The Warc Blog

The Warc Blog

How to change the world
James Hurman, Founder, Previously Unavailable
James Hurman

In 2010 in Stockholm, an innovative speed camera system was trialled for the first time. It quickly proved to be extremely effective in changing driver behaviour for the better. Much more so than normal speed cameras. The results were published and spread virally, amazing everybody who saw them. Then, after just three days, the speed camera was taken down and put away. It was never used, anywhere in the world, ever again.

That speed camera was part of a Volkswagen campaign by DDB Stockholm called The Fun Theory'. They gamified staircases, litter cans and bottle bins to show how easy it was to change people's behaviour by making chore-ish experiences more fun.

The 'speed camera lottery' was the best bit of the campaign. They took a speed camera and modified it, so that it took a photo of every car that passed, rather than just the speeding ones. Those exceeding the speed limit were fined, just like normal. But those travelling at or below the speed limit were each given a chance to win the money collected from the speeders. They rewarded good behaviour rather than just punishing bad behaviour. And average speed fell 22% to well beneath the speed limit.

It won a Titanium Lion at Cannes in 2011. I remember sitting in the audience watching the case study video as it was awarded, thinking how smart it was. It's a brilliant idea. One that could conceivably be deployed on speed cameras all over the world and make a substantial improvement on the current system.

But it wasn't. It got made, then it got awarded, then it got forgotten about.

Our industry is fixated on getting things made. Doing original things, doing them once and then moving swiftly on.

There are good reasons for this. Original communication ideas are more likely to be effective. Studies have shown that the human mind is more likely to be convinced by original arguments than old ones. So clients come to us to find original ways of delivering their message. And that's advertising.

Or at least it was. We've lately been living through a shift from a 'communication' kind of creativity to prizing more of a 'problem-solving' kind. We still do plenty of communicating. But the stuff that excites us more tends to be innovative solutions to business or social problems. 'Communication creativity' ideas have one life. Even the best ones. You couldn't take the Cadbury Gorilla and use him again for another brand. It's Been Done.

But 'problem-solving creativity' ideas are different. They're scalable. Some of them have the potential to be reapplied all over the place, and even to change the world.

The agency working for Australia's largest pillow manufacturer had the cunning idea to stamp the pillows with a use-by date. Despite pillows becoming infested with all kinds of unseen bacteria, we hold on to them sometimes for decades. A use-by date shortens the repurchase cycle dramatically. Tontine Pillows' sales increased more than 300%, earning the brand the Grand Effie in Australia that year. Use-by dates should have become a standard in the pillow industry. Instead, they got a Bronze Lion, a Grand Effie, and were never heard from again.

We talk about creativity's potential to change the world. But ideas don't change the world because they get made, they change the world when they get widely adopted and normalised and used to their full potential.

Imagine where we'd be if Edison had invented the light bulb, made a great case study video for it, then consigned it to the Been Done pile. If Berners-Lee's world wide web had been no more than a gold Effie. If the touchscreen had never been picked up by anybody else because Apple had already done it. This year we saw Marcel Paris and Intermarché repurpose millions of tonnes of discarded fruit and vegetables with their Inglorious Fruits & Vegetables campaign. This idea has the potential to create sustainable growth for farmers all over the world. We saw FCB and CNA Language school pair up Brazilian students wanting to work on their English with American retirees in need of human connection. An elegant solution with the potential to help millions of people.

But what will come of these ideas now that they've been made? Will they fulfil their potential or just become happy memories in the Cannes Lions Archive? Just as good is the enemy of great, getting things made is the enemy of changing the world. The creative heroism of the future will belong to those who figure out how to springboard off the awards stage and work with the world to make their innovative solutions commonplace.

Subjects: Marketing, Consumers

19 November 2014 14:09

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