In the driving seat

Pedro%20CabralWhat does a small town in Brazil have to do with the future of marketing creativity? By Pedro Cabral.

Esperanca is a small shanty town in Paraiba, an arid and impoverished state in north-east Brazil. Its population makes a living from agriculture, but in periods of drought, families must find other ways to support themselves. One solution is to use scraps of fabric to hand-make traditional rag dolls that are named after the town itself – in Brazilian “esperanca” means hope – and sell them. Their efforts are supported by the Solidarity Project, a programme that helps rural Brazilian communities to become self-sustaining by establishing or expanding craft collectives.

In early 2008, Brazilian furniture designers Fernando and Humberto Campana, renowned for using abandoned materials in their design, took 300 of these dolls and turned them into a chair. Called “Multidao” – which translates as multitude or crowd – the chair is part of a limited series. When these chairs are sold in galleries and auctions across the world, some of the money raised goes to the Solidarity Project.

When I saw this chair, it inspired me. The women of Esperança changed their lives by transforming fabric into a doll – an object of value which allows their families to survive – through simple creativity. And the Campana brothers took it to the next stage; with their creativity they created a striking piece of furniture that caught people’s attention and raised funds for the population of Esperança.

Not only is the chair a potent metaphor for three of the biggest obsessions of our network, Isobar – sustainability, creativity and collaborative innovation – but we wanted to take the creativity a stage further. We decided to use a Multitude chair to provoke debate by asking how can creativity change other people’s lives? How can the chair inspire us to work together more creatively and sustainably?

Can digital be sustainable?
Our network, Isobar, was built by our parent company Aegis Media through acquisitions of entrepreneurial businesses leading digital thinking and practice in their markets. One of our most recent additions to the Isobar family is Clownfish, a marketing agency based in London and New York that specialises in sustainability communications for clients including Coca-Cola, Heineken and Levi’s. We acquired Clownfish because we felt very strongly that we could be doing more to help our clients integrate sustainability and social responsibility into their conversations with consumers and other key stakeholders, such as non-governmental organisations and suppliers. At the same time, Isobar’s digital expertise and creativity can add immense value to these crucial conversations.

In the process, we want all our agencies to be creative in a thoughtful way, which takes inspiration from the new opportunities and limitations of the fast-changing environment in which we live. The chair represents concerns that affect consumers across the globe. And anything that affects consumers will mean lessons to learn for marketers.

DollsSource of creativity
Just as the Campana brothers took the Esperança dolls and turned them into something new, I believe creativity in marketing is no longer just about one idea and one media – a clever TV ad or some thought-provoking direct mail – because digital makes almost everything possible. Consumers are no longer confined to a small selection of media, which is chosen, broadcast and printed for them. They have almost unlimited opportunities now to create and publish their own content/ broadcasting “mash-ups” of video, music and graphics on YouTube or Facebook, or the use of of statistical information and Google Earth data; or by creating their own news channels using Twitter and other blogfeeds.

So, in marketing, a great creative idea could come from user-generated content on YouTube or a customer suggestion on a web forum as easily as from a web build specialist, a planner or a “traditional” creative team. We are now living in an age where innovation is increasingly achieved through this kind of open source collaboration, even if it is not acknowledged as much as it should be. I believe the Campana brothers, with their ability to find beauty and inspiration in abandoned and recycled materials, have a lot to teach those of us who work in marketing about making diverse sources of creativity work for us, and using our professional skills to add value in a sensitive and useful way.

Sustainable living
I also believe the collaboration between the Solidarity Project and the Campana brothers can teach us something about our social responsibilities as marketers and business leaders to think and act sustainably.

With global resources being used up at an alarming rate, and with the downturn in the world’s economy, we have no choice but to think and act sustainably. We must conserve what we have and encourage others to do the same by leading by example. The chair shows how something humble can become something beautiful. It also shows how easy it is to think laterally about our environment to re-use and re-purpose what we might have thrown away.

For the marketer, this means making big changes to our methods. Digital is particularly well-suited to the responsible approach. It encourages interaction, it is very reactive to changes and it is much easier to target. Because it engages rather than interrupts to deliver its messages, it avoids the natural waste of other marketing media. It also increases effectiveness, as the impact of digital media is so much easier to measure, both directly and indirectly through its interaction with more traditional media like television and print.

And for those of us who might be tempted to feel complacent because we are already digital marketers, we need to look at ways of using the power of digital more responsibly. Do we need to fly 5,000 miles for a meeting, or can we use a virtual meeting space? Do we all need to work in a heated and air conditioned office with the lights switched on all the time, or could we use technology to work from home more often? Are we volunteering our skills to help third sector organisations reach their audiences digitally? Finally, how are we communicating with our customers: do they understand our values and are we trying to get them on board with our efforts? They might be more receptive than you’d think.

As for Isobar, we are welcoming people from a range of industries to sit in the chair and talk about what creativity means to them. We will then auction the chair and donate the proceeds to the Solidarity Project. Like us, everyone involved in marketing owes it to their clients to think laterally about how they operate, to question how they strive for creative inspiration and to make a measurable and continued effort to embed sustainability at the heart of how they work.
For more information about the Multitude chair project, or if you want to be filmed in the chair talking about how you use creativity to change lives, please visit www.multitudechair.com

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