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The nutter in the gutter

Cannes, I believe, is in the wrong place.

Cannes shouldn’t be in Cannes.

The ad festival is held hostage by the resort in terms of exorbitant and insultingly high prices and should really re-locate to somewhere else.

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I haven’t spotted a trend, exactly.

I leave that to people whose eyewear is generally odd or unfeasible.

But I’ve noticed that the already-spotted trend of brand altruism is taking over marketing at a spectacular rate.

I was looking at Contagious’ review of last year – a mammoth 45-pager you can find at www.mostcontagious.com – and which I always plunder for those moments when people say – ”yea, but what’s GOOD these days ?” after I’ve done my usual shtick about the industry being more f*cked-up than a Ned on a sunken sink estate with a Staffy on a string.

(NEDS, by the way , are Non-Educated Delinquents. And you don’t get many NEDS at TED. But if TED all seems a bit passé, you can always try the NED conference. Bit less demanding intellectually, although there is quite a high risk of getting your f*cking head kicked in.)

A lot of the ideas which the Contagious team celebrated – and which I loved too – were examples of brand altruism. Their lead story was Levi’s’ involvement with a whole bunch of apostrophes – sorry, their involvement with the recession-hit town of Braddock. The brand got together with a new young mayor to help a town mired in pessimism and then committed to a two-year legal agreement to help fund projects.

I can remember years ago meeting a great guy on a jury called Michael Prieve, who was one of Wieden’s CDs. He emailed me to tell me how they’d won the Microsoft account, and discuss what should they do. I remember replying – “Well, Nietzsche wrote that God is dead, so that creates a job vacancy.”

Bill Gates’ legendary altruism followed (probably as a direct result of my email) – but the marketing didn’t follow that route at that time.

Now, however, a brand can decide to help out a whole town – and the result gets lauded all round the marketing community.

In the same vein, Dulux sent teams of people round various cities, brightening up ratty streets.

Pepsi’s wonderful Refresh campaign meant that they took their $20 million Superbowl ad budget and put the money into causes voted for by their customers. More votes were cast in the first nine months than in the entire US Presidential election.

Volvo pushed for an international ‘kite mark’ for cars based on emissions, their vision being to drastically reduce city pollution.

Skittles’ Mob the Rainbow campaign was set up expressly to spread goodwill.

T-mobile’s awesome airport-welcome film was a brilliant celebration of their “Life’s for Sharing” proposition. – helping to boost sales by 52%.

I wonder how Vodafone’s more selfish “Now” campaign compared ?

There’s a sub-trend which the review picked up on, which they called “soft paternalism” – again, where marketing basically seeks to make the world a better place. Crispin Porter’s sexy packaging of carrots as snack foods was a stunning example, although whether that will undo the obesity crisis which their BK work helps to reinforce is a toughie.

VW’s Fun Theory campaign involved crowd-sourcing ideas to help make the world better, through making it more fun. And a wonderful idea called “Speed Camera Lottery” trialled in Sweden (in which speeding fines were pooled into a lottery fund given back to those driving sensibly) – leading to an average reduction in speed of 22%.

In design, we saw companies like Puma developing an alternative to the shoe box – their “clever little bag”, which uses 65% less cardboard and also replaces plastic bags at the checkout.

There’s even a new trend in data analysis which involves sharing data around to get the most out of it – called “data benevolence”.

All this can be seen as a result of the Internet, bringing increased dialogue, transparency, community and accountability.

Crowd wisdom was also brought into play with a new series of Facebook products, like Questions.

Although you should never underestimate Crowd Mischief, the potential for an internet crowd to f*ck around just for the sake of it. (To wit, the support for Simon Cowell’s unfortunate Brazilian. Or whatever his name was.)

Where companies failed to make a positive impact on society – as in BP’s mishandling of the Gulf of Mexico disaster – we saw internet communities really getting involved. Spoof tweeters like @bpglobalpr put out messages like “Black sand beaches are very trendy in some places … Mexico we upgraded you.”

The Contagious review even picked up the Wikileaks story as an example of a crusading movement and brilliantly quoted Lord Northcliffe, who once said “News is what somebody somewhere wants to suppress; all the rest is advertising.”

That’s telling advertising.

A lot of it reminded me of a project I got involved with last year. I was working with a lovely guy called Gary Setchell in McCanns’ Birmingham office. Gary wanted to apply brand altruism across the major brands there, and we had great fun for a few months trying to make it happen.

Gary’s oft-quoted inspiration was a campaign for KFC in the States where they filled in the pot-holes in some town, and branded the activity with a line about “KFC filling a hole”.

It all seemed to be going well, until he had an epiphany and decided to quit advertising and teach special needs instead.

It was a huge shame, I thought, as there aren’t enough people in advertising who genuinely want to improve the quality of life.

But right now, I can really see this taking off in mainstream advertising.

It’s either a wonderful process of maturation – like a Buddhist evolution over several lives until one reaches a state of un-selfishness – or it’s an example of that phrase “patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel”.

I.e. when planners can’t find anything left to say about any logical benefits (because there’s virtually no competitive insulation any more) they’ll just lazily turn to “let’s do a good deed and hope people like us.”

But either way, it’s taking off. Watch this space.

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