Can Advertising Fix the Economy?

By Egotist / /

If a brief landed on your desk tomorrow with the problem, “fix the economy,” what would you do?

It’s an interesting question for an ad agency to try and solve. What could an industry built on unfettered consumerism do to help fix capitalism? Does advertising have a responsibility in improving the economy around the world? And not in the “we help sell more shit to boost the economy” way, because insane levels of debt-driven consumption from the last thirty years have put a stranglehold on our world and is dragging us further into a recession.

What’s wrong with what capitalism has become goes way beyond advertising. Radical changes in fiduciary policy are required, but if politicians follow the poets, might a new, sustainable type of business follow the creative technologist?

Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream said,

“…what many companies have been doing is to use PR and advertising and marketing — essentially paying money to agencies to come up with a made-up story to make customers feel good about their product or brand.”

Advertising agencies — already facing an uncertain future themselves — have an opportunity to rethink what business for their clients should mean. Where are the advertisers focused on creating meaningful value for their clients? The few that are helping transform their clients and business, are the creative technologists and storytellers whose first goal is to provide meaningful value; not just short-term, move the needle quarterly profits that are here today, gone tomorrow.

This new, new, new economy — or whatever version of ‘new’ we’ve arrived at — just isn’t working. And just as advertising of lipstick on the pig no longer is acceptable, advertisers cannot sit idly by schilling yesterday’s junk.

There’s certainly the necessary option of advertising focusing on the growing class of socially responsible businesses who need help sharing their story. But more importantly, I want to see advertising that natively serves the betterment of the world. The stories of business initiatives that work to make the world a better place are powerful and can help shape the future of capitalism.

Brands should look to projects launched by the likes of Patagonia and their reuse/recycle clothing program, Coca Cola’s trial work to use their distribution network in Africa to deliver aid or even an agency like School that is helping brands “do better by doing good.”

Brands and products are slowly beginning to understand their role of a triple bottom line focus of people, planet and profit. How can advertising — a practice dedicated to unquestioned consumption — participate in helping change behavior to a more balanced life?

Honestly, I have more questions than answers. But it’s time for designers, strategists and developers to align with brands and refine capitalism to the betterment of our world.

Ryan Moede is Director of Client Strategy @14Four focused on building useful digital experiences with ad agencies.