Ad agencies are also benefiting from political initiatives seeking to promote peace.
Saatchi & Saatchi, owned by Publicis Groupe SA, the third-largest advertising company, was behind the Blood Relations short film that draws attention to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by featuring bereaved families on both sides donating blood to each other.
“In the backdrop of economic hardship there’s not much joy to be had and it amazing to feel you’ve been part of something that has such potential in the world,” said Robert Senior, Saatchi & Saatchi’s head of Europe, Middle East and Africa.
The attempt to appeal to consumers’ emotions also works in the corporate world.
Proctor & Gamble’s spot for Pantene shampoo, which follows a chubby Russian girl as she overcomes obstacles to become a champion gymnast, was also created by the Grey Group and was shown online only, with P&G pledging US$165,000 to Russia’s Olympic rhythmic gymnastics team should it receive 5 million views. To date it has drawn more than 5.3 million views.
“We felt that we needed to bring more local relevance for consumers,” said Tanja Riemann, a brand manager for P&G in Moscow. “The Olympic ad is very Russian, from the girl living in a small village to her relationship with her grandmother.”
Unilever’s Domestos cleaner is sponsoring a Toilet Academy, which was designed to bring attention to poor sanitation conditions in parts of the world.
“Making marketing noble again is possible,” said Marc Matthieu, senior vice president for marketing at the company.
“At Coca-Cola, an ad spot called Daniel and His Mother features the son of a polymer scientist who helped invent the company’s plant-based PlantBottle packaging, extolling how much his mom cares about the environment.
The recession that began in 2007 “drove out these issues at companies,” said Scott Vitters, general manager of Coca-Cola’s PlantBottle group. The packaging for plastic bottles, made from up to 30 percent plant-based material, is credited with increasing sales at the company’s Dasani bottled water brand in North America by 11 percent in 2011.
Coca-Cola, which spent US$3.3 billion on advertising in 2011, also collaborates with HJ Heinz, Ford and Nike to speed up the development of products made from plants.
The emergence of social media means a company can go from “zero to zero” in seconds if they are caught contradicting themselves,” Senior said.
Still, even as companies tout sustainability, they are not charities and topics such as profit margins and investor returns remain clearly at the forefront of business, said Hamish Kinniburgh, global strategy officer at the Universal McCann ad agency.
Socially aware ads are not an “uncommercial activity,” he said. “Ultimately advertising is about selling and delivering to clients’ bottom lines.”