#WEF Special: How Brands Are Increasingly Embracing Social Causes As Part Of Their Advertising Campaigns

As the world’s leaders gather together at Davos this week to make the world a better planet, video ad tech company Unruly looks at how brands are increasingly using social good in their advertising.

Has advertising lost its sense of humour? A quick glance at the top 20 most shared ads of 2015 and you could be forgiven for certainly thinking so.

Go back to 2006, and the most popular ads – such as this French condom commercial and this video for a English language school  – were 30 seconds long and tried (and largely succeeded!) to make us laugh.

How things have changed. Fast forward to 2015 and you would be hard-pressed to get more than a snigger out of the top 20. The average length has also increased to minutes rather than seconds. 

Gone are the funny one-liners and visual gags. In their place are a number of videos aligned to social causes designed to evoke strong feelings of sadness, warmth and inspiration.

From a Microsoft video featuring Robert Downey Jr giving a young boy a prosthetic arm to UK retailers partnering with charities as part of their Christmas campaigns, advertisers certainly showed their caring sides in 2015.

Not that this is a new trend. This increasing pressure on brands to display a social conscience is a trend that has been gathering pace for a few years now.

Whether it’s fast food companies condemning battery farming, cosmetics giants endorsing ‘real beauty‘, or AT&T sponsoring PSAs (public service broadcasts) against texting and driving, there is a consumer desire – powered by the increasing importance of social media – to see brands address social, political and environmental problems head-on.

It’s not that advertising has lost its sense of humour, it’s just that it’s found a sense of higher purpose, no doubt prompted by the need to remain relevant among consumers’ increasingly cluttered social newsfeeds.

The success of these online video campaigns cannot be underestimated. The need to do some good in the world, even from the comfort of your own sofa, is a huge driver of online video sharing. And, while some may scoff at the impact someone sharing a video online to the friends on Facebook can have on a charity or non-profit organisation, recent research by Unruly’s Cat Jones has found that altruistic sharing can prompt real-life actions such as donations and enquiries to find out more.

Look at the “Ice Bucket Challenge” – the social media phenomenon of 2014. At one point my social media accounts were cluttered with so many videos of people throwing freezing cold water over the heads that I wondered whether my phone needed time to dry off.

However, not only did the campaign generate a lot of awareness of the disease Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), it also raised more than $500m in donations to associated charities such as the ALS Association.

But what were the campaigns which made headlines in 2015? Well, as world and business leaders gather in Davos this week for the start of the World Economic Forum, committed to improving the state of the world, we thought we would look at the video campaigns that had people sharing over the last 12 months in the hope of doing some good in the world.

These range from videos created by non-profits or charities and big brands trying to make a difference by aligning themselves with social organisations and movements to marketers simply trying to spread positive messages with their advertising.

  1. Ad Council – “Diversity & Inclusion – Love Has No Labels” – 2,743,138

No one likes to think of themselves as prejudiced, yet many communities across the world still feel discriminated against.

For example, in America, one in five LGBT people report feeling there is little or no acceptance of their community while 60% of Latinos say discrimination is a major problem and a majority of African Americans report that they are not satisfied with the way they are treated in society.

The Ad Council’s powerful three-minute spot “Love Has No Labels” campaign tried to help people realise that everyone holds biases, even if they aren’t aware of them. It certainly hit home, with the video generating almost 3 million shares since its launch in March last year.

  1.     Zorba – “Maya” – 2,634,706

The main theme of this year’s World Economic Forum is dealing with the impact of emerging technologies.

With billions around the world now connected to the internet through mobile devices, plus breakthroughs in fields such as nanotechnology AI, robotics, autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing, biotechnology and quantum computing, the potential to improve the quality of life for people around the world is massive.

But anyone who has sat with a friend glued to their phone all night will be all too aware of the risks technology creates and how dehumanising it can be. Does our love of tech distract us from what is really important, or does it enhance it? Certainly, this video from a renaissance studio in India shows that you don’t need technology to connect with people. Making a human connection is much more valuable than a WiFi connection.

Instead, “Maya” highlights how important it is to treat people with love and compassion. As its slogan says, “If you are lost at sea, looking for humanity in this world, this video could be your guiding star.”

Other campaigns to make into the top 20 most successful branded campaigns of 2015 which highlight the importance of treating people with compassion and love are Thai insurance firm Metlife’s “My Dad’s Story” and Kleenex’s tear-jerking video “Unlikely Best Friends”.

  1. Fanpage.it – “Slap her”: children’s reactions – 2,365,612

Gender identity, sexual equality and women’s rights certainly made headlines in 2015. So it’s probably no surprise that ensuring emerging technologies bring about equal opportunities for both men and women is one of the main items on the Davos agenda.

There were also a number of brand campaigns that put gender parity and women’s rights under the spotlight in 2015, none more successful than “Slap Her” – a PSA created by newspaper Fanpage.it, which tries to tackle domestic violence in Italy. The video shows the reaction of young boys when they are asked to slap a young girl. It’s a powerful message which has attracted a lot of interest and shares since its launch last January.

However, one of the most surprising came from Barbie manufacturers Mattel. The toy company’s flagship product’s blonde hair and long legs may have become synonymous with a particularly restrictive, gendered way of thinking, but in the spot ‘Imagine The Possibilities’, Mattel looked back at the toy’s original purpose and reframes Barbie as an icon of professional possibility for girls everywhere.

Mattel also attracted a lot of praise in November for breaking down gender norms by featuring a boy – yes, a boy – in its Moschino Barbie ad. However, it turned out the spot – created by Moschino’s creative director Jeremy Scott – in fact had nothing to do with the toy company.

Another campaign to make its mark was Sport England’s brilliant “This Girl Can”, which is claimed to have motivated more than 148,700 women across the UK to take up sport.

  1.     Microsoft – “Robert Downey Jr. Delivers a Real Bionic Arm” – 2,119,279

If there’s one person who knows a thing or two about how technology can save the planet it’s Robert Downey Jr.

Not content with saving the world, the Iron Man actor was part of one of the most heart-warming spots of the year, delivering a new bionic arm to a young boy.

  1.  Red Nose Day – “Coldplay’s Game of Thrones: The Musical” – 998,762

The words “comedy gold” certainly don’t spring to mind when you think of controversial TV show Game of Thrones or moody rockers Coldplay.  But the hit HBO show and the UK rock band teamed up in May for the US version of Red Nose Day to film Game of Thrones: The Musical”.

Winter may well be coming to Westeros, but the partnership has brought nothing but joy for the many charities and institutions involved in Red Nose Day. A week after it aired on NBC, the clip generated an estimated $21million in donations.

Other successful charity collaborations to make it into the top 20 most shared ads of 2015 include Sainsbury’s and John Lewis’ festive partnerships with Save The Children and Age UK respectively.