Beware the convoy of black t-shirted hipsters


A fireblanket. Picture:

What, I wonder is the most frightening sight in ad-land?

Is it the industry body - the ACA - snarling and baring its teeth for the first time …… ever, in sanctioning the perpetually groveling and apologetic Metropolitan Republic agency for the wonderful cheat-entry scandal that has been entertaining us for weeks?

Could it be veteran ad man Reg Lascaris giving an impromptu rendition of the Troggs hit Wild Thing to raise money for his art charity, Room 13? He’s not bad actually.

None of the above actually. It’s the sight of a gang of gung ho agency creatives in fancy tinted-window-4X4s arriving en masse at a squatter camp looking to do some good.

This week I hosted my final Ad Forum event, where a bunch of ad industry heavyweights critique recent campaign work. It’s good fun. Nothing like trashing someone else’s hard efforts over coffee and a tasty muffin early in the morning.

We spent much time dwelling on two ads. One was for Engen, where the brand had developed a fire blanket in the form of a wall calendar for use when a paraffin blaze breaks out. It’s a stunning idea in its simplicity and practicality. Then we looked at an ad for an NGO trying to promote the washing of hands among small children in informal settlements. Naturally being kids, they’d rather not. So resort to marketing 101 and bribe them, or as marketers would say, incentivise them. So a toy is stuck in the middle of the bar of soap and by washing hands regularly the child eventually gets a cheap plastic figure made no doubt in China. I sense the more entrepreneurial children will just dig it out with a knife. I know I would have. But’s that’s a whole different debate.  

The lofty notion of doing good is good for business, was until a few years ago a nice to have for brands. Shell out a few shekels on the poor and you can still rape the environment and make big profit. Well of course that has changed now, as big brands have been forced (yay for us) to develop a conscience. And they’ve taken that conscience very seriously. At every turn these days, brands are looking to save the planet, work towards world peace, save obscure furry species and wave righteous flags. And good on them I say.

So that convoy of black t-shirted hipsters milling around a spaza shop with good ideas bouncing off their Ray Bans and leaping out of their Caf Vida takeaway cups, is just another agency looking for cause to promote and marry it to a brand. And keep on doing it I cry. It’s about time a little profit was diverted along the path of goodness.

But if you’re going to do it, make sure the idea is sustainable - loooong term sustainable.

I hope Engen’s fire blanket strategy is set in marble, is sustainable and that Hope Soap will be around for years to come.

Big problems are not solved overnight in the gratuitous pursuance of glory and awards.