Admap Prize 2013 - Thinking in 3D

Extract from Admap Prize 2013 Gold Award winning essay
By Mike Follett, Imperial College Business School

The future, we are told, is already here, it's just that it isn't evenly distributed. Thinking in 3D is the same. 3D companies already exist, and perhaps have always existed. For those who work in the advertising industry, our task is to find them, and work with the ones that we agree with. Different companies will have different sets of objectives and different cultures. Not all of them will appeal to all of us. Intelligent people can have different opinions. That is fine. But one thing we can all agree on is that we should avoid working for one-dimensional clients.

Clients motivated solely by profit are a bad bet. They are unlikely to be in a position to pay performance related bonuses, and their difficulties hiring and retaining good talent at their end will make for a future filled with interminable conference calls that ultimately resolve nothing. As an outside agency, you will never change them, but they may change you. Don't work for them. Don't pitch for their business. Let the dead bury their dead.

This assumes that we are part of the solution, rather than being part of the problem. But what about your own company? How 3D is its thinking? Do you even know what your own company's objective(s) are? For instance, how pro bono is your pro bono work? These are important questions, which we raise of our clients' businesses, but rarely apply to our own.

Milton Friedman was wrong about business' role in promoting social good. He was wrong in detail, but more importantly, he was wrong in his guiding assumptions. We have focused on the details, and worked hard to remove the mote he put in our eye, but the beam remains. Of course, brands can, and do, maximise profits while being a force for social good. The real question is whether maximizing profits is, or should be, the only aim of business. As Bill Bernbach once said, a principle isn't a principle until it costs you money. If money is all you care about, you can't afford to have principles.