CSR is a front for awards ambition

Ramsey Naja is chief creative officer, JWT MEA

“I wonder sometimes whether we, as advertising agencies, take ourselves too seriously. This is not some angst-ridden, finger-chewing phase I’m going through. It is simply the fact that, in touch as we are with a large body of people that we can influence, we sometimes feel we have the right to propagate messages beyond the ones that contribute to pay the bills, and this is frankly as stupid as it is pretentious.

In the past few years, CSR or, if we want to call a spade a spade, large corporations’ desire to water down their commercial ethos by injecting a dose of ‘we care’ into their activities, has grown to such an extent that it has created whole departments that sit next to marketing – and have a great deal of coffee meetings with them, too. In fact, from being the potential subject of cynical commentary, corporate social responsibility grew to become a vital part of the marketing mix. What used to be something you associate yourself with because it kinda makes sense, has turned into the proof that your commercial promise has emotional meaning beyond sales. In other words, if your brand stands for, say, diversity, you can connect that with a drive to advertise tolerance as a value, and run anti-discrimination programmes and campaigns.

While being absolutely spot-on in every respect, there is a danger that this can make us believe we are guardians of ethical values and protectors of human rights, when it would be often more accurate – and embarrassing – to say that all we really want is an award. These are dodgy grounds indeed, because there is a thin line between altruism and hypocrisy – a line that we tend to cross a little too nonchalantly. It is this kind of duplicity which can give genuine CSR and humanitarian efforts that we carry out, the kind of credibility associated with the Japanese scientific whaling programme. Ultimately, we should just enjoy the privilege of being able to contribute to great causes on behalf of clients and brands, rather than think we are the potential saviours of the universe.”

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