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Making people buy shit they don’t need. That’s quite an accusation to be levelled at the industry you not only work in, but are passionate about. 

I think all liberal-minded souls who are part of our industry struggle with that dilemma at some point in their careers. You look at some of your peers who leave the industry completely, others who give up a few months of their lives to help build schools or hospitals in Africa, and you feel they are somehow worthier. 

Rather than donate cash, we should realise that there is a real value in donating our time to charitable causes.

Then, of course, there are the charity runners and fundraisers. Everybody seems to be trying to put something back. Yet our industry doesn’t have an equivalent of Medicins sans Frontiers where you can donate your skills for a greater good.

Or does it?

Above: Smoke & Mirrors' CEO, Gary Szabo


I once attended a talk by Simon Anholt where he opened my eyes to the power and possibilities of affecting change through our industry. Now, I’m not going to suggest marketeers have more value than nurses and I’m assuming global capitalism is going to be around for a while, but why are American trainers a global fashion phenomenon with kids queuing overnight to buy new releases, yet nobody seems to wear Sri Lankan trainers? 

Nike trainers are made in Sri Lanka. They clearly already have the manufacturing skills, so why can’t they make their own shoes and sell them with the same success, thus keeping the profits inside Sri Lanka? Well, obviously Sri Lankan trainers don’t have the “swoosh” on the side… so kids don’t want them. 

We are a collection of story-tellers. We specialise in connecting brands to audiences via the strength of our story-telling abilities. The right story sent to the right audience will connect.

There appears to be a need for help with marketing, then. Anholt makes the suggestion that if people in advertising each donated three months of their time to Third World industries and taught them how to market their goods with the same skill that the First World does, then that would surely have a bigger and more sustainable impact on their economies than financial donations. 

This is what really set me thinking. How can we really make a lasting difference?

MIND – WITHIN

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Essentially, we are a collection of story-tellers. We specialise in connecting brands to audiences via the strength of our story-telling abilities. The right story sent to the right audience will connect. Now, in the era of data-driven marketing, we can easily find audiences already predisposed to our message. The key is in sending the right message.

So, rather than donate cash, we should realise that there is a real value in donating our time to charitable causes. This is not donating our spare time, this is our businesses donating their resources for good causes. Our industry’s skills greatly enhance the chances of a message being heard. 

At Smoke & Mirrors/Big Buoy, we donate a minimum of £250k of our time every year and we’re very proud of the results. Last year, a collaboration with Crowns & Owls on the short film Within helped raise awareness of men’s mental health issues in association with mental health charity Mind. There is no way the budget on such a project could afford the crew and cast – Dennis Okwera was outstanding – so we all worked for free, with some stunning results.

Paddy Power – Shave the Rainforest

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However, by far the most attention for a project we’ve been involved in was the Paddy Power Shave the Rainforest stunt in 2014, with Lucky Generals. 

Say what you like about this particular bookmaker (or any, for that matter), but without using their marketing budget and Lucky General’s (and our) expertise, it would never have achieved anything like the reach it did: 35 million Twitter impressions within 48 hours, thousands directed to the Greenpeace site once the prank was revealed and a very positive response from the charity itself when it recognised the heightened awareness of such a serious issue. 

Of course we received some payment for our time - it’s also promoting a bookmaker, after all. However, straight after, we were more than happy to donate time for free on Rainbow Laces, Paddy Power’s subsequent campaign, which set about raising awareness of homophobia in football.

Paddy Power / Stonewall – Rainbow Laces

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So, there is real power in harnessing brands’ need for an audience, this industry’s immense skill in story telling and the desire for liberal-minded people to give something back to the world.

A final thought; who really knew the full extent of the devastating effect the palm oil industry was having on the rainforest and its indigenous species population? I admit, I didn’t know the full effect palm oil harvesting, in particular, was having on deforestation. The Iceland campaign blew this up a level – 65 million views, putting Iceland ahead of Waitrose on the YouGov brand index.

Greenpeace – There's A Rang-tan In My Bedroom

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Now, I don’t mind if Iceland benefits from the association with this cause as it has the ability to reach a bigger audience than the charities can reach on their own. After all, this film had already been made by Greenpeace and had nothing like the impact. 

These associations should be encouraged, our cynicism parked (not dropped) and our energies donated. Now that brands are fully aware of the added strength of their message where charitable causes are attached, they can promote a real power for good. It’s up to us to make sure those messages are correct and appropriate and then we really can change things in the world.

Imagine, we’re convincing people not to buy shit the world can do without...

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