How creative agencies will save the world

This is a repost of an article by Frederik Bentsen, brand strategist at creative agency LikeFriends, after a talk I gave at their OnStage event. Published with consent.

The role of consumption has evolved from fulfilling basic human needs to becoming an integral part of modern culture, and how we as people define ourselves within this. Businesses have long used advertising as a means to leverage and inflate people’s urge to consume, and so with great success. But as consumption has turned into overconsumption, we as a collective are moving towards an increasingly vulnerable future for the planet we inhabit. Maarten Kappert is on a mission to reverse this unsustainable development, and believes creative agencies have the opportunity and responsibility to join him at the front line.

Plenty of opportunity

In the first of a new series of in-office inspirational talks, strategist Maarten P. Kappert took the stage at Likefriends to share his insights on the matter. “We’ve been selling the same dream for seventy years, so it’s not strange that brands and agencies alike have difficulty imagining that there are other ways to engage people. But there are.”, Maarten opened.

Image: Today’s collective dream appeals to only a limited set of values (from Maartens presentation)

Using the Theory of Basic Human Values, a model widely supported in the scientific community, Maarten explains how today’s collective dream appeals to our desires for novelty, self-indulgence and status. However, he points out, the circumplex shows a much broader palette of innate drivers, of which the majority is currently left largely unexplored.

Sustainability AND happiness

“We can all picture what the good life looks like today: It is a large house, the latest trend, the steep ascent up the corporate ladder, and sexual success with an attractive person. But there are plenty of opportunities to make this dream evolve into a more sustainable and at the same time more fulfilling one”, Maarten stresses.

Because covering a larger spectrum of the circumplex would not only allow for more sustainable lifestyles, it would also add to people’s emotional well-being. “These are values that have evolved over millions of years, and each play a vital role in the success of society,” Maarten explains. “We are all programmed to yearn for them, and if we don’t recognize them in our lives, we feel unfulfilled.”

This approach would allow brands to build new kinds of relationships by emphasizing generosity over competition, perseverance over convenience, learning over perfection, and modesty over indulgence.

Image: A different collective dream; one which would give way to both a more sustainable and a more fulfilling future (from Maartens presentation)

A new collective dream

If we want to, creative agencies can play a crucial role in pushing this new dream, one that is rooted in these values. With every proposal we present to our clients, we have an opportunity to stage brands in what Maarten calls ‘the new happiness’.

“The new happiness is built on the ability to sustain loving relationships with friends and family, acquiring wealth but taking pride in sharing it with others, and appreciating the wear and tear of maintained goods. And yes: Thoughtful consumption, including bringing down your meat consumption to three days per week.”

One could wonder why businesses would venture towards this new collective dream, given that short term profit increase is often the core driver of their existence. But as a few progressive companies have proven, there is money to be made in resonating with people who share Maarten’s mindset. “The benefit of staging brands in the new happiness is attracting the growing audience of people who feel unfulfilled. Stories that tap into the unfulfilled desires will resonate deeply with a lot of potential customers”, he explains.

Subconscious consumers

Ultimately, we’d like to see more brands embracing truly responsible ways of doing business. The obvious example would be clothing manufacturer Patagonia. They have proven that selling products on a promise to cause no unnecessary harm on the world is not only possible, but also highly profitable; according to rumors the company is about to surpass a $1bn turnover.

Image: ‘Don’t buy this jacket’; Patagonia ad, 20011

It’s not a question of whether we consume, but how we do it. As Maarten insists: “I’m not calling for the creation of more conscious consumers. I want people to make different choices without them even consciously experiencing it as such. People will always simply conform to the collective dream; so if we change the dream, we change consumer behavior.”

Maarten is clearly a man on a mission, and his vision and persistence caused inspiration and lively discussions at LikeFriends. While his presentation is available through SlideShare, we highly recommended other agencies and curious minds to invite Maarten for a talk about alternative collective dreams.