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Laura’s Word 25 April 2013


Can creativity be used to make the world a better place?

Laura’s Word 25 April 2013

Could creativity make the world a better place? Can advertising play a role in that? Or is that fundamentally impossible in an industry which some would argue solely exists to drive consumption? This week I went along to the inaugural ‘Grey Matter’ event at Grey London, a discussion entitled ‘The Battle for Better’. And yes. It went there.


Grey London Head of Planning Leo Rayman introduces the speakers

The assembled panel included Max Gates-Fleming, Co-founder of Stitch Project (a charity that uses the arts to raise environmental awareness), Alice Vaughan of 3space (a charity that makes empty shops and office buildings available for community projects), Simon Hodgson of CSR consultancy Carnstone and Jon Alexander, brand strategist at the National Trust and associate at Comms Lab, an organisation which aims to bring greater purpose to the communication industry.
Starting softly by looking at creative charity projects, the panel soon got round to the hard stuff. Simon Hodgson compared the output of the media to the carbon emissions of heavy industry. The biggest impact we can have, he argued, is in the messages we send out which currently encourage unsustainable consumption. Taking things further – or ‘keeping his hand in the fire’, as he put it – was Jon Alexander. If advertising and marketing is truly going to make a difference it won’t be confined to charitable side projects. It’s going to depend on agencies having tough conversations with clients. His biggest regret, he confessed, was when, as a planner on a large supermarket, he didn’t question their drive to sell Christmas trees for £1. 
After the speakers left the stage, there was plenty of animated discussion happening in the Grey bar. It obviously struck a chord – surprising perhaps as these sorts of really brutal questions are never raised openly in the industry. It’s funny, I suppose, how things unexpectedly bubble to the surface when people are given permission to voice their secret misgivings. So, even though there’s still a lot of work to do, this is an industry made up of creative and empathetic ‘people’ people. The kind that, at heart, want to do the right thing. 
The LBB team also saw creativity making a positive impact last week at the first ever Sofar Sounds/Little Black Book joint gig. Music, my old psychology lecturer and globe-trotting saxophonist used to say, lights up the brain like a Christmas tree. If that’s the case, then the event in a transformed living room in East London was the cerebral equivalent of the Las Vegas strip.
The LBB team enjoying the music
It was an experimental collaboration to help bring the unsigned acts in the Sofar Sounds network closer to the advertising industry. Sofar Sounds have been putting on intimate living room gigs in over 30 cities around the world for a few years now, and they’ve recently launched Sofar Creative as a synching wing. Not only did we have a storming time listening to the assembled (Great Heat, Gentry, Only Real – get on it!), but it’s kind of cool to see a bunch of real music lovers doing their thing to help struggling but talented acts carve out a living in a difficult landscape. 
Rounding things off – it’s been a busy old week – Addison headed to a talk by hard-core journo and blogger Fleet Street Fox. Reporter Susie Boniface talked about the role of the media in holding public figures to account, the Leveson inquiry and the stories that even she has never published.
Anyway, back to the question at hand. Can creativity – or the ad industry – really make a difference? Well I hope so. And for all the greenwashing that still goes on, it just takes one British Heart Foundation Vinnie Jones ad (28 lives saved and counting) or one Operation Bethlehem to give us a glimpse of the potential impact the industry could have.
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LBB Editorial, Wed, 24 Apr 2013 15:52:59 GMT