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Impact – How creative work can make real change

Members of the D&AD Impact Council offer their advice to creatives wanting to make a difference

Earth Speakr, AKQA Copenhagen

Impact is one of the most rewarding and complex categories, where creatives reconcile commercial thinking with inventiness, activism and ethics. At the D&AD Awards the Impact category is for work that’s been commercially released, including designs, initiatives and social good campaigns. The entrant must demonstrate behavioural, environmental, social or policy change that's happened as a direct result of the work. 

This year, shortlisted and winning Impact work ranged from an app designed to engage children with environmental issues, to a calculator that allows brands to quickly and easily quantify the carbon footprint of the products they manufacture. You can watch some of the judges discuss their pick of the work in our Impact insight panel here.

We also asked the Impact Council to share their pointers on creating work that really makes a difference. Read what they had to say below.

Look at the possible unwanted results as well as the desired impact

Impact work often looks to correct a wrong, solve a problem or help resolve an issue. When you are creating an impactful campaign or strategy it is important to test it by looking at unintended consequences, says Impact Jury President and Founder & CEO of Design for Social Change Priya Prakash. “Do an unintended consequences assessment of your proposed design,” she suggests. “Many projects focusing on Impact end up with unintended consequences based on the intervention, even with good intentions. The way to countermand that is by thinking through both intended and unintended consequences of the proposed design.” She suggests the ‘bad actor’ exercise to help ensure positive results. 

Prakash is also keen to advise keeping an eye on unconscious bias. We all have them, but it is better to be mindful of them rather than pretending that they don’t exist. 

Serve the cause as well as the brand

When embarking on a campaign, staying loyal to solving the problem should be your north star. It’s easy to get carried away with the rush of creative problem solving but when working in impact you must do this in tandem with helping the cause.  

“Creativity should be of service to the problem and not the other way around,” says Damilola Marcus, Art Director at Dá Design Studio X. “Creativity is very important, but the problem is more important. As creatives, it's easy to turn our creative ideas and their cleverness or wittiness into a distraction from the problem itself.”

He urges caution and emphasises that if the issue at the heart of the campaign isn’t the driver, it can hurt the work and therefore the band. 

“Sometimes we fall in love with something new and shiny; new technology, a new skill acquired, and try to impose that thing on whatever the problem in front of us is. This could result in something distasteful, questionable, or just out of touch… The best creativity can get when making impactful work is actually being the most impactful it can be,” he adds.

Having purpose will guide you

If you choose a subject you have a genuine passion for, it will help to create the genuine, authentic result that you are looking to achieve and communicate. “Purpose is long term, and your passion needs to be sustained over a period of time despite challenges and setbacks,” says Else Marie D’Silva founder Red Dot Foundation. “Also, your thought leadership shines through with sustained commitment to your purpose.”

Maintaining purpose can also help keep lethal box ticking at bay, “Don't create for the sake of creating or ticking a box, no matter how appealing the topic is,” adds D’Silva.

Purpose can also guard against faddism; Ruchi Sharma, Associate Partner at McKinsey & Company, urges care. “It is a watch-out we creatives need to be conscious of, truly producing work with purpose that has an everlasting impact on the brand and end-users requires producing with intent and integrity.”

“What is the brand or the artists' intention behind the work needs to be clearly defined; What change are they advocating; Is it something that will benefit humankind for years to come, or is it just an eyewash to distract dissent? What makes the most purposeful work also the most impactful work?... I believe it starts with the integrity of intention, diligently followed by the execution of that intention.”

The work must have a measurable impact on the issue

When conceptualising and implementing an impact campaign it is essential not just talk the talk you must walk the walk. “Advertising has to move on from the age of awareness and into the age of action,” says Jose Miguel Sokoloff, Global President of MullenLowe Group Creative Council. “Serious brands and advertisers need to start doing work that has tangible results, where you can feel the commitment of the people involved.”

Goals and concrete aims are also key to a great campaign. “If you’re going to go down the route of creating meaningful, impactful work, you need to make clear exactly what you want to get done and be able to measure its success. You need to go beyond the beauty and cleverness of the work to create something that can bring about real change in our lives,” urges Sokoloff.

“The era of social experiments and stunts just to win awards is over, it’s time to take this job a little more seriously.” Basically, the era of greenwashing and the like are coming to an end.

“I’m tired of advertising showboats. We need lighthouses, inspiring long-term change,” says Founder of Goodvertising Thomas Kolster. “Obviously, if you can’t measure the impact and your initiative is making in kilos of carbon emissions saved, decreasing child mortality rates or litres of water, what’s then the damn point? But where good turns great is when your initiative supports, and nurtures change again and again growing day by day.” 

Collaboration is key

Impact is where advertising meets lobbying and charity work, uniting these different practices requires dialogue, listening and collaboration. “Collaborate because often your purpose is linked to social issues that require as many resources invested as possible, to truly make a difference,” says D’Silva. 

Kolster calls this creating an army for good. “If you want to create change at scale, you have to begin by moving one person, only then can you unlock an army of the willing to join in a shared mission! The best initiatives are open for people to do their part… That’s scalability! Take Black-Owned Friday, encouraging all of us to do our part and support Black-Owned businesses and some of these witnessing a 3000% Instagram sales increase.” 

Balance consumer needs with aims for change

Daianna Karaian, co-founder of Today Do This highlights the need to maintain commercial objectives while measuring tangible results and change. “That means it’s no longer enough to make comms that raise awareness of important issues,” she explains. “You have to offer practical solutions that make it possible for brands and customers to make a real difference through their actions… the way they buy, assemble, use, reuse and dispose of goods and services. That’s a tricky brief, but there’s no way around it if you want to make work that has real integrity and impact.”

Never forget about craft

Impact advertising is still advertising, and the realisation of the idea cannot be allowed to let down the overall vision. “Many times, shouldering the responsibility of needing to have an impact removes focus from excellence in design, which needs humour, play, inventiveness and craft to be sustainable. Looking beyond the lifecycle of a campaign budget and social media KPI by focusing on great design craft and execution can many times help elevate the core idea for D&AD Impact,” Prakash reminds us. 

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