On the eve of the 2012 American Association of Advertising Agencies’ (4A’s) Strategy Festival – even as judges were still mulling which work would walk away with the Festival’s Grand Prix prize – Ed Cotton, New York-based director of strategy for Sausalito, California agency Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners, couldn’t help but notice a trend.

Agencies are doing more “good” work.

In fact, the Strategy Festival for the last few years has included a “For Good” category in its annual Jay Chiat Awards competition (winners announced on Thursday night and many published on Warc on Friday) for those efforts that go beyond pro bono and serve the greater good – the public, the planet, the air we breath – even as it builds brand reach and credibility.

“If you look at corporate trust,” Cotton said, “it’s been either flat or in decline since 2008. Recent signs include the occupy movement, banks dropping on all kinds of brand-health indexes, and a number of companies “falling into the rough and not about to come out. There’s a ripple effect to all of that.

“Even more important, everything is transparent right now. Back in ’50s, when a company went to Mad Avenue, they made a make a decision that was similar to what everyone else was doing. But Don Draper could create a dream. And because people really couldn’t change the channels [of their TV sets], that message went into millions of homes.

“If you did that kind of thing enough, your clothes really did get whiter and you really were a better mom.”

With advances in digital technology driving a spate of new media and new means for consumers to connect to products and services, however, Cotton said, “The idea of controlling a message is harder and harder to do. People use the Internet to do their own research, to work their way through the bullshit. Companies have been forced to think about actions. About being able to do things that demonstrate that they’re ‘good’ rather than saying they’re good.

“What ‘good’ means today is different than it did 20 years ago,” the BSSP strategist continued. “There are some companies that, in the past, did things silently. Target is a strong example of a brand that never really talked about the “good’ side of their business. And that goodness was undiscovered. In recent years, companies have become more aggressive about telling their stories.”

On Thursday night, the Strategy Festival will salute winners in each of 10 Jay Chiat Awards categories. And, Cotton said, the “good” perspective resonates throughout all 10 Award groupings:

  • For Good Strategy
  • Brand Experience
  • Campaign for Existing Brand
  • Campaign for New Brand
  • Creative Technology
  • Idea for New Product/Content
  • Innovative Design
  • Media/Communications Strategy
  • Research Innovation
  • Social Media Strategy

But, no matter what the category, said Cotton, “There’s a ticking clock among intelligent marketers. We can’t keep doing the same thing forever. They need to think more about responsibility. In Europe, companies seem to be a bit ahead and the U.S. is going to have to catch up.”