Friday, April 28, 2006

Ethical Advertising vs Journalistic Integrity: Using Advertising As A Reliable News Source

Is reality painted for you by advertisers?

I get people who ask me to write about their companies. Through this blog, and my online column at American Chronicle, I am happy to help sustainable or ethically inclined businesses here and there, especially if they are sponsors for good causes such as our fundraiser for leukemia. My column is heavily syndicated and can put a business into the google news within hours. It is a very effective marketing tool in this day and age of online news. However, I am really against the idea of working for free. Call me crazy.

This in its own right is a very ironic situation. I am not a journalist. I am a writer at an advertising agency. Yet we both spread information in the same way. The main difference? At the risk of alienating a lot of journalists, advertising puts its cards on the table. It fully acknowledges its bias. While the line between PR, advertising and journalism may be very thin, I have never made any false airs of being a traditional objective, non-biased journalist. And how many news sources can you say are like that?

I am here to promote certain values and ways of thinking and the businesses and products that stand behind them. Essentially, Sustainability Advertising is the bridge between the mainstream and the hardcore. It is a melting pot of ideas and ideologies and if it is a bit of an anarchistic mess sometimes, it is because it keeps it interesting.

The values of Creative Wonders are promoted on this site, thus the sustainable, spiritual and personal development bent.

And don't kid yourself. Every media outlet has its own agendas and ideologies. I just like to put mine on the table.

However, while journalists may print stories about companies for free. Advertising agencies do not.

Don't get me wrong. We do tons of pro-bono work. But if your company is looking to make a billion dollars in revenue by 2012, don't ask me to write about you glowingly for free. It's exploitive.

Here is where the ironic bit comes in. Although unabashedly an advertising medium, I find that a blog also has to adhere to certain journalistic integrity. If no one believes you, you might as well be writing ads.

This is where my belief in ethical business comes back into the fray. The reality is that everything in business boils down to REPUTATION.

You believe those who have earned your trust through a history of honest, transparent, and accountable behaviour.

My gentle readers, Sustainability Advertising is a sustainable resource about that which interests you, that being sustainability and advertising. Once it leaves me, it becomes public property for public consumption, write your comments, love or hate it, it is here for you.

If an advertising blog can offer you a history of truth, then why not an advertising agency? To take that further, why not an ad?

If a company earns the trust and goodwill of the population through accurate and honest communications, they have a very valuable resource on their hands, paid or otherwise.

That’s me (on the far left) touring the 1-800-GOT-JUNK Junktion.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

White Stripes Killer Coke

Here is an interesting website worth checking out Killer Coke

It is a protest site to bring awareness of the kidnapping, murder and torture of union leaders and organizers in Columbian Coke plants.

In other news! Jack White of the White Stripes has agreed to write a song for Coke.

Jack White's Coke ad

(courtesy of YouTube)

There's a lot of controversy surrounding this ad in the music world. Did Jack White sell out? What happened to the integrity of the White Stripes? In other words, has be begun to make music for paying clients as opposed to for his own amusement and sense of expression? Has his artistic integrity been compromised? Well, possibly, if the White Stripes weren't such a mainstream band to begin with (at least since they have been adopted by the Wal-Mart Rock section). But the reality is, they are pop, the mainstream like a lot of their music, and ideally, it is music that he would be producing on his own anyway. So it isn't like The White Stripes are changing, or sacrificing their own artistic vision and stance, because they never really had much of a stance to begin wtih. Whether or not this is the White Stripes selling out I really don't think matters. Yes, it is a commercial venture and yes, he made gobs of money in the process. But who cares? The music he makes for himself happens to resonate with a certain group of people, and they buy it. He already has the formula down and the familiarity and the brand. The man is an artist who has work that sells because people like the pretty songs. It's just how it goes.

Now, if Jack White had once been the front man for Rage Against the Machine, then I could see some hypocrisy.

But let me know what you think, this ad touches on a lot of issues across sustainability, ethics and advertising.

Here's another great one along the same lines: The Rolling Stones doing a song for Rice Krispies in the 60's.

Rolling Stones Rice Krispies ad"

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Ethical advertising vs Irresistible Poison

There are certain ads that catch attention because they play upon an insecurity that is omnipresent in the mind of the target market.

