If you were to make a list of the noblest professions, it’s safe to say ad executive wouldn’t make the cut. However, it’s worth remembering that a good advertising campaign can do more than just encourage conspicuous consumption. And given the opportunity, we can use our craft to change the way people see the world, shape public opinion, and focus on the greater good.
As an example, our friend and fellow ad guy Matt Rivitz, created Sleeping Giants. A campaign that brilliantly demonstrates to ad agency and marketing insiders that we can be the change. If you’re not familiar with Sleeping Giants, it’s a movement that began in 2016 as an anonymous twitter campaign with a simple goal: Persuade companies to remove its ads from news outlets that support hate speech and bigotry. As a result of retargeting, the bread and butter of digital marketing campaigns, companies often have no idea where their message is showing up. But @sleepingiants is keeping tabs. They follow extremist websites and let brands know when they’re appearing on the sites without their knowledge. To date they’ve alerted thousands of advertisers, and diverted millions of dollars from extremist websites.
The campaign operated entirely anonymously until July 2018, when The Daily Caller, a conservative news site founded by Tucker Carlson, outed Matt as the founder. They published his name and address online exposing him and his family to an onslaught of trolls. And while Matt never intended to go public with his social justice campaign, it was heartening to see that supporters outnumbered haters. And, just last month the ad agency world cemented its support by awarding his “Defund Bigotry Campaign” a Cannes Gold Lion.
We at Division of Labor always try to have at least one project going that goes beyond simple consumerism. (Don’t get us wrong, we love simple consumerism and we’re pretty good consumers ourselves.) However recent projects for the California Electric Car Coalition, VELOZ, NexGen America, and First Graduate are examples of how we use our skills to make an impact with clients.
But we can all do more than just that. We have a particular interest in kids with learning disabilities so we created and now promote an application called ModMath. It’s free app for kids with learning disabilities that we financed, built and manage along with our partner and friend Jonathon Rose at Apptitude Digital. We started the project because my son has a writing disability known as dysgraphia. (It goes along with his dyslexia.) People with dysgraphia have nearly illegible handwriting and the very act of putting pen to paper is so mentally taxing that interferes with cognitive abilities. And because he couldn’t write math problems, he couldn’t solve the math problems. Although there’s plenty of speech-to-text programs to help with writing assignments, there’s was nothing to help with math. Since we launched ModMath in 2015, it has been used by thousands of schools and is helping to level the playing field for students with disabilities.
Division of Labor is certainly not the only top ad agency in San Francisco to donate time, resources and funds to a passion project. And it's also worth noting tha that many for-profit clients also earmark ad dollars to be the voice of change. Proctor & Gamble, for example, has sponsored two separate, but equally powerful films, The Talk, followed more recently by The Look, both of which address racial bias.
So while we in the ad community do not earn our livings, searching for the cure for cancer, rushing into burning buildings, or running towards gunfire, we’re eternally thankful to those who do. And we relish even small opportunities to leave this world a better place.
The Small Agency Blog is produced by Division of Labor; a top San Francisco ad agency and digital marketing firm that’s been named Small Agency of the Year twice by Ad Age. The award-winning creative shop services clients on a retainer or project basis. They also offers brand consulting services and hourly engagements for startups and smaller brands. Click here for a free consultation.