Can Ads Save the World?

Published on LinkedIn Influencers  on August 27, 2015

I’ll be the first to admit to fast forwarding through the ads on my DVR. If I have the option to skip an ad after 5 seconds on youtube, I do, and one of the reasons I have Sirius radio in my car is its absence of ads. Every day, we’re bombarded with advertising from all corners, so when I have the chance to seek relief from the barrage, I gladly take it. But what if ads were more than just advertising? What if ads had the power to not just sell products, but to raise awareness? Open hearts? Change minds? Am I being too optimistic? I don’t think so.

Last year, I wrote about Always’ #LikeAGirl campaign, and how I applauded the P&G company for doing something more with their advertising budget. Instead of yet another 30 second television spot toting the amazing absorption rate of their sanitary pads, they created a video that highlighted the power of negative social norms, and how the language we all use on a regular basis can impact those around us in profoundly detrimental ways. Yes, at the end of the day it was an advertising campaign designed to sell products, but it did so in a way that raised awareness of a very important and pressing issue. (Watch a talk by the amazing filmmaker behind #LikeAGirl, Lauren Greenfield)

Last month, Always released a follow up video, Unstoppable, and it’s just as profound and thought provoking as the first. (already up to 37 million views) Watching young women and girls bust down the barriers that society places on them simply because of their gender brought a smile to my face, because this is a message that needs to be out in the world. But it also made me wonder. Why can’t all ads be like this?

Well, turns out many of them are. The marketplace for branded content is currently booming, even if no one can actually agree on a definition for the term, and as I searched for more of these videos, the more I came to see the power of advertising as a force for good, rather than just an annoyance that needs to be skipped. Recent videos such as Worst’s Toughest Job, I Will Want I Want, and UnSung Hero may be advertising greeting cards, sportswear, and insurance policies, but they are also educating, raising awareness, and highlighting the positives in life, instead of the old advertising standbys of young, sexy, and provocative.

And it’s not just brands selling products. Recent videos from charitable organizations such as Most Shocking Second a Day Video, Love Has No Labels, Life is Why, The Greatest, and Slap Her, have raised awareness and provoked discussion and debate about war, love, diversity, health, and domestic violence, and reminded us all that a little optimism goes a long way. Many of these videos went viral, reaching audiences of tens of millions, and their power for positive social change can not be underestimated.

Which brings me back to my original question. Can ads save the world? Certainly not on their own, but their reach is undeniable, and with companies more and more relying on the digital realm to reach potential customers, one can only hope that they will continue with the current trend of positive, social minded branded content. At the end of the day, the ads we see probably won’t save the world, but I hope the companies behind them don’t stop trying.

Share you favorite piece of branded content in the comments section.

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