It’s become de rigeur to cock a cynical eyebrow at do-gooding ad campaigns of late. With good reason – the inauthentic white-, green- and rainbow-washing of big brands hijacking social or environmental issues was never fooling anyone. Even creative PSAs and charity ads are viewed through a sceptical lens within the ad industry – awards fodder for creatives who won’t deliver the same excellence for paying clients, is a complaint one hears increasingly. But this week, I found all pessimism and misanthropy was washed aside, in an eagerly-snatched ray of sunshine from the Ad Council: their Independence Day ‘Love Has No Labels’ film starring John Cena.
Now, this is the second time in as many weeks I’ve written about the WWE wrestler and I’m sure it’s going to start raising uncomfortable questions about whether I’m a secret wrasslin’ fan. I’m not. Honest. But the film from R/GA and MJZ director Rocky Morton proved a welcome little sparkle of positivity in what has been, around the world, a singularly shitty few weeks.
In a ‘normal’ year, the Northern hemisphere should just now be settling into what journos call ‘the Silly Season’. It is summer and no one can be bothered to do anything newsworthy, let alone report on it. (In Australia and New Zealand, however, folks are using what passes for ‘winter’ to produce a steady stream of good work, which we’ve seen roll in over the past week or so.) But this year it looks like we’ll be giving Silly Season a miss – between the unspeakable terrorist attacks in Dhaka, Baghdad, Turkey and Florida and the unprecedented weirdness of Brexit, this is shaping up to be a truly serious summer.
Add to that the looming possibility of a President Trump in the US and... well…
So to see an all-American jock striding through smalltown USA reclaiming and reframing patriotism, putting a logical, positive case forward for love, inclusion and diversity was like a vitamin shot for the soul. And I’m not even American.
It was also, I think, clever. As we’ve seen in the UK, well-meaning, right-on liberal types can often be tone-deaf and alienating when trying to recruit normal people, struggling with inequality, to their cause. Classist sneering isn’t, as Brexit has shown, all that effective a strategy when it comes to uniting people. What R/GA have done by recruiting Cena is to generate cheerful populism that reaches a wider audience.
The ad industry may not have much going for it in terms of socially useful skills – we’re no doctors, certainly, or refuse collectors – but maybe, in these times of turmoil and uncertainty, smart strategists and compassionate creatives can put their skills to good use after all?
During Cannes, the CEOs of all the major holding companies came together to pledge support and contribution to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. And while the sentence, ‘five of the advertising industry’s richest old white men were joined by a rich old Japanese man to combat inequality and poverty’ was just too irresistible not to write, I am, naively perhaps, willing them on and hoping that they’ll meet their promises.
Basically, this just ain’t the time to retreat, do our best Chicken Little impressions and let despair win. To paraphrase Princess Leia, ‘help me creative people, you’re my only hope’.