As our values and expectations shift, the ad industry’s role becomes more important than ever
‘Shop for Britain!’
The message from Prime Minister Boris Johnson came out loud and clear. And it’s a message that’s been echoed around the world as governments are urging their populations to leave their houses and spend, spend, spend.
And it’s understandable.
We’re heading for a deep recession, unemployment is growing, the housing market is in limbo and stock markets feel like roller coaster rides at the fairground.
We hear the stories on the news of small, independent business owners on the verge of shutting their doors for good if the customers don’t come back. Even chain stores on high streets, which don’t always elicit compassion, have thousands of employees at risk – each one a person with bills to pay and others dependent on them.
So I get it. A functioning economy depends on people spending money. Without the flow of goods and services and money, the whole thing shuts down and society struggles.
When the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdowns forced us all into The Great Pause, it also gave us a chance to look at our lives and our society and take stock. We broke from the frantic pace of consumerism we’ve become so accustomed and addicted to – even online shopping couldn’t make up for the lost spending opportunities – and were able to see ourselves differently. As members of communities. Family members. Friends. Humans.
And some good things started to emerge.
It’s been quieter. There have been fewer cars on the roads and virtually no air traffic in the skies. We’ve been able to hear the birds singing. We’ve been spending more time with our families. The time we get with our friends is more meaningful because it’s been restricted. We’re cooking from scratch and even growing our own food. We’re adjusting to new ways of working and new rhythms in our days.
And for many people, these are things we don’t want to lose. National polling shows that a wholesale return to business as usual is not what we want.
And that extends to the adverts and marketing messages that we see. A recent OnePulse survey found that only 23% of the UK public believe that advertising should ‘encourage people to consume, shop and fly like before lockdown’. That really surprised and gratified me – 77% of people are telling the creative industry that they want to be encouraged to behave more sustainably moving forward.
It’s that shift in public attitude that a group of ad industry insiders are hoping to capitalise on.
The Purpose Disruptors network have launched a campaign called The Great Reset. It’s a call to arms for the creative industry to serve people and planet – not just to chase profit.
Lisa Merrick-Lawless, a co-founder of Purpose Disruptors told me, ‘It’s the idea that if creativity is power, what should we be using that power for? That’s been our question from the beginning.’
The creative industry is uniquely placed to make a difference in society because of how we can capture attention, tell a compelling story and create a vision of a product or experience that people desire. But in 2020 – with a public health crisis and a climate emergency and social justice at the forefront of everyone’s minds – we also have a responsibility to use that influence for good.
As COVID-19 disrupted our lives, it showed us that broader societal change is possible and it can happen a lot faster than we might have thought. And while the changes over the past four or five months have been chaotic and painful, we now have a chance to imagine, plan for and create a future that works for all of us.
In 2019, the UN said that we needed to reduce our carbon emissions by 7.6% each year for a decade to avert climate catastrophe.
Because of the COVID lockdowns, it looks like the UK is on track to achieve that target this year. And the appetite to continue this is there. 70% of Brits believe that we should respond to climate change with the same urgency as we have to the coronavirus pandemic. And Google Trends in April showed that searches for ‘how to live a sustainable lifestyle’ increased by more than 4,550% over the previous 90 days.
The goal now is to help citizens maintain the behaviours that put us on target to reduce our emissions. That means flying less, wasting less food and buying less stuff overall.
These behaviours have been named ‘green shoots of change’ by the Purpose Disruptors and Dr. Orit Gal from Regent’s University London.
Orit defines them as ‘micro shifts in behaviours, social and material interactions that signal potential systemic change’. They need to be nurtured and developed, established as the new normal and become aspirational.
We can see this playing out in individuals, businesses and society at large.
On an individual level, the green shoots that emerged during the lockdown showed that people truly value the connections they made with people and nature, the freedoms they experienced as work patterns changed and the small opportunities to be helpful to others.
First through COVID and then with Black Lives Matter, businesses quickly realised that people are demanding more of them. As citizens, we want more transparency, greater compassion, the prioritisation of workers’ rights and safety over profit. We want a responsible approach to the climate crisis.
A 2019 Havas Meaningful Brands Study found that 55% of consumers believe brands play a more important role than governments in creating a better future. And those businesses who are taking the lead on this have prospered.
And the green shoots popping up in broader society are a renewed sense of community spirit, a redefining of status and value, a heightened awareness of global interconnectedness and a renewed trust in science.
As Sam Conniff told us during SHINEfest, ‘change is always taking place. To live through it will be turbulent and probably a bit scary. And so our natural default will be to hold onto the past, even if we know it’s deeply flawed. But perhaps there is value in the bravery which comes with being able to go off the edge of the map.’
This is certainly the time to be brave and we’re excited to play our part in The Great Reset. Does this chime with you? Check out the website to learn more and, if you work in this space, find out what you can do.