I attended an interesting D&AD White Pencil event yesterday on the relationship between sustainability and creativity. I would observe that there has been a slight shift in this relationship, for the potential better. Broadly, companies and brands are less looking for creatives to offer solutions and more calling for them to offer ideas. Thoughts that can turn the worthy but dull into the engaging and enjoyable. I think this plays to what we are good at – the art of making the possible into the irresistible. This is a shift from a couple of years back where ‘ideation sessions’ run out of marketing departments got knocked back by ‘the line’, who were not properly engaged with the idea in the first place. Our job, arguably, is adding the style on top of the substance but without it, little will change.
‘Why’ was spelt out by Unilever CMO Keith Weed who very pragmatically observed that for all the great work Unilever are doing, it’s but a drop in the ocean if it doesn’t engage with the billions of consumers and motivate them to want to change their behaviours. As he explained, it’s easy where the benefit is obvious (a hand wash formula for the developing world that reduces rinsing and saves water also saves consumers money, effort etc.) but more challenging where the consumer benefit is less clear. How do you find and express a motivating benefit in something which on the face of it is just boring? Or worse, ‘it’s tough to motivate people towards a negative message’ as he put it.
I think one design angle here is in creating ‘remarkable’ packaging. Because if personal recommendation and social media are the true way to popularise a sustainable living initiative then the core design has to be, quite literally, remarkable. In a good way! Sustainability initiatives are good for business if the end result can be better to experience and cheaper to produce than the current norm. Easier said than done, but that’s why creative ideas are important.
DDB talked to a similar theme of making the boring motivating in their ‘Fun Theory’. Here’s a film from it…
There were those on the day who were pragmatic about the task in hand, and those who were almost spiritual. There’s room for both camps I think. Neither was cynical. But I liked the paradox in Keith Weed’s perspective. On the one hand he sees real success as only possible by joining up with and engaging others – competitors, governments, the world’s population. Yet he is also realistic about what REALLY motivates his consumers: ‘We would like our brands to be known and loved for what they are…Ben & Jerry’s stands for really nice ice cream.’ So at best he hopes the Unilever logo on the back of the pack will become a kitemark of trust – that by 2020 it will be symbolising the fact that ‘we work harder than anybody else’ to make sustainable living commonplace. An ambition both modest and massive.
Meanwhile, what a privilege it is to be in ‘the creative industries’ where our ideas can potentially help save the world (as well as, you know, shift more stuff…). And doing this by accenting the positive? Not a bad way to spend one’s creative energy.