Karen Crum, of McCann Worldgroup, explores why showing impact is central to the present and future of advertising - part of the 'Marketing through volatility' report. 

I’ve always been fascinated by ‘The Overview Effect’. It was a term coined in the 1970s by author Frank White to try and explain the profound cognitive shift that happens when astronauts first see Earth from space. In the early Apollo missions, the focus was on the target ahead – reaching the stars; and landing on the moon. No one was thinking much about looking back at Earth, or the impact that might have on the astronauts. But the sentiment shared by Edgar Mitchell, an astronaut on the Apollo 14 Mission, is echoed by the majority of astronauts: “You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it.”

For me, this has been the main pandemic positive – we all collectively experienced our own version of The Overview Effect. Only we didn’t have to go into space. But we were forced to see the bigger picture. Of how so many of the systems that humans rely are not-fit-for-purpose. The stark realities of how life for too many people means being set-up to fail, instead of set-up to succeed. The inequalities and discrimination that are baked into everyday life – 26% of people globally believe that social divides are a worse threat than Covid, and 1/3 people say that Covid has only emphasised existing inequalities*. It’s been a huge reminder of how much we want to protect people’s lives, livelihoods, and the beautiful planet we all share. Fundamentally, we saw the need for renewal, not for a ‘new normal’. Because the future must hold something new and better, rather than a return to a pre-crisis stasis.

The task now is to hold each other to account. For agencies and brands to remember the shared ambition and renewed focus that 2020 gave us. We can and must do better. In fact, we have a responsibility to make it better, to fuel renewal for all. We know how powerful brands are, and we know how much people look to them as beacons of change, of how they are increasingly stepping in and becoming the systems we rely upon.

The effectiveness community (and therefore the awards industry) can be a huge catalyst in spearheading the renewal. We can help set the benchmarks for the change we want to see. Encouraging and shining a light on work that is proven to make societal change, that delivers on the UN SDGs, whilst moving the business forward. Demanding ideas from each other that impact and change culture; that help brands earn a meaningful role in people’s lives by proving how they actively, and measurably, make people’s lives healthier, happier, safer, more rewarding and full of joy.

Looking back at 2020, I can’t think of any other time in marketing (or in living memory) when everyone had the same brief. But there was a four to five months period of 2020 where we were all working to the same brief. And the focus was about immediate short-term solves to get us through the next few days, weeks, months etc. Rightfully so, the idea of ‘awards’ wasn’t at the front of everyone’s mind. Neither was perfection or excellence. It was about getting solutions out that were ‘good enough to go’. If they worked, great; if they didn’t, we went again and tried to learn as quickly as possible from failure.

 Our Truth Central study showed that 1/5 people were inspired by the creative responses to the pandemic that they had seen by brands, governments and institutions in the first months, but this dropped to 1/8 as the months rolled on*. Brands that seemed to navigate it well knew who they were – they were clear on their brands purpose and knew how to earn a meaningful role in their lives. They had a big head-start on knowing where and how they needed to help.

Looking forward, I do think awards and award shows are always going to be really important for the creative industry. They give airtime and focus to the best examples of what creative minds can do when faced with a really hard problem to solve. We have a responsibility as a collective to show the power and impact of creative thinking. Arguably, maybe we’ll need them to a play an even bigger role if we want to show the world the impact that great creative ideas can have at changing the status quo? I’m excited to see what comes next from getting businesses and brands to focus on renewal. And I’m optimistic that because of this, we’ll see an emergence of ground-breaking ideas and brand strategies, designed to solve the ‘head on fire’ problems that the world and people are facing.

*McCann Worldgroup Truth Central ‘Finding the human truths in the war against Coronavirus’