Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Working for a higher purpose

Published in Sep-Oct 2017
There is much to gain from agencies which accommodate projects that go beyond the simple commercial imperatives.

The most important element in any story is what the hero or heroine wants. Someone wants to slay the dragon, someone wants to travel the world in 80 days and someone wants to win the game of thrones. These intentions keep us hooked and wanting more; we pray and cry for the characters when they don’t get what they want. Aristotle’s rules of drama are still relevant in the age of Snapchat stories.

All stories are built on cycles of intentions and obstacles. What do you want and what is standing in your way? As a pseudo storyteller,

I think of these things a lot and as a brand builder I ask my clients pointed questions, such as: “Why are you doing what you are doing?”

Meeting targets and making profits is a given for the survival of any business, but as Simon Sinek famously said in his book Start with Why, “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” Sadly, most brands are still focused on the ‘what’. Take Airbnb, Toms and Warby Parker as examples. These are brands which clearly differentiate on their purpose.

Airbnb talks about belonging anywhere, Toms is about donating a pair of shoes to people who need them and Warby Parker’s mission is to offer designer quality eyewear at affordable prices. Sadly, I have seen too many company mission statements phrased as: “To exceed the expectation of our stakeholders and delivering a complete range of products.”

Luckily the world is moving away from the brass plaques hung in the boardroom and then forever ignored. Purpose is the new digital and brands are moving towards ‘walking the talk’. Today’s political climate is also giving brands the opportunity to stand in the self- actualisation section of Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’. As the world tries to become more exclusive with the Trumps and Modis of the world, smart marketers are talking about women empowerment, pay gaps and diversity. The golden rule of marketing is literally about when everyone is going right, you go left.


The talented David Droga of Droga5, admitted that his mom is proudest of the work he did for the tap water project for UNICEF. Admit it, when we work for the good, we work harder and sleep better. One of the important reasons why salaries in the not-for-profit sector are always lower is because job satisfaction responds to a higher calling rather than a fatter wallet.


We have seen some amazing and thought-provoking creative come from purpose-led marketing. Be it the much applauded and awarded ‘Fearless Girl’, ‘Refugee Nation’, ‘Like a Girl’, or Dove’s ‘Campaign for Real Beauty’ (please do see all this work), it is no secret to any creative that purpose-led work leads to awards and recognition.

Pakistan’s two proud Cannes Lions, both won by the talented team at BBDO were for purpose-led work; Bronze for ‘Not A Bug Splat’ and Gold for Moltyfoam’s ‘The World’s First BillBed’.

Most agencies, globally at least, aim to develop CSR campaigns that showcase their creative ability; most of us know that the day-to-day work might not give us the creative space – the client may not be brave enough, the budgets may not allow for the idea to germinate, or the effort versus revenue for the agency doesn’t add up. Another reason to work on CSR or social campaigns is that they give the creative teams a sense of achievement and job satisfaction.

The talented David Droga of Droga5, admitted that his mom is proudest of the work he did for the tap water project for UNICEF. Admit it, when we work for the good, we work harder and sleep better. One of the important reasons why salaries in the not-for-profit sector are always lower is because job satisfaction responds to a higher calling rather than a fatter wallet.

Then what is stopping creatives from doing the kind of work we want to do?

The obstacles standing in the way of our intentions are many and mostly petty. Most of all, there is no focus on doing work for a higher good in an agency structure. There are a few exceptions, such as BBDO, Spectrum Y&R and Synergy Dentsu, which focus on social issues, while working on clients as well. How many times have we put it down as a KPI for the management team of all three departments; client service, planning and creative? All three need to have the same goal, which is to make anything possible. It can’t just be one individual’s dream; you need a team behind you. “Let’s do something for charity” is a recurring cry after every award season and then it dies out in a month. My humble request to agency heads: add doing work for good to the appraisal form. You will see an astonishing number of employees signing up for volunteer programmes, if it promises a raise. Hey, if the banking industry can tie performance in golf as a KPI, then surely the creative industry could learn a thing or two.

Not only are brands turning towards purpose-led marketing, the global creative industry is seeing the rise of purpose-led creative companies. Grayce and Co, a female-focused company is one such example, run by the fearless and talented Kathleen Griffith. They position themselves as ‘a strategy agency for women focused on intelligence, growth, brand strategy and market activation’.

There are so many other wonderful companies which balance profits and purpose. Livity UK works only on youth empowerment projects; LRXD, founded in 1968, repositioned itself two years ago as a ‘health and happiness advertising agency’. The ‘Made Movement’ founded in 2012 works exclusively for clients who create jobs for the US market. They describe themselves as: “We make work for brands that make jobs in the US.”

I remember the clever thing that DDB did with their name on Women’s Day; they changed their name to DDBR in tribute to their first female copy chief.

Apart from creative agencies focused on purpose, there are wonderful companies associated with the industry which have created platforms like the Female Quotient and the Makers (a storytelling project showcasing trailblazing women around the world). In short, there is no shortage of platforms or issues to be taken up as creative projects.

The cynic can always term these efforts as tokenism or a shortcut to an awards submission, yet even then I would defend it. The fact is that when you tell your team to think about social problems even for the self-serving goal of winning an award, you are turning a real issue into a conversation point. Teams who have worked on drug abuse in children will be more empathetic and aware of the scale of the problem and in turn, they will try to help on a personal level, even if they fail to do so at a professional level. Give your team a purpose and passion will be the automatic by-product.

Pakistan is truly the land of opportunity to do good; no matter where you look, you will see problems. Hunger, abuse, security, child mortality, lack of justice, acid attacks – and I am saddened to write that the list goes on and on. If the campaign that you create, the message you carve or the hashtag you help spread has a positive impact on even a single person’s life, then you can sell all the shampoo you want and I would die a happy person.

Atiya Zaidi is ECD (North), Synergy Dentsu. atiya.zaidi@synergydentsu.com