“Advertising should stop trying to save the world – and get back to selling stuff.” At a time when social good and purpose-drive advertising is everywhere, especially on the award circuit, it can be easy to cynical about big brands claiming to clean up the oceans or back mental health initiatives.
But it seems that advertising’s attempt to make a positive social contribution has not gone unnoticed by the public… and a lot of people like it. Research by advertising industry thinktank Credos, released today, shows that people appreciate the efforts by brands to engage in socially positive efforts and that ‘social good’ advertising from brands, charities and governments contribute to positive perceptions of the ad industry overall.
“We learned that people are quite finely balanced in their attitude towards advertising. They do perceive the negatives but on the other hand they do perceive the positives. And amongst those are the social contributions that advertising makes,” said Karen Fraser MBE, leader of Credos.
Karen was speaking at LEAD 2020, the annual Advertising Association conference that brings the worlds of advertising and politics together. The conference was organised the theme of ‘responsibility’, and the Credos research revealed public perceptions around advertising’s social responsibility. It came in the wake of last year’s Credos research, which detailed a depreciation of trust in advertising, and suggests that making a positive social contribution (and being seen to do so) is one way the industry can raise itself in the eyes of the public. In fact, making a positive social contribution is the second most important driver to change views of the industry, behind the creativity and entertainment value.
The research involved 36 in-depth focus groups and a survey of 1,000 people. 46% of the public already feels that advertising has a positive impact on society, while 36% were neutral and only 18% disagreed.; 42 % of adults believe that advertising can help make the world a better place. And it’s not just confined to advertising that is specifically for a brand or a government PSA – the survey shows that it’s worth getting involved as a for-profit brand too. 53% said that they would think more highly of a for-profit brand making a positive social contribution. One interviewee, for example, mentioned that a recent Amazon Alexa ad featuring a blind woman using the device to go about her day gave a positive impression of Amazon.
“For profit brands can make more of an impact because it’s slightly surprising,” said Karen.
In order to clarify what was meant by ‘advertising’s social contribution’, the report identified several component parts. These were raising awareness and raising money; behaviour change; promoting diversity and inclusion; bringing people together over important cultural events; promoting things that are good for society and the planet; and promoting a more harmonious society. The top three areas that the public would like to see reflected more in advertising
are mental health (63%), the environment (59%) and domestic violence/abuse (58%). Industry practitioners also highlighted the environment as the key area for future focus.
The report also dug into the cash value of the industry's work on pro bono and charity projects. The UK industry dedicates £75m worth of time to pro bono work and an estimated £1 billion worth of media supports advertising that makes a social contribution each year.
According to Stephen Woodford, chief executive of the Advertising Association, the research should put a pause on the grumbling and criticism the industry often directs at itself.
“This is the first time we’ve done a cross-industry look at advertising for social good and it’s a great story. I think we’re often our own harshest critic – and that’s a good thing – but actually perhaps we could be a bit less cynical and a bit more positive and optimistic about these things,” he said. “We can and do play a big role in shaping how society sees itself.”
Read the whole report here.