How can creative minds play a role in effecting social change? That was the question posed by Justin Trudeau, keynote speaker at the Leading Social Change session, part of Advertising Week at MaRS in Toronto. A member of Canada’s federal parliament, representing the Montreal riding of Papineau, the 39-year-old—eldest son of political royalty, former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau—had much to say about the transformative potential of advertising.
photo credit: Liam Maloney
Let’s be honest. For many of us, the traditional image of an “ad man” is that of someone influenced less by social good than that “other” compelling motive known as profit. But a simple look at the level of successful cause marketing campaigns gives one reason to pause. In fact, the collaboration between public policy and advertising has led to a number of powerful marketing initiatives – and, yes, change. Take the reduction in HIV infections thanks, in part, to campaigns on safe sex and the rise in environmentally friendly behavior, no doubt influenced by the media’s heightened focus on green.
Even Mad Men’s Don Draper took on Big Tobacco by writing (while chain-smoking) a full-page New York Times ad in Episode 12 titled, “Why I’m quitting tobacco.” Granted, it was partially inspired by revenge, coming as it did on the heels of losing the Lucky Strike account. But human behavior is seldom perfectly altruistic, is it? In any case, his actions were rewarded when the American Cancer Society asked Sterling Cooper Draper Price to build an anti-smoking campaign. But I digress…
Don Draper (Jon Hamm), Mad Men
Okay, back to Trudeau. Advertising has the potential to foster profound transformation, he stated, by tapping into the most powerful MO in its disposal: convincing people they need something and that they must invest in that something pronto. But rather than a bottle of shampoo or the latest BMW, the need we’re talking about here is nothing short of a seismic shift on a societal scale. Not exactly another day in the office. The toughest part of the sales pitch? That type of change goes against our basic, natural instincts. “Any stable society needs to be resistant to change and upheaval to a certain extent,” said Trudeau. But with over 7 billion people on the planet today, living without care of consequence is no longer good enough. We need to think about what goes in and what goes out. And, he added, with poverty and human rights abuses on the upswing, “we can’t simply live in solos anymore.”
photo credit: Liam Maloney
A behavior shift is imperative but, unless there’s an engaged buy-in by individuals more mindful of their choices and how their small actions echo forward through time, it ain’t happening. As influencers, inspirational motivators of the digital age, advertisers can help convince people that engaging in certain behavior will lead to desired results, that each and every one of them can make a difference. And when that happens, said Trudeau, “as soon as everyone understands how much power we have as individuals to shape the world, suddenly changing the world goes from being a nice idea to flat out inevitable.”
One small step for societal change, one giant leap for Donald Draper.