A thread running throughout this year’s shortlisted and winning entries is a purpose that goes beyond raising awareness and educating, and addresses real world issues with practical solutions. Terms like greenwashing and pinkwashing have entered consumer parlance, suggesting an astute cynicism to superficial alignments with causes. The divide between platitudes and real action was brought into sharp relief in 2020; the so-called ‘optical allyship’ of brands in response to the Black Lives Matter movement was frequently called out by social media users.
Many winning and shortlisted campaigns created measurable impact and progress. Speaking in an interview for D&AD earlier this year on the judging process, Kin co-founder Kwame Taylor-Hayford said: “There’s an impact around the awareness work generates around a certain issue but then that scale slides and you see that some of the projects led to deliberate behaviour change, some of the projects led to significant economic outcomes and some of the projects led to legislation and changes in how governments operate.”
Hashtags Don't Healsee project
Through smart, intuitive technological initiatives or campaigns built to shock and provoke, the question repeatedly asked, and in many cases answered, is: How can we effect real, significant change in the world? Debbi Vandeven, Global Creative Officer at VMLY&R and D&AD Jury President for the Experiential category said: “If you’re going to do a piece of work, especially in public service, we’d like to see more that it actually makes changes rather than just doing a piece to let people know about a problem.”
The appetite for real-word change may also come as a response to what has been dubbed ‘slacktivism’ or ‘armchair activism’, in reference to the ease with which anyone can be seen to support a cause by adopting hashtags, retweeting information and sharing petitions. While there are some benefits, such as highlighting individual perspectives, organising communities and bringing in outsiders to a cause, some critics argue that this kind of behaviour does little more than raising awareness.
DDB Mudra’s Hashtags Don’t Heal campaign sought to address this. It used striking imagery to show that this ‘clicktivism’ is just a sticking plaster over a deep wound, encouraging those who want to support people in Syria to donate in order to make a tangible difference to their plight.
Generation Lockdownsee project
In order to address US gun law to ensure it better protects against gun violence in schools, groups like the student-led March for Our Lives directed pressure on legislators. The activist group teamed up with McCann New York, who produced Yellow Pencil-winning entry Generation Lockdown. The provocative film went viral, and while significant gun control laws are still some way from being passed, March for our Lives managed to make noise and raise awareness beyond social media feeds and in arenas where real change can be effected. The film earned 50 million+ views in a month, was shared by several presidential candidates, and was played during a hearing in Congress.
“It draws out the absurdity of the sadly real need for school shooter drills by having a child run adults through the steps to be taken in the event of an active shooter event,” said Jimmy Smith, founder of Amusement Park Entertainment, in an interview for D&AD. Speaking to the New York Times in September 2019, Alex Little, a creative director at McCann who worked on the ad, said: “We’re competing with the news cycle, where there’s a mass shooting every other week. If your message isn’t as impactful, you’re never going to cut through.”
The Illegal Blood Banksee project
For some awarded works, the impact was measurable by actual policy change. The Illegal Blood Bank by publisher LADBible and Elvis Communications was created in collaboration with campaigning group FreedomToDonate to address a discriminatory law that puts a blanket ban on all sexually active gay and bisexual men from donating blood in the UK.
The team set up a blood bank which drew and tested the blood of gay and bisexual men – found to be 100% usable with the potential to save 78 lives – which was then displayed in central London. It prompted a consultation on a change in the law and a response from the NHS to commission research on a similar, individualised risk assessment tool and a commitment to sharing the results publicly.
"We believe it’s our responsibility to leverage our social reach to raise awareness about the issues that matter…we need to ensure the support and passion people showed for the Illegal Blood Bank didn’t go to waste and that the government continues to hear us calling for change,” said Nick Hodgkins, Brand Marketing Lead at LadBible Group, in a statement in December 2019.
We’ve seen how gun violence continues to plague America and we’ll continue to use the power of creativity for good to help contribute to changing things
Also campaigning against gun violence was The Gun Violence History Book by FCB Chicago, which won the first Black Pencil in book design in 40 years. The book aimed to generate support for the closure of a loophole in gun law that would result in universal background checks. The design of the book itself goes beyond simply being a vehicle for the images and words and lays out, in brutal detail, the history of headline-making gun violence, shot through with a bullet.
On receipt of a D&AD Black Pencil, Dean Paradise, Creative Director FCB Chicago, said: “We’ve seen how gun violence continues to plague America and we’ll continue to use the power of creativity for good to help contribute to changing things and to ensure – like the book teaches us – that history does not repeat itself.”
The Tampon Book: a book against tax discriminationsee project
Also aiming to create policy change was The Tampon Book, an activation by Scholz & Friends for The Female Company, which stealthily navigated German laws classifying tampons as a luxury good to be taxed at 19%. By creating a book of tampons, they were able to tax it at the 7% added to books. As a result of pressure put on the German government by campaigners in the country, which this campaign channeled and amplified, German tax law was amended and the rate applied to sanitary products was reduced to a standard rate of 7%.
Beyond politics and into the business world, some projects made inroads into improving established practices by demonstrating a responsible alternative. Multinational food and retail corporation Carrefour teamed up with Marcel/Publicis Conseil to launch its Act for Food campaign – a programme of specific actions for a full-scale food transition by 2022. By restructuring and redirecting its business to be more sustainable, Carrefour was able to effect real change in the ecological and economic ecosystem, to the benefit of both customers and farmers, and also increase profitability.
“You can be a force for good and a force for growth in the world, you don’t need to choose,” said Cat Drew, Chief Design Officer for The Design Council, in an interview with D&AD.
Pay It Forwardsee project
UK-based challenger bank Monzo and agency FCB Inferno addressed emerging and ongoing issues for the homeless community by launching Pay It Forward with The Big Issue, a magazine sold by homeless people on streets across the UK. Through mobile payments, QR codes and a banking initiative that gives homeless people their own bank accounts (an issue without a fixed address), Pay It Forward allowed anyone who passed on the magazine to ‘resell’ it and create revenue for the original vendor. This demonstrates how creative digital commerce can be designed to help underserved communities by making products accessible to more groups.
Some of this year's work made interventions in the domestic space to solve health and wellbeing problems. Mr Humfreez by TBWA New Zealand utilised innovative product design to improve child safety. Seeking to address the prevalent issue of damp in homes in New Zealand, the wool and wooden sheep alerts children and parents to dangerous levels of damp and cold that can cause mould.
This work caught the attention of Priya Prakash, founder and CEO of Design for Social Change, for its simple and effective design and message. Speaking on a D&AD panel discussion, she said: “It’s taking unglamorous things and taking this aspect of narrative and storytelling that design tends to do to make this problem really compelling.”
The effect of screen time on the overall wellbeing of the next generation is a growing, international concern. Play by Colenso BBDO for telephone company Spark is a campaign that highlights the issues as well as introducing a potential solution – a rugby ball enabled with technology including machine learning and motion detection to allow children screen time, minute by minute, depending on the amount of time they play with the ball outside. This ‘smart ball’ helped families across New Zealand balance their children’s screen time with outdoor playtime.
Motivating prospective students to “join the fight” for a better future, Monash University in Melbourne, Australia and VMLY&R Melbourne teamed up to create A Future Without Change. The multi-sensory campaign showed students a dystopian future via products that could exist one day, unless significant change is made – for example a museum exhibit of the last living piece of the reef, a fake news channel and Anti-Depress-Os cereal for children. The recruitment campaign encouraged students to choose their higher education based on the university’s future contribution to a better world.
Whether at policy level, in business, the community, within the home, or within the minds of individuals, this work goes beyond simply raising awareness or inspiring, and challenges the status quo by offering practical solutions for improvement.
The methods used have varied, from emotionally and politically charged film content to innovative product design and inventive ways to outmanoeuvre antiquated and discriminative laws. There are few more powerful ways to measure the mark your work has had on the world than through the impact it has on the lives of others.
Theme Report by Neighbourhood, commissioned and edited by D&AD for the 2020 D&AD digital Annual.