If you have seen 'How to Get Ahead in Advertising' you will know what I mean. There they scheme around how to sell boil cream, by first making it cool to have boils and then horrific.

Viagra plays upon this in their ads. As does Frisk mints of all things.

Their latest campaign 'But Honey, I've been faking it for the last ten years'

I watched Hostel last night. It was terrible. But I couldn't help but wonder who was paying for the production of this thing. Besides the glaringly obvious use of cell-phones there seemed to be a certain American anti-insurgency sentiment to the whole film.

The lesson to young Americans was: Don't trust anyone in post-communist Europe, learn how to use your cellphone properly, when travelling abroad don't admit that you are American, insurgent children can be turned against their parents and tradition through bribes of American influence (in this case bubble gum), people away from home hate Americans (this is somewhat true, but not enough to symbolically slice open their achilles tendons after scaring the wits out of them), and it is to your advantage to know another language when travelling abroad, especially German. Other themes revolved around heroism in the face of escaping, and that you can't go wrong with a handgun. In Conclusion- don't travel in post-communist Europe if you know what's good for you.

What was this movie conditioning the American young patriot to be? And why?

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Ethical Business Is Good Business Practice

Most entrepreneurs have the best intentions when starting a business. However, there are a lot of terrible businessmen and women out there. No one is perfect, but the world is filled with people who don’t return phone calls, misrepresent their capabilities, cheat their clients, steal from their shareholders and in general, those who over-promise and under-deliver.

Businesses should be accountable, transparent and responsible to their clients, suppliers and employees alike. This is just good business practice.

A business can never succeed in the long run if they lie, fail to take responsibility, or are disrespectful of others and their environment. In short, a business must be true to its word. These are the hallmarks of good business practice, and consequently ethical business. To many, the two go hand in hand.

Creative Wonders considers itself an ethical advertising agency for those very reasons. It is an agency that follows, as closely as possible, the 4 agreements:

1. Be impeccable with your word – don’t lie or make promises you can’t keep
2. Don’t make assumptions
3. Don’t take anything personally
4. Always do your best

It is a simple, but effective manifesto for a solid business.

In recent years, social-consciousness has become a buzzword, and ethical business practice more lip service than a philosophy. The strong demand for accountability and transparency from the Enrons, Exxons and Nikes 80s and 90s has left a certain demand for corporations to be responsible and honest with the public.

Ethical, sustainable, socially-conscious and organic became words and stale and co-opted as Extreme and Fresh and New and Improved. Basically, they stopped meaning anything.

This is something that Creative Wonders is up against constantly. Diane Lund, owner and Creative Director of the company has been working the Cultural Creative angle for 13 years because it closely reflects her own personal belief system. This was before the trend really took off.

Ethical business to those at Creative Wonders means maintaining honest and accountable business practice with everyone they interact with, from suppliers to clients to fellow staff.

Businesses that should be commended for walking the talk of ethical business practice are Ethical Funds, who have recently launched a website for ethical and sustainable living and 1-800-GOT-JUNK who are reputed for having one of the best benefits programs for their employees in Canada.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Guerrilla Advertising at the Vancouver Sun Run

Over fifty thousand runners, walkers and strollers made it out for a sunny Sun Run in Vancouver yesterday. The ten-kilometre route weaved through the blocked off streets of Vancouver and thousands more watched from the sidelines as throngs of white shirted runners moved like a stampede through the downtown core.

This is a massive captive market, yet surprisingly, very few advertisers capitalized on this fact.

HSBC was the main sponsor, as was the Vancouver Sun, but it was the more subtle, guerrilla approaches that caught more attention and generated more talk power.

Taking a page from 1-800-GOT-JUNK’s marketing strategy from years past, GOT SPA adopted orange wigs and gloves and waved from buildings and ran in the race. The name is not so original, nor is the approach, but it worked.

Used had signs every hundred meters or so. It was hard to miss.

My favourite, however, was the handouts in the shape of a sun given out by Ethical Funds. The handouts were printed on seeded paper, so that as soon as they would be discarded they would grow trees. This is a brilliant marketing strategy for a company interested in sustainability and ethical treatment of the Earth.

There were also street banners, corporate running teams with their logos on the backs of the shirts and a blimp or two, all in all, however, it seemed like a wasted opportunity for hundreds of shop owners, participants and the owners of buildings.