers. This is the opposite of hiding behind astroturf.
We may have seen fewer such messages recently. Have I identified an anti-trend? Positive futurism seems to be in abeyance. Many media ooze more pessimism and fear these days, whereas commercials promote a kind of head in the sand pettiness. Smelly armpits matter more than countering famine and pestilence. Ridding the world of nuclear weapons takes a back seat to fighting bad breath.
“Globalism” has a negative reputation these days. United States voters are having a hard time finding an “anti war” candidate amidst endless PR about terrifying mental illnesses going viral around the planet.
The PR itself is the vector for the illnesses, in so many cases. Should we be boycotting soaps and toothpaste, until the commercials get better?
On the other hand, the business of advertising is to know when and how to apply spin.
I find it hard to believe no Company of Conscience is up to the challenge.
How about if others join in the genre? Might we find safety in numbers?