It's a bit embarrassing to have been concerned with the human problem all one's life and find at the end that one has no more to offer by way of advice than "Try to be a little kinder."
~ Aldous Huxley
How much is a campaign for kindness worth? In creative hours spent developing the campaign at an ad agency, and in the funding behind the project? If there's an elusive commodity people would like to get their hands on, kindness is it. At every level of society, people want a bit more kindness in their lives.
Unfortunately, advertising agencies are driven by clients' demands, the revenue behind projects, and the evolving marketplace. Of course, the type of campaign I'm suggesting here could be a culture-shifting idea at a time when such a message is most necessary.
One can easily imagine a thought-provoking pro-bono campaign for kindness. With a simple tagline like "Kindness Matters" people would instantly get the simplicity and importance of thinking about and implementing more daily acts of kindness. So many other less impactful ideas have gone viral on the Internet, so why not a campaign for more kindness. With social media taking over a large part of online conversations, and becoming a force known as the "social web." In the same way workers at Google use 20 percent of their time on self-directed projects, why not let creative workers in ad agencies come up with campaigns to bring people together and promote ideas to benefit all of society? Even if an ad agency, or any other type of business for that matter, had their employees dedicate 5 percent of each week to kindness, what changes would ripple though our culture?
Recently Alain de Botton, a prominent atheist author posted a short motivational video on the Big Think website proposing just such a shift in advertising. Rather than advertising for products people don't need or can't afford unless they go into debt, why not use the talented folks at ad agencies to design socially relevant campaigns to bring out the best of ourselves, such as kindness, patience, generosity, humor and courage.
While it may be a culture-shifting concept, naysayers on the web were quick to point out the financial challenges in implementing these campaigns. In reality, these types of campaigns have already been done. Once sent out into the world, ideas take on a life of their own. Companies promoting their products don't often strike gold and create culture-shifting advertisements. When Nike's ad agency, Wieden+Kennedy came up with "Just Do It" they had no idea of the far-reaching socially transforming message they'd sent out into the world. Three words caught on and created a macro-movement, and people interpreted those three words to whichever "Just Do It" best fit their lives. Powerful, and culture-shifting.
When considering a traditional advertising agency's monetary output to launch such a multimedia campaign, the first question to ask is who would benefit from a kindness campaign. In the Coca-Cola campaign from the 1970s, every attempt was made to equate handing someone a Coke to be a friendly gesture on par with a handshake or a hug. Liking to buy the world a Coke didn't change the world, but it left behind a catchy song and some fun visuals. A peace and love campaign that did make a difference in the late 1960s and into the early 1970s was John and Yoko's advertisements for peace they made from beds in Amsterdam and in Toronto, and later with billboards in Times Square and around the world. "War is Over (If you want it)" is a message that still resonates and has the same impact now with people who want the horror and bloodshed of ongoing wars throughout the world to stop.
Advertisers have long used human emotions to sell soap, cigarettes, and cars. So why not create campaigns that serve society's higher ideals and do it from within the same agencies that have long been vilified by being just paid mercenaries of the giant corporations, and only out for a buck. Maybe the answer to Alain de Botton's question is in where such a kindness campaign could originate. If the traditional advertising models aren't up to the task, hand the project over to the social web and see what it can come up with. Thousands or even millions of well meaning people could post a simple short video of themselves declaring their kind deeds, or love for a close friend who is going through a difficult time. Document kindness and pass it along. Make a 30-second commercial for kindness, or a story of a compassionate act, or promote whatever you feel is an uplifting, optimistic message. There's no harm in trying. Who knows, maybe a kindness movement will begin.
Follow Russell C. Smith on Twitter: www.twitter.com/digitalfirebook