The Silent Influencers

Dino Dans
More than just creating a ‘pretty face’ – Can Creatives play a role in making this world a better place?

Humanity has come a long way since the first wheel was invented. Most of us have realized that trading is more beneficial than waging wars. Slavery has been abolished globally, women are being empowered in most states, and more people are becoming increasingly aware of social injustices. Because of this social awareness, the general public is increasingly becoming socially sensitive especially in areas such as advertising, branding, and marketing.

With the continuing rise of digital and social media, tapping potential consumers have never been more accessible. Most brands leverage this tool to increase brand awareness and loyalty, sales and profit, and at times advocacies. Paradoxically, having a larger amount of exposure creates a larger opening for criticisms and smear campaigns, which at times leads to brand damage and loss in profit.

Design Matters

In the modern era, a large part of changing and influencing social narratives are channeled through visual communications. These channels serve as fossils that give us a glimpse of the past culture. To a larger extent, aside from artistic expression, design and media reflect a society's norms.

Nowadays, it is nearly impossible to go on with your day without seeing an advertisement. Companies do this for a reason. In advertising and communications, there is a media planning concept known as “Effective Frequency”. This study suggests that a person becomes aware and can recall a brand, product, and/or service as early as the 3rd exposure to the advertising message. According to the study, this tiny amount of exposure is enough to create a response about whether a person buys a product/service or idea. From this perspective, visual design has the potential to heavily influence a person's social perception.

Design is not only remembered for its artistic style and technical prowess. It is also remembered for how it impacts society. Great design ages through its social value. Artists and designers are generally remembered for their artistic style and technical prowess. But what sets the best apart are the messages embedded in their work. Great design ages well through the social value it creates through visual messaging.

Why are Private Organizations Investing in Social Responsibility?

In recent times, social awareness advertising is no longer dominated by the non-profit and government sector. Private organizations are now leveraging this as a strategy. Noticeably it’s no longer limited to their CSR portfolio but included in the main products and/or services. In a 2015 Neilson study The Sustainable Imperative, it suggests that "66% of global consumers say they’re willing to pay more for sustainable brands—up 55% from 2014.”

One example is Nike’s controversial “Kaepernick Ad”, referencing Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling protest against police brutality among African-Americans. This ad drew heavy criticism - including President Donald Trump and sparked a smear campaign. Unsurprisingly, Nike sales grew 31% compared to the 17% the previous year during the same time period, according to Edison Trends.

To put it simply, if executed correctly this advertising and marketing strategy can be profitable for businesses.

Saying No.

Despite the data and progress, the advertising and marketing industry is still littered with gender stereotypes and racially insensitive ads. Working in this industry as a designer, saying no to your Creative Director, CEO, and even your Clients can be a daunting task.

Here are some tips that may help you in the event of that conversation:

  1. Understand your project backwards –When you say no to a client, always have a good reason. Understanding the whole project from the requirements, target audience, down to the marketing strategy will help strengthen your case.
  2. Act as a consultant – As a visual communications expert, you are being paid to give advice not only on the artistic technicality but also on how it affects their brand and image. Gather the facts, if possible find a case study, and present the possible repercussions to the brand.
  3. Present an alternative solution – Ensure that when to say no you have an alternative idea to salvage the project. Often, it need not be a fully fleshed out idea, instead, consider presenting a moodboard.
  4. Strength in numbers – Run your ideas and presentation with your team. Bringing in an outside perspective in a meeting will help you cover more ground.
  5. Create a Plan B –There will be unfortunate cases where data, logic, and reason fail to work on certain individuals. Creating an exit strategy can be as early as your contract signing. This can be done by creating a non-detrimental agreement in your contract. More often than not, these types of the project cause more harm to your company or individual brand in the long run.

What’s in it for you?

Personally, I don’t want to conduct another interview where a candidate believes that men are vastly superior to women, or a specific race exclusively portrays success. I have met designers that have various reasons for making a cautious effort to designing responsibly. For instance, they are passionate about both designing and climate change, or it helps progress their careers, and in some cases, they do good for goodness sake.

Whatever reason you create for yourself, bear in mind that however small your design is, when added up it creates a larger influence and implication in society.