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.
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.
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.
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:
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.