Can Advertising Fix the Economy?

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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.


Great shit my man. Gospel right here. Actually the future (one part) of brands in my humble opinion.

'Havas Media’s Meaningful Brands report showed that 54 per cent of us don’t trust brands anymore. And 71 per cent of us think that brands and companies should be actively involved in solving social problems, but only 20 percent of brands worldwide actually do so.'

Here's to 100 and our next libation.

I'd say having brands actively involved in communities is good, and having them act in a way which instills trust seems good as well. They could both have positive effects, but Advertising can only do so much, it operates WITHIN the economy.

What I think we need is leadership (political and societal) with enough backbone to address our inability to use Fiscal Policy (yup, taxes and tax policy) to force existing money (M3) into higher velocity (how many times each dollar is spent per year). Allowing Corporations and the very rich to hoard cash and attempt to make up the shortfall with Monetary Policy (Quantitative Easing) is a recipe for disaster.

Advertising could help educate the public about the inherent failings of Laissez-Faire Capitalism, but I wouldn't hold my breath.

Sorry for the rant, but what I see in our current policy is a slow slide toward feudalism, or at least Oligarchy, but what do I know?

Happy Friday... when's Happy Hour?

@TylerDBrowing - Thanks, bud, I look forward to that beverage with ya, sir!

@Amateur Economist - I couldn't agree more. There is so much that is needed that is beyond the role of advertising, but I hope at least some agencies would at least begin to think seriously about what they can do to help steward a healthier economy and community, even if only locally.

I didn't mean to hijack your post.
I think you are right, everyone is every profession should look at how they can effect things at their own level.
Advertising, being at the convergence of commerce and communication, is actually in a great place to do very good things.

Stay positive, it beats the alternative.

Advertising did little before the economy took a dump and will do little now. It never has. Creative does little to sell products. It's an illusion. At best, its a little push, but never a shove.

If you look at the statistics at what does work, people don't want to buy it or use it. When you consider the bulk of what works and spreads the word is great customer service and personal engagement; and, most businesses are too lazy to do that right, its cheaper to patch the problems with advertising. As always, our society seeks band-aids.

Personally, the entire eco-PR think is BS. It is no different than any other fad marketing businesses do. In the 60's it was anti-cigarettes, the 70's another fad. Much like the salad bar or yo-yo, these fads disappear and have no real heart or soul. Gimmicks rarely garner long term traction.

When I tell a potential customer that first I want to make sure their customer service is amazing and all the other elements are in place that are important, they run. People want to think that SEO, a brochure or video will just wish away their problems. They don't and neither does eco-PR or any other gimmick. Your customer experience is your best advertising, not a cheap sales associate or coupon.

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