THE BLOG

Marketing's Chance to Change the World

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

For the first time in a long time, the marketing and advertising sector have the opportunity to do a lot of good. (gasp). I know, here's why.

It's a hugely powerful medium -- the power of persuasion. If the people behind Coke can convince millions that drinking the stuff will make you happy anything's possible. But, despite sounding like a cliche super hero reference, like any powerful force, it can be used for good or evil.

There's a huge camp of people who blame many of the problems of society on advertising. It's notorious for creating false needs and selling products that are not good for people or the environment. More consumption is not always the way to better business and instead of working with companies to rethink that strategy, the goal is just to push more by any means possible. It's created unsustainable ideas and aspirations about how we should live our lives and many people can not discern for themselves what is real from fake anymore (hell even I have a hard time sometimes).

The thing is. We created this entire world. It's a series of stories and beliefs that we told and convinced ourselves of. This world continues to exist this way because we continue to believe the stories. We can believe in something better.

The marketing and advertising communities are masters at story telling and brilliant at understanding how things work. For the first time, the people at these companies have the backing of the masses who want more good, more decency, more responsibility. They want a better future. So for the first time, this community has the opportunity to create a new story. One where people are interconnected, kindness is valued and community is king. One where we believe in quality over quantity. One where waste is something shunned like a sin and where we understand and respect the earth. One where we see the potential in every individual and offer them opportunity.

Of course, this takes dedication to creating messages founded in and which drive more responsible corporate behavior. The last thing the social innovation movement needs is false marketing that exploits a genuine sense of optimism and dedication for the sake of the sale. This short-term approach is largely what's gotten us into so much trouble to begin with and would turn this movement into the next greenwashing which would be the saddest thing marketing could possibly do. But the power of marketing is that it faces two ways -- outward toward consumers and inward toward driving profit. Business cases for for-profit for-good business models are being made by the day and, done right, they can be made in the corporate context. Why do I believe the folks at the marketing and advertising wheel can leverage this two-way power to drive innovation? Because they get how things work. They understand the puzzle better than anyone because they're always trying to see new relationships between its pieces -- if there's anyone who can help figure out how to make things work better, it's this crowd.

There's a huge opportunity for the discipline to do some serious good by shifting society's aspirations and understanding of what's possible. What kills me and inspires me on a daily basis is that people are powerful and they can do better. It's time to inspire them to do so.