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“It needs to be quantified” – D&AD judges on how creative work can have real-world impact

The 2021 Impact judges discuss how playfulness, technology and simple storytelling can help tackle social and environmental issues

This year’s D&AD Impact winning and shortlisted work addressed a broad range of issues, from gender equality and issues of racism, to domestic violence and the climate emergency.

In a discussion hosted by Adweek Europe Bureau Chief Stephen Lepitak, members of the D&AD Impact jury took a long hard look at what it takes for today’s creative work to make a change in the real world. The conversation ranged from questions of bias, and how those can be addressed, to the importance of quantifying a campaign’s impact and incorporating playfulness into work.

Creativity for good shouldn’t forget the power of being playful

For Priya Prakash, designer and founder of Design for Social Change, playfulness can be an especially effective tool for creatives tackling big issues. The climate crisis might be hugely troubling – as well as extremely complex – but that doesn’t remove the opportunity to use play and imagination to address it. 

Prakash chose AKQA Copenhagen’s Earth Speakr as an example of this, for the way it lets children give voice to the environment using AR and a phone camera. “It’s a very simple, human, emotional way for a child’s imagination to run wild and give that a voice,” she explained. “I know it’s very trendy in the climate justice space to always go on a procession … but I thought this was a very refreshing way to explore a storytelling narrative where it’s as simple as … going to the park and trying it out.”

“One of the challenges I wanted to give people entering the category this year was how we honour craft and not forget playfulness,” she added.

Assess how you are really making an impact

Ruchi Sharma, founder and Chief Creative Officer of HumanSense, emphasised the need for social good campaigns to really follow the insight, in order to offer real help to communities. She chose FCB Canada’s Financial Fairness as an example of this, for the way it used insightful storytelling to expose an issue faced by women. 

“When you’re judging Impact there’s so many amazing pieces … but how are you making an impact on the largest possible community?” she said. "[Financial Fairness] stood out for all the reasons you don’t see in today’s advertising jury. It’s not got cool tech around it, it doesn’t have any of those fancy latest trends. What it has is very insightful storytelling.”

Brands must look beyond themselves when advocating for change

Beyond raising awareness of social issues, Elsa Marie d’Silva, founder of Red Dot Foundation, discussed the need for brands to look at the bigger picture. She chose VaynerMedia’s The Future Official Sponsors of the NWSL as a favourite campaign, for the way it highlighted the disparity in salary between male and female soccer players, but then invited other brands to help address the problem. 

“In a way it was a bottom-up and top-down approach, putting pressure on systemic change,” she explained. “And it did result in six brands signing up, as well as a 20 per cent increase in the salary. So that was an immediate win, but also systemic change occurring in real time. It’s all of us that have to pitch in to make that change happen.”

The democratisation of technology opens up a whole new world – especially for healthcare

A recurring theme in this year’s entries was the democratisation of technology, and the life-changing potential this offers – particularly in the healthcare sector. Tim Hawkey, Chief Creative Officer at AREA 23, selected Cheil Spain’s Tallk as an example of tech being used to improve people’s lives. 

“There is a ten thousand dollar device you can hook up in front of an ALS patient, but this takes all of that and puts it in an Android tablet, and puts it right in front of you,” he explained. “Using AI it can track your eyes and allow you to communicate, and it’s an IoT device, so it’s synced with everything in your home.”

Prakash emphasised the way companies creating software development kits is having real-life impact, by allowing other developers to take the work they’ve done and build on top of that. “You’re creating a whole new developer ecosystem, just like Apple and Android have done for different apps, but it’s happening with healthcare,” she explained. “If you have this as a trend in healthcare, you can imagine a lot of very expensive kit becoming widely available through the power of the phone.”

But the use of technology needs to be judged clearly and critically

While technology can be transformative, Prakash said that judges were careful to look outside it as “just yet another AI solution, or yet another deepfake to titillate our attention”. She explained that the jury asked hard questions around whether tech was being used for tech’s sake, and if it created a long term sustainable solution or more of a “flash in the pan” effect.  

“Tech is a bit like an ingredient in your kitchen,” she added. “You can use it, but you have to see how the dish is after using it. It’s one of many other things … the storytelling is the human aspect, that is the foreground, and the technology is the background. Technology for us as a jury was not necessarily the flashy new tech, but the ingenuity of using it to give impact and benefit.”

Creatives need to be open and honest about their biases

Being able to open up about a personal bias was something Prakash mentioned as a highlight of judging D&AD, explaining that “there was enough honesty and courage that you could be vulnerable and say ‘this is my bias’.”

She said that by sharing these biases, the jury reached better decisions, and that creative leaders could also benefit from laying their cards on the table, explaining how they came up with a creative decision, what informed the brief, and what the questions and biases each person has. 

“When we are having a creative review and discussion, it can be a refreshing way to challenge this,” added Prakash. “I think the industry doesn’t have that vocabulary right now. We take very polarising positions very quickly and then there is no conversation, but there could be a position of strength by putting the cards on the table.”

Creatives must be able to quantify the effectiveness of their work

Goodvertising founder and creative director Thomas Kolster’s main piece of advice was for creatives to leave their “white rooms and offices”, get out into the real world, and understand the challenges people are facing. This includes measuring exactly how a campaign performed, and the impact it actually created. 

“It’s called D&AD Impact, it is about impact,” he said. “Measure it. Litres saved, less carbon, whatever it might be. It needs to be quantified. We had too many cases talking about x amount of people seeing it, those old advertising metrics, and I think we need to be much better at having those conversations. Maybe even in the brief at an agency, and putting down some of those impact metrics to say what it is we’re actually trying to solve. This is an important discussion for our industry.” 

“There’s so many ways to solve a challenge, but what is the most impactful, efficient, sustainable way of doing that with the biggest impact we can have? Get the hell out of the office and start measuring some of this stuff.”

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