Advertising agencies’ woke campaigns misfire


The shift away from humour points towards an industry frightened to ruffle feathers.

Rather than risk fuelling a social media backlash with a misjudged joke, brands appear more comfortable trumpeting their position as a force for good.

Moray MacLennan, chief executive of M&C Saatchi, says “humour will come back strongly”, but for the moment advertising is reflecting how the world has “become a more serious place”.

“People have been wary of having fun and being trivial,” he adds. “It’s almost as if you are trivialising all the world’s problems and my personal problems. It can come across as a lack of empathy.”

He believes the purpose-driven advertising has an important part to play because it reflects the values of the younger generations.

“People talk about ‘wokeness’, but ‘wokeness’ is in the eye of the beholder. What you realise when you are sitting in Soho, and you are an older white man, is that different generations have different senses of gravity when it comes to those things.

“What might appear to be irrelevant to a 70-year old is absolutely mainstream to a 20-year old.

“When you talk about effectiveness it is very important to talk about what one is measuring. Much of our work is to drive sales in an efficient manner, but sometimes it is behaviour change. Sometimes its brand affinity, desirability and awareness. Those things are important to people because they buy from brands that they trust.”

‘You have to have a point of view’

Amid the rise of ethical investing and pressure on companies to demonstrate their corporate social responsibility (CSR) as a sign of good corporate governance, brands are eager to promote their position on divisive issues despite a potential reprisal from customers or staff.

“I think you do have to have a point of view as a chief executive and a company,” MacLennan adds. “You wield power and influence. You are no longer allowed to say ‘I just sell bread’, you have to have a view.”

Purpose-driven advertising strikes a fine balance between winning customers that agree and alienating those with opposing views.

Yet in the age of targeted advertising – where agencies can serve people with digital ads based on troves of personal data – such ads have the ability to preach to the converted.

Sir Martin Sorrell, the executive chairman of S4 Capital, says there is “a lot of greenwashing and virtue signalling going on” from the advertising industry. But he believes the critics of purpose-driven advertising are simply failing to accept the industry’s evolution.

“When you look at all the major issues we have to deal with: Covid, climate change, technological change, diversity and inclusion, the negative impacts of globalisation, political developments such as US/China relations or the lack of them, all of these issues do worry consumers,” he adds.

“The market environment has changed and it is very difficult for people in the traditional part of the industry to get their minds around that. In that new world, the way you develop relationships with consumers has become much more personalised, activational and maybe much more short term. The industry looks back with rose-tinted spectacles at the Don Draper days – but times have changed.”


Source link