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From Russia With Thoughts on 'the Right Kind of Advertising'

You can't escape it. It's right there when you open a newspaper or turn on your TV, when you walk down the street or fly across the ocean. To paraphrase the famous slogan, you can't leave home without it. And it stays with you at home, too.

I'm referring, of course, to advertising. True to form, products of this ever expanding field of human activity were all around me last week when I visited Moscow to attend the 42nd World Congress of the International Advertising Association (IAA). For the first time in IAA's history, this gathering of the world's leading advertising and communications executives was held in Russia. Over 1,500 delegates from 70 countries convened at the State Palace Congress Center, an imposing edifice within the Kremlin which in a not-too-distant past could be hardly seen as an advertising-friendly venue.

To no one's surprise, the participants focused on core matters of their trade. They discussed consumer marketing challenges and pondered the digital influence on consumer behavior; they examined the rise of challenger brands, assessed the reaction of challenged categories and deliberated over the implications of new advertising models. Informing all of these discussions was the central theme of the conference: "CHANGE: CONSEQUENCES." As many speakers stressed, there were profound transformations taking place in the global economy with huge implications for media and communications industries. There was a lot of talk of marketing techniques, consumer attitudes and sales pitches.

Which may beg the question: Where does the UN fit into all of this?

This was an issue that came up repeatedly in the discussions I had on the margins of the event and it was something that I felt was important to explore in my own address at the conference. Despite the obvious differences, there are many aspects in the UN's efforts to advance its broad goals -- peace, development, human rights -- that resonate with some of the overarching concerns of the advertising industry. I had seen examples of this before the Moscow conference, and everything that I had seen and heard at the forum only helped to strengthen my conviction that there were many things in common.

In the corridors of the Kremlin's Congress Centre I walked past displays that were quite different from the provocative ads one often sees plastered on bus stop billboards. Instead, they featured creative works that had garnered IAA awards for highlighting such issues as climate change, child care, ageing and environmental protection. A headline in Advertising Age captured a dominant theme: "P&G's Prichard, Publicis' Levy Discuss Corporate Responsibility as Means to Shift 'From Marketing to Serving.'" In a forward-looking speech, Maurice Levy, Chairman and CEO of Publicis Groupe, suggested that today's young people would embrace the culture of ethical consumption amid growing support for the notion that doing the right thing pays.

Indeed, the advertising industry has come a long way in recognizing its corporate social responsibility and there are numerous examples of ad agencies joining forces with the UN. In an unprecedented collaboration, a talented and diverse team from the IAA and other partners worked with the UN to raise awareness of the Copenhagen conference. Right now, a Europe-wide competition called "Unleash Your Creativity against Poverty" aims to improve understanding of the Millennium Development Goals. The so-called MDGs are time-bound targets the UN Member States had set for addressing extreme poverty, hunger and disease, while promoting gender equality, education and environmental sustainability. The winning ads will be used as a public service announcement published in major European print media.

So there is an excellent track record, but much more can be done. And as I told the IAA audience in Moscow, there is one battle the UN is waging where the advertising industry's engagement can help to make a real difference. That challenge is ending violence against women, the most common, most shameful, and least punished crime in the world. Why advertising? Because to prevent violence and discrimination against women we need to defy destructive gender stereotypes. We need to put an end to persistent negative assumptions about the role of men and women in society and turn away from one-dimensional gender portrayals in mass media.

There are numerous initiatives to combat the blight, including the UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign launched by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon shortly after he joined the UN. Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron and many other celebrity advocates have joined us, as the video below demonstrates.

It's a brief message - mere 30 seconds. And it's just a small step to give voice to those who often go unheard. But then, as Mark Twain once famously said, "Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising."

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