Can You be Good for the Sake of Being Good?

You’ve seen one in the subway and on the bus. You’ve seen one on the highway. You’ve even seen one on a urinal.

I’m talking about ads, of course. Not the typical kind. I’m talking about ads that encourage you to be nice. To do good deeds such as sharing the newspaper with a fellow commuter or foregoing a prime parking spot.

(By the way, if you’re curious as to how an ad on a urinal would encourage someone to be good, know that “real men are measured by the size of their generosity.”)

Funny, sure. Witty. But what’s the catch? What are these ads trying to sell you?

Nothing, according to a Toronto Star article published on July 30.

Surprised? I was. The campaign (called People for Good) must have, after all, cost serious money. It’s not just featured on billboards and transit shelter ads and radio spots and an iPhone app, but it’s also underway in Toronto and Vancouver and Edmonton and Calgary and Montreal and Halifax.

Still, Mark Sherman, the man who created the campaign along with advertising agency Zulu Alpha Kilo, maintains that all they want is to encourage a positive change in behaviour.

After giving this some thought, I’m no longer surprised.

I’ve known for awhile that you can do good while making a profit, as I wrote in my recent blog post “Making Money and Doing Good Needn’t Be at Odds.” Witness what our client Highmark Homes is doing with the Triumph Musician Search Contest. (If you didn’t read that post, suffice it to know the contest is currently open to all GTA musicians, who just need to upload a video of an original song for a chance to win $2,500.)

You could argue that this contest will help Highmark Homes portray itself as a supporter of the arts (which it is). But the reality of the matter is that Highmark Homes could easily sell Triumph homes without this contest. In launching it, our client may have publicly shown itself to be a supporter of music, but it’s also helping make a concrete and beneficial difference in someone’s life.

Also witness what builders such as Brookfield Homes and Mason Homes are doing to further the cause of New Urbanism. This movement aims to make communities more liveable and enjoyable by reducing car usage, adding parks, featuring pedestrian-friendly street design, and emphasizing aesthetics and comfort.

A cynic will say these builders just want to sell to socially minded buyers. But these cynics haven’t seen the glitter in our clients’ eyes when a family says they love their community. They haven’t seen the pride our builders take in improving people’s lives.

In fact, you could argue that advertising, for all the criticism we in the industry get from the public and the media, helps many people, either by providing them with information or by helping spread word about altruistic missions and organizations.

Granted, what People for Good is doing seems to go further than this. As its creator says:

“I hope that aside from encouraging every Canadian to do a good deed or something nice, (…) we can also inspire other people in other industries, in other companies, to take stock of what their collective can do and try and use some of the energy… to do something socially responsible.

“Each of us, and in each of our companies, we can kind of redeploy some of our commercial energy into a socially responsible direction. And my belief is that if we don’t, the trajectory of the world is not really very good.”

For this reason, BAM asked People for Good this week to be an ambassador for the campaign. Consider us inspired.

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