Sitting through a D&AD Impact jury session is not for the weak-hearted: every case you watch is about a problem that humanity or this planet faces. Some of the issues are harrowing, and it’s a relentless sequence of the world’s quandaries, which will most likely make you want to hug your children a little longer when you get home. But what the session also leaves you with, ultimately, is an immense amount of hope in the power of creativity to solve these problems, and an understanding that brands and non-profits alike are now deep in it together. The judging, one has to add, also leaves you with an incredible “I can kick myself for not doing that” feeling because, after all, it is D&AD quality.
While at the show in New York, I had a pertinent conversation with Kate Stanners, who is now the President of D&AD. Rather than the actual D&AD show, an event like D&AD Impact, which focuses solely on creativity solving the problems of the world, should ideally be the leading show in the industry, given the near-apocalyptic state the planet seems to be in. It’s not a bad plan. We are already witnessing this sentiment reflected in industry awards shows: Cannes Lions is aligned with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals platform, as is The One Show, which has launched the Sustainable Development Pencil this year in partnership with the UN.
At the 2019 Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, Rajesh Mirchandani, chief communications officer for the United Nations, stepped on to the stage to award the Healthcare Grand Prix for Good, an award reserved for non-profit organisations that do purposeful work. Only problem: there was no Healthcare Grand Prix for Good. But this wasn’t really a problem. As Mirchandani wisely said: “This tells us that doing good is not the preserve of charities or the public sector any more. Companies are embracing the Sustainable Development Goals, and it’s time to think about maybe recalibrating this award so charities and brands embracing social responsibility alike are eligible.” That last bit’s a valid ask, I think.
For the last few years brands have shifted lanes to focus more and more on purpose-driven work, to the point that they have now overtaken the work of non-profits, and we have awards shows that are integrating more and more channels to motivate brands to solve bigger problems that go beyond just generating profit. What a time to be a creative: imagine telling your grandchildren that you literally contributed to saving the world. However, as we stride forward with our superpowers to find the answers to these calamities and injustices on Earth, it is good to take stock of what approaches are working better than others.
The D&AD Impact judging process – like the Good track at Cannes Lions – is slightly different from a regular industry award show. Council members are experts from varied fields beyond advertising, marketing and design, so adspeak or design jargon are not going to sway them. They all have one thing in common, of course: the goal of bringing about positive change through creativity. This is the real deal. Work is judged on its sustainability, its impact, its scale and, most of all, in the way the sheer power of ingenuity was used to bring about a solution. A lot of importance is given – rightly so – to the authenticity of the project, the purpose behind the purpose. How well a case study is made is not as important here: how original the solution was and how much of an impact it made are the paramount considerations. The issues were well-covered, ranging from healthcare to environment to humanitarian aid to equality, community and educational and financial empowerment.
My friend Kwame Taylor-Hayford, from Saturday Morning / Kin, who was also on the jury, put it well: “You have to make what’s bad better, and you have to accelerate what’s good.” This has always been the realm that creatives and marketers have played in for products and brands; it now applies even more so to purpose-driven work.
THE FOLLOWING THREE CAMPAIGNS WERE MY FAVOURITES FOR DIFFERENT REASONS. THE JURY WAS ALMOST UNANIMOUS IN WHY THEY LIKED THESE PROJECTS:
Black & Abroad’s “Go Back To Africa” stood out for its brilliant technique of transforming what was a negative racist phrase into a positive invitation to visit the beautiful continent. We all loved it because it trolled the racists remarkably effectively, using their own ammo. It’s confrontation at its best: done with elegant, supreme wit. Much needed in today’s climate.
Speaking of trolling and ammo, “Harmless Guns” is masterful. One of the two Impact Black Pencil winners, this was a project that Dagoma, a 3D printing company, didn’t really have any obligation to do. But when they realized that 3D printers were being used to make guns, they took responsibility. They infiltrated online blueprints for guns, and changed them ever so slightly – enough that the guns wouldn’t work, and subtly enough that the person would still go through the trouble of downloading and printing the gun. The case study was a win when they showcased angry people swearing at their – you guessed it – harmless guns.
Solving a complex issue using an uncomplicated, sustainable concept is a win. “The Lion’s Share” does exactly that with an almost painfully simple idea: if you’re going to feature any animals in your communication, pay a share of your media spend towards animal conservation. The jury love the respect this project gave to animals, treating them as equals when it comes to paying actors.