Tuesday, 27 August 2019

What is a better world, anyway?


The recent death of Lord Bell has made me realise just how much the politics of the average ad-person has shifted in the last couple of decades. OK, back in the 1980s, I was working for the agency that were Margaret Thatcher's "favourites", but nevertheless, it would have been a brave person in almost any of the top agencies who openly admitted to voting Labour. They would have been thought a dreadful hypocrite at best.

These days, according to The Empathy Delusion by Reach Solutions, 44% of UK advertising and marketing people identify their politics as "left", 36% as "centre" and only 20% as "right." The report is fascinating, as it reveals that despite priding ourselves on our superior empathy (a delusion), people in the ad industry are as out-of-touch with the man or woman on the street (aka the "modern mainstream") as were their Bollinger-swilling yuppie 1980s predecessors - but living in a bubble of a completely different character, on the opposite side of the political battlefield. And quite possibly even more out of touch.

Someone with a mind set that's liberal/left has a narrower (or more focussed, if you prefer) moral compass, where more emphasis is given to the more "individualising" moral foundations - care/harm and fairness/reciprocity - than those characterising "binding/ethics of community" - in-group loyalty, authority/respect and purity/sanctity - when making decisions on right and wrong, better and worse. The sample of advertising and marketing people in the study exhibited "different cultural and ethical settings" to the "modern mainstream."

I could take issue with all sorts of things in this report - were the two samples age-matched, for example? And isn't this sort of analysis divisive, therefore stirring up a hornet's nest while not being terribly helpful in terms of offering solutions? But some of the findings made me question my own biases and assumptions - obsession with "the cult of the individual"? Guilty as charged.

And it explains a lot about the current debate on Brand Purpose, especially the blurring of edges between purpose and cause-related marketing.

If brand purpose is about a positive contribution to a better world, maybe we should ask ourselves what we mean by "better". No-one wants a worse world, surely? Could it be that, for a lot of advertising and marketing people, a "better world" is mainly about care/harm and fairness/reciprocity relating to the individual?

For all its conservative leanings, at the agency Saatchi & Saatchi, we did always try and find a Simple Universally Recognised (Human) Truth. Something that united humans despite differences.

Perhaps it's not looking for purpose as such that's wrong, but we should broaden the scope of where we look - and what comprises a "better world."

A world with fewer pubs closing, for example?

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