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Calling All Creatives to Tackle Foreign Aid

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You might ask what a bunch of advertising creatives can do to solve the world's most pressing challenges. We sell running shoes, cleaning detergent, cars: what do we know about fighting malaria, improving crop production, or helping parents in poor countries get life-saving vaccines for their kids? The answer to the latter is very little. But we do know a thing or two about communicating, about connecting an audience with a big idea.

That's why I and a group of colleagues from other creative agencies have been enlisted by the Cannes Lions -- the Oscars of the creative industries -- and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Our mission: to help judge and mentor a $1 million challenge to find fresh new ways of connecting people with the story of overseas aid. We're now coming together in a rare collaboration for what we hope will be a worthwhile cause.

Our starting point is audience research from the Gates Foundation which shows that, while there's widespread support in the U.S. and Europe for the moral principle of helping people in poor countries, there's also a degree of fuzziness about how foreign aid actually works, and real suspicion about what it achieves. There is also a large disconnect about how much the public thinks is spent on aid, and the actual amount that is given.

It's not hard to see why people are captured by periodic media stories of funds being lost to corruption or mismanagement in poor countries. Scandal sells after all. But this is far from the whole story. Our role is to help redefine, communicate and enable an alternative narrative of success -- because we know empirically that success is happening. And unless more people know about it, and care about it, then governments will be able to continue to cut their aid budgets.

The good news is that there are now myriad ways to tell these stories, and forge deeper connections between people living on different sides of the planet. In the past, the media we used to mediate between a company and its audience was one dimensional; now it has extended into a networked environment where everyone can be an active participant.

I describe what we do in an agency like R/GA as a dance between art and science. We have 'systematic thinkers,' people who are good at synthesizing data, joining the dots, designing programs; and we have 'narrative thinkers,' traditional storytellers. When these two types of talent come together, what comes out on the other side can be explosive.

What we're creating for clients today is not just an ad; we're designing and creating the medium itself, entire platforms through which customers can immerse themselves in a brand. This is redefining how people interact and identify with brands, organizations and movements. We're taking them on a journey for the long term.

There's no reason why we couldn't use these kinds of approaches when tackling complex global issues like foreign aid.

This is the kind of thinking I hope we're going to see when we start reviewing entries to the aid challenge after the May 15 deadline. I'm certainly honored to be a representative of the creative community -- and I hope my colleagues around the world rise to the challenge.

We encourage as many people to join as possible. The process is simple -- all you need is a big idea and two pages to describe it. This is such an important chance to address global issues the best way we know how: by helping define, communicate and enable big ideas.

For more information on the Cannes Chimera go to: www.canneschimera.com.