I’ve been thinking a lot about the responsibility of our industry lately.
With the enormous reach and impact some of our global campaigns have (our work on Dove comes to mind), surely we need to spend a bit more time thinking also about the responsibility that comes with that power.
It’s nice to believe that the industry as a whole knows the impact that our advertising has on the perceptions and daily behaviour of millions of consumers. But sadly, I’ve come to realize that when creative work is in the actual act of creation, the values that are subliminally being transmitted to the end consumer within that work are often the last thing on people’s minds. Take this Renault ad running currently in Brazil for example. I’m sure the creatives in charge weren’t out there to encourage car-theft (an already enormous problem in urban Brazil). But it doesn’t take much digging beyond the jokey surface to reach the conclusion that in this world that the brand is creating, respect for the property of others and the boundaries of legality don’t actually count for very much. Perhaps a single piece of communication like this might not have a huge effect, but on a young population, over a matter of years, the cumulative effect of such messaging is surely significant.
This whole question of values projected in our advertising has had me thinking for quite a while. Whether it’s values that uphold a patriarchal system, such as most beauty and fragrance ads in which women are routinely cast as princesses/ angels/ victims/mothers/ femme fatales (a game of choose-your-gender-stereotype in which no-one wins). Or whether it’s values that project a world in which the accepted rules of civic minded behaviour somehow just don’t apply, like the Renault work. Historically, the media and entertainment industries have been held to task on these issues much more than the advertising industry have. Not that that has necessarily improved things much – I’m sure that the link between the thousands of Bollywood plotlines in which women are cast as glamorous objects of barter between men have an insidiously damaging link to the sustained high levels of violence against women in India. And I’m sure there’s a lot of work going on to untangle these issues.
In a funny way, advertising has never really been held up to the light of scrutiny that would effect change on this front. Perhaps that’s our responsibility.
It’s the reason I spend so much of my time championing the voices of our collective Other in creative work – trying as often as possible to get across the voices that aren’t promoted as naturally by an industry, that is, let’s face it, still running on codes largely created in 1960s America by a small coterie of white male creatives.
And that’s why the recent flourishing of work, whether in art or communication, that questions the established codes comes as such a welcome and refreshing change. Like the work of Ramiro Gomez who’s decided to bring to light the normally hidden ‘underclass’ of workers (nannies, drivers, pool-cleaners) upon whom the idealized images of luxury that our industry so loves to project depend on. Or the work of this artist with her re-portrayals of how the black Barbie would look if she actually had the normal features of a black woman. Or this lovely tongue-in-cheek series of photographs by Malia Moss who is finally taking on the tyranny of the gendered wedding/engagement photo with such delicious wit.
Together, all of these manifestations are facets of a movement towards expressing more and more of what we might the Other Voices. The voices beyond, and behind, the usual ones we see and hear projected on our screens everyday, from the advertising and entertainment industries. The voices that still project the cultural norms and codes that we have outgrown. The fact that so much of this work is bubbling to the surface right now, means that we’re slowly starting to erode the established voice of mostly white, heteronormative, male-view, wealth-as-success driven content that still forms our industry’s bread and butter.
So here’s to 2014 being the year that the Other Voices break through. The year in which we embrace the world for the curious mix it really is, rather than insist on creating ever faker worlds of idealized perfection that our rather clever consumers not only see right through, but also increasingly want to distance themselves from.