Creating shared value (CSV) has been a buzzword in the advertising industry in recent years, with thousands of such campaigns being submitted to Cannes Lions annually. For some industries, it is relatively easy and straightforward to do CSV activities. Clothing or computer companies, for example, can donate their goods to rural communities. Restaurants can stage hunger relief initiatives. The bottom line is that a company’s CSV strategy has to be directly linked with its business identity. Simply put, only when the product manufactured by the company has a positive impact on society can the company truly create ideal CSV. Therefore, to create ideal shared value, we need to first think of what it is that the company produces.
For ad agencies, unlike restaurants or computer makers, it's a bit complicated to develop CSV campaigns which are not just beneficial to society but also relevant to their businesses. Although the industry is struggling to develop new business models, our main product is still advertising. But we are swamped in a deluge of advertising, so not surprisingly, our main products are often perceived as pollution by many people. Does it mean that the more advertising we create, the more impossible it becomes to make our world a better place? Thankfully, that’s not the case. Some examples (from my own agency and others) show that more advertising can create higher social value.
Last year, Peru's University of Engineering and Technology (UTEC) developed an unprecedented outdoor advertisement that actually produces drinking water from the humidity in the air. The UTEC ended up attracting more students, as application to the UTEC increased by 38 per cent.
This year, UTEC created another billboard to promote its new campus. The added value of the billboard is that it filters about 100,000 cubic metres of polluted air a day.
On the other side of the world, in India where frequent power cuts often lead to street crimes against women, a lighting brand Halonix invited citizens of Delhi to identify dark streets without adequate lighting making them feel unsafe. People participated in a Facebook poll to select a few locations; then the brand put up billboards there, which transformed into street lights at night, making Delhi a “Safer City”. Advertising billboards can be annoying and not relevant to our daily lives, but the UTEC and Halonix have turned the media into something useful that people want to have around, the more the better. These ads show the excellence in products, while impacting life and society in a positive way through the use of the products.
Other campaigns similarly support the case of the more advertising the higher the value to the community. Salaam Baalak Trust, an Indian NGO, also found power shortage as a major hurdle to school children’s performance. So the “Light Bag” was introduced; solar panels and LED lights are attached to the bag, allowing kids to study under the light even after sunset.
A Colombian conglomerate Exito Group created “Radiometries”, a radio ad in which a song also acts as an audiometric test for underprivileged children.
These cases illustrate the right way in which ad agencies contribute to the society; being focused on our core business while doing good. Imagine a bus stop advertising filtering exhaust fumes from cars. Or a magazine print ad intercepting electromagnetic waves for readers living in the era of wearable devices. Nobody would regard these advertising as annoying pollution. Rather, they will be perceived as something useful, beneficial and valuable, something we want to keep for ourselves. Now it is time to think about how to create advertising, of which the quantity is directly proportional to the quality of our life, let alone the clients’ benefits. A world where more advertising leads to greater happiness for all is no longer a distant dream.
Jae-young Choi is head of Good Company Solution Centre, Cheil Worldwide’s "do-good division".