Why advertising needs to keep selling but also save the world

Being a brand with purpose doesn’t mean that you’re not interesting in selling. In fact, having a progressive message is vital to future success, say Nick Steel and Penny Lodge at creative agency HarrimanSteel

People are angry right now. Frustrated by a global health crisis very much out of their control, they’re turning their collective rage towards issues that they can affect: political, societal and environmental injustices long-overdue a public reckoning. The pandemic is highlighting the cracks in capitalism. Not only governmental ineptitude, cronyism and a desire to silence society (as seen by the latest bill to stop peaceful protest), but media bias, inequality and the fact that the 1% are getting richer and to hell with everyone else. At a time when people’s need for reliable information and guidance has never been more acute, UK and US faith in politicians and the press is at an all-time low. So who (or what) is stepping into the breach? Brands.

Consumers need their favourite brands to speak for them, to inform and to represent their values where governments and media can’t or won’t. To dismiss this need, to underestimate it or to think we can sidestep it, will kill advertising quicker than any pandemic. Sitting on the fence is no longer an option. We must use our platforms and privilege to add value to society – or risk becoming obsolete. Governments are driven by self-interest and need only focus on surviving a four or five-year term in office. Brands and advertisers that share the same short-term survival mentality are both ethically and professionally misguided